Modern Half Dollars
Liberty Walking Half Dollars, 1916-1947
The Liberty Walking half dollar obverse design was created by renowned New York sculptor Adolph A. Weinman.
In 1916 a competition for a new coinage design was held by the U.S. Mint, and over 50 accomplished artists submitted designs. The design created by renowned New York sculptor Adolph A. Weinman was chosen for the new coin. Born in Germany in 1870, Weinman came to the United States at the age of ten. He began an apprenticeship with a wood and ivory carver. He later studied art at Cooper Institute and at the Art Students' League of New York. Weinman worked in the studios of Philip Martiny and with the famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designer of the U.S. $10 and $20 gold coins of 1907-1933. Weinman had designed a number of medals and created several monuments, including the Lincoln statue at Hodgenville, Kentucky, and the statue of Alexander Cassett in the Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal in New York City. He was eminently qualified to produce a new coinage design for his adopted country.
The classical beauty of the Liberty Walking half dollar represented the spirit and sentiment of the nation as it hoped to remain neutral during the unrest in Europe that was leading to America's involvement in the First World War. The majestic figure of Liberty strides peacefully and confidently toward the rising sun in the East, toward Europe, being torn asunder by war. Her right arm is outstretched in a gesture of hope and freedom. In her left arm, she carries oak and laurel branches, ancient symbols of civilian and military affairs. Liberty is cloaked in an American flag unfurling behind her. The American eagle graces the reverse of the Liberty Walking half dollar, standing upon a branch of mountain pine – a tree that is found in the forests of the American West.
The mint mark was first located below the motto IN GOD WE TRUST (left). Then, in 1917, it was moved to the reverse (center). The designer's initials are also on the reverse (far right).
The Liberty Walking half dollar was issued from 1916 to 1947, with the exception of the years 1922, 1924-26 and 1930-32. The coins were struck at three mints: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. The mint marks were first located on the obverse below the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. In 1917, the mint mark was moved to the reverse, under the outer tip of the pine branch. The designer's initials, AAW, are also on the reverse, under the eagle's left wing.
The Liberty Walking half dollar was struck during a momentous, eventful period in American history. When this silver series was first introduced in 1916, the First World War was raging in Europe. When the last Liberty Walker was minted in 1947, World War II was over. Today, the Liberty Walking half dollar is considered to be one of the most beautiful United States silver coins to ever have been struck.
See our Liberty Walking half dollar inventory
Franklin Half Dollars, 1948-1963
The obverse of the Franklin half dollar features Ben Franklin, while the famous Liberty Bell is shown on the reverse.
The Franklin half dollar was one of the shortest-lived U.S. coin series in history. In an era when other coin types (such as the Lincoln cent, Jefferson nickel and Washington quarter) have endured for 60 or more years, the Franklin half was struck for only 16 years, from 1948 through 1963. During five of its years of issue, the Franklin half dollar was struck at three different U.S. Mints: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. During nine other years, it was struck at two mints: Philadelphia and Denver. And for two years, the Franklin half was produced only at the Philadelphia Mint.
The obverse (front) of the coin features a profile bust of Ben Franklin, while the main element of the reverse design is the famous Liberty Bell. The bell's well-known crack is clearly evident on Uncirculated pieces, and under magnification the name of the bell's manufacturer, Pass and Stow, can be detected.
Though the normal minimum issue span for a U.S. coin type was 25 years, this policy was foregone when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. A design for a Kennedy half dollar was immediately created, and struck in 1964. While 1964 was the first year of the Kennedy half, it was also the last year any 90% silver U.S. coins were struck for circulation. Consequently, the short-lived Franklin half dollar was America's last coinage series minted every year in .900 fine silver.
See our Franklin half dollar inventory
Kennedy Half Dollars, 1964-Date
Production of Kennedy half dollars was underway just two months after President Kennedy's assassination.
Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the popular young president was honored with many grand tributes. Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy, New York's Idlewild Airport became Kennedy Airport, the National Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. was rededicated as the Kennedy Center, and schools, public buildings, bridges and highways throughout the nation were rechristened with the Kennedy name. But the greatest tribute was to put John F. Kennedy's profile on a circulating U.S. coin, alongside those with portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Placed in circulation in early 1964, the Kennedy half dollar represented the quickest development and introduction of a new coin design in the history of the nation.
The profile of John F. Kennedy found on the obverse of the coin was created by Gilroy Roberts, chief engraver of the U.S. Mint, with some improvements to the portrait suggested by Jackie Kennedy. The reverse of the new coin featured an adaptation of the Great Seal of the United States and was created by Frank Gasparro, assistant engraver of the U.S. Mint. The design of the coin was finalized just weeks after President Kennedy's untimely death, and the necessary legislation breezed through Congress. Production of the new coins was under way before the end of January 1964, a mere two months after that fateful day in Dallas. The fast introduction of the Kennedy half dollar reflected America's desire to keep the spirit and memory of the popular young president alive.
When the Kennedy coins were introduced in 1964, America's half dollars, as well as quarters and dimes, were still being struck in 90% fine silver. But due to the rising price of silver bullion, the composition of the half dollar was changed in 1965 to 40% fine silver. In 1971, further increases in the cost of silver forced the complete removal of the precious metal from the half dollar composition. Since then Kennedy half dollars have been struck in the same copper-nickel alloy as quarters and dimes, with the exception of some limited-issue Bicentennial half dollars.
From 1964 through 1967, regular-issue Kennedy half dollars struck for circulation were produced only at the main U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Beginning in 1968, regular-issue coins were also struck at the Denver Mint. Proof Kennedy halves have been struck at the San Francisco Mint since 1968, and these special Proof issues are the only Kennedy half dollars that carry the "S" mint mark. When the Kennedy half dollar was introduced in 1964, mint marks were located below the olive branch clutched by the eagle on the reverse. But in 1968, the mint mark location was switched to the obverse, just below the portrait of President Kennedy.
Kennedy halves produced during 1975 and 1976 carry the special Bicentennial dating.
In honor of the nation's Bicentennial celebration, 1975 and 1976 Kennedy half dollars were struck carrying the date 1776-1976. All the Kennedy halves produced during these two years carry this special Bicentennial dating, thus no Kennedy coins carry just a 1975 or 1976 date. These half dollars also carry a special reverse design depicting Independence Hall – the historic Philadelphia landmark where the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the American colonies on July 4, 1776.
See our Kennedy half dollar inventory