The following is re-posted from the “Bowers on Collecting” series on Coin Update
Are you looking for a series of coins to complete in, say, MS-65 grade that is interesting and affordable? If you do, you might want to consider Franklin half dollars. The PCGS Price Guide advises that a full set of dates and mintmarks from 1948 to 1963 has a market value of about $415 in MS-63 grade, $550 MS-64, and $900 MS-65. The key issue is 1949-S, although it is hardly a rarity and is affordable in all grades, Proofs were made from 1950 to 1963 and are likewise affordable.
Cherrypicking is the order of the day for Franklin half dollars. Within any grade, the key points to look for are higher areas of the obverse, which often are a playground for nicks and scratches, and the sharpness of the bell rim on the bottom of the reverse.
Franklin half dollars made their debut in 1948 without fanfare. Although notice was routinely given to them in The Numismatist and The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, the two leading numismatic journals of the day, the reaction by collectors was generally an unstifled yawn. Perhaps the artistic beauty could not be compared to the now-discontinued Liberty Walking motif.
Although many investors set aside bank-wrapped rolls, and many collectors formed sets by date and mint, there was hardly any notice paid to quality within the Mint State range. When such things became important it was found that the vast majority of pieces were nicked and marked (especially on the obverse), and that true gems were scarce. Further, the concept of Full Bell Lines was introduced to the collecting fraternity, giving another aspect to the search. For type set purposes, enough Franklin half dollars exist that finding one is easy enough.
Buying guidelines: Casual budget: Mint State. Specialist’s budget: Choice Mint State. Generous budget: Gem Mint State
Obverse design: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin facing right, from a bust done by Jean Antoine Houdon (who also did the bust for Washington used on the 1932 quarter, among other motifs). Above is LIBERTY, while at the bottom border, seemingly given undue prominence, is IN GOD WE TRUST. The date is at the lower-right.
Reverse design: The reverse depicts the Liberty Bell, the motif used on the reverse of the 1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence half dollar. On the Franklin half dollar, the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds, with the “O” in OF being small, supposedly artistic license, but seemingly rather curious. The idea seemed to catch on within the Engraving Department of the Mint, and in 1959 chief engraver Frank Gasparro used it on the reverse of the Lincoln Memorial cent. At the bottom is the denomination boldly stated as HALF DOLLAR, at the left and right of the Liberty bell can be found the motto E / PLURIBUS / UNUM in three lines and a small wingspread eagle.
The Liberty Bell is a wonderful coin motif to collect.
Around 1920 Kansas poet J.P. Dunn “Liberty Bell,” which began with:
Ring on, ring on sweet Liberty Bell
For peace on earth, good will to men
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