On March 20, 2018, the United States Mint began its sale of 2018 Kennedy half dollar product options which include a 200-coin bag (product code 18KA) and a two-roll set (product code 18KB). These product options possess either the “D” or “P” mint mark, given their mint of origin, and what the Mint calls a “circulating finish” — though they have never been in circulation, and are available only through the Mint’s numismatic sales.
The inscriptions on the obverse are LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST, and their date is 2018.
The reverse features a design based on the presidential coat of arms. Inscriptions include UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, E PLURIBUS UNUM, and HALF DOLLAR.
While traditional Kennedy half dollars remain a respected coin to both collectors and numismatists, it is rather sobering that the modern incarnations of these coins (in my opinion) fail to live up to their past glory. When the Treasury Department first released the coins to the public on March 24, 1964, a line that covered the entire block outside of the building in Washington bought all 70,000 initially produced half dollars within the first day, despite limiting purchases to 40 coins per customer! In 2018, it is virtually unheard of to see such excitement for the newly issued Kennedy half dollars. What happened? Well, by the end of 1964, around 430 million Kennedy half dollars had already been struck, and given the initial composition of the Kennedy half dollar (90 percent silver), the Treasury was finding the coin to be a money pit—silver prices were rising on international markets, and each half dollar contained more than 50 cents worth of precious metal! As a result, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Congress to reduce the Kennedy half dollar’s silver content from its previous 90 percent to 40 percent, to which Congress obliged by passing the Coinage Act of 1965. The nation’s first silver–clad Kennedy half dollars were struck at the Denver Mint on December 30, 1965.
With silver’s value going up, the majority of Kennedy half dollars were not being circulated, as collectors began hoarding them for their high silver content (in addition to keeping millions of them as souvenirs of the martyred President Kennedy). According to author and numismatist Q. David Bowers:
Where the hundreds of millions of them went remains somewhat of a mystery today. In the meantime, Washington quarters, the same design used since 1932, became the highest value coin of the realm, in terms of circulation use. These were particularly popular for vending machines, arcade games, and the like. Today, this continues to be the case, and Kennedy half dollars, as well as the later mini-dollar coins, are almost never encountered.
By May 1969, the hoarding problem reached the point that the Treasury Department asked for the half dollar’s silver content to be removed entirely. This was eventually granted by President Richard Nixon, who signed a bill on December 31, 1970, which eliminated the remaining 40 percent silver from the half dollar (and also commenced production of the Eisenhower dollar). However, because this debate in legislation had taken over a year to create tangible results, the Denver Mint produced around 2.1 million non-Proof 1970 Kennedy half dollars in the form of Mint sets. Thus, the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar is considered the key coin in the circulation-strike series. Despite eliminating silver entirely, this did not solve the hoarding problem. New York Times columnist Ed Reiter contended that hoarding of the Kennedy half dollar continued even after it had been reduced to its current base metal form.
In 1987, Kennedy half dollars hit another low point, and none were struck by the Mint for circulation, as it had accumulated two years’ worth of the coins from lack of sales. That year’s small mintages were reserved for Mint and Souvenir sets. By 2002, Kennedy half dollars were no longer struck for general circulation. Regarding the modern Kennedy half dollar scenario, Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker says:
The situation with Kennedy half dollars has been unusual for quite some time. 2001 was the last year the coins were minted for distribution in the regular channels of banking and commerce. Starting in 2002 the Mint continued to produce circulation strikes, in Denver and Philadelphia, but since then the coins have only been available in Uncirculated Mint sets, Proof sets, 20-coin rolls, 200-coin bags, and similar “numismatic” packages, directly from the Mint. The rolls and bags of coins aren’t available through the Federal Reserve or local banks for general distribution. Rather, collectors can buy them for about 1.5 to 2 times their face value.
While it seems unlikely that Kennedy half dollars will rise from the ashes in a modern form, an insightful tome that will bring you back to the height of glory for Kennedy half dollars is William Rice’s The Kennedy World in Medallic Art, which not only includes information about the infamous coin series, but also serves as an excellent historical text for anyone interested in the life of one of the nation’s most beloved presidents. A new third edition of Rick Tomaska’s Guide Book of Franklin and Kennedy Half Dollars is also in the works, scheduled to debut in mid-spring 2018.
Kennedy historian William Rice picks up the torch where researchers like Aubrey Mayhew and the great Edward C. Rochette left off in the 1960s, shining new light on the life of President John F. Kennedy. He explores the Kennedy family; JFK’s boyhood; his military service and early political career; his inauguration and presidency; Jacqueline and the children; life in the White House; the president’s assassination; and the world’s mourning and remembrance. The story is told through touching and insightful essays illustrated by hundreds of coins, medals, tokens, stamps, and other collectible memorabilia—some popular, like the silver 1964 Kennedy half dollar, others rare and seldom seen.
Special sections discuss subjects like satirical and critical pieces; Robert F. Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy; the Peace Corps; and paper currency issued during the Kennedy administration. In addition to colorful historical images and narrative, the book’s scholarly appeal is expanded by a foreword by Dr. Gerald Steinberg, appendices, notes, a glossary, bibliography and full index. Collectors will benefit from the catalog numbering system and market prices in various grades.