I continue my replies to ideas for topics that were furnished by readers in May. This comes from Jim S. of Birmingham, England:
As a regular reader of your column on Coin Update I thought I would respond to your offer this week to consider questions – well, I’ve two actually:
I’m based in the UK where we have a totally modern coinage, even most of the decimal coinage introduced in 1971 having been overhauled in the last circa twenty years, so I find your long-lived US coins and currency intriguing (and what a great idea national coin week sounds). My questions:
1. Why is your half-dollar so unpopular? Over here, our half pound (i.e.,,, fifty pence/50p) is extremely popular and heavily used, with regular issues of circulating commemoratives enthusiastically collected. Coin Update has just reported on the 2019 issue of half dollars, but on sale at over face in rolls etc. When was the coin last issued for circulation, does it actually circulate anywhere in the states, when did it die out. Did anyone put any into circulation in National Coin Week?
2. Is the two dollar bill ever used?
Similar question really, and again us Brits have a well-used two pound coin. I know the old story of the cost of a vote in the deep South, but that’s 150 years ago. Is it true that it is still viewed with suspicion, but I understand it still gets an occasional print run. I’m interested in the story behind this.
Look forward to your next column.
As to your half dollar question, this is fundamental to the very essence of American numismatics, but I am not sure that ANYONE has ever explained it in print. I’ll ask Diana Plattner and Dennis Tucker, both of Whitman, to keep this on file for use in future editions of the Mega Red book—which goes into great detail on various American series.
The half dollar was very popular in circulation when I was a kid. Liberty Walking half dollars were widely collected and although Franklin halves were not viewed as having an attractive design, they were eagerly sought as well. In March 1964 the Kennedy half dollar was released, in silver. At the same time the international price of silver metal was rising, and by 1965 it cost more than 50 cents in metal to create a half dollar. The 1964 and 1964-D half dollars never circulated to any extent. Whenever banks passed them out, they were immediately snapped up.
Starting in 1965 there was a mass search for silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars, and within a few years, nearly all were gone from circulation. Untold millions of coins were melted into bullion.
Clad metal was introduced for the dime, quarter, and half dollar. It was thought that Kennedy half dollars in 1965, with a metal value less than face value, would not be of interest to hoarders or speculators. Wrong! Kennedy was a loved figure in history, and I don’t recall ever getting a clad Kennedy half dollar in change. Large quantities continued to be produced, but where they went is somewhat of a mystery. In the meantime, arcade machines—Pac Man, Whack-A-Mole, and Donkey Kong being examples—became wildly popular and were fitted with quarter slots. As time went on, coin devices in various vending and amusement machines would not accept half dollars. Today in the summer of 2019 it would be a rare event for anyone to get a Kennedy half dollar in change. As noted, I have yet to see one!
A related scenario is that of the “mini dollars,” starting with the Susan B. Anthony design and later featuring Sacagawea. Millions were made, but I have never received one in pocket change.
As to $2 bills, in my lifetime these have never been popular. Now and again a military base, Chamber of Commerce, a company, or some other entity will pass them out in quantity so that the local businesses will recognize the economic importance of the issuer. These are not rare in circulation and cause no particular interest when paid in or received out in a transaction. As to $2 being the price of a vote in the South, I am fairly familiar with American history and have never heard of $2 bills being important in that regard.
Thanks, Jim. If I lived in England I would be anti-Brexit (not that it is numismatically relevant, but The Economist based on your side of the Atlantic, my favorite magazine, takes the same position). Please say “Hi” to the Queen the next time you see her in the royal carriage!