1964 Kennedy Half Dollars
In the days following the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy, officials at the United States Mint received numerous letters and telegrams suggesting a coin be struck in honor of our late President. President Lyndon Johnson quickly acknowledged the importance of honoring the life of his predecessor with a new U.S. coin. Within just weeks of the assassination, LBJ proposed to Congress the coinage of 50-cent pieces with the likeness of the late President on the obverse of the coin. This new coin literally required an Act of Congress to be put into production because, at that time, the law provided that “no change shall be made oftener than once in twenty-five years.” However, in 1963, the Benjamin Franklin half dollar design had only been in circulation for 15 years. Congress being Congress (even back then), a lengthy discussion in the House of Representatives ensued. Major topics included use of the 50-cent denomination for the new coin, the timing of the new coin’s release and the expense of switching coin designs mid-year. Congressman John William Wright Patman, of Texas pushed the point that, by passing the legislation quickly, enabling the new coin to be minted early in 1964, as opposed to waiting until mid-year, “The total cost of converting the 50-cent piece will be less than $1,000.”
President Johnson’s memo to Congress clearly stipulated the use of a 50-cent coin as the Nation’s tribute to its fallen leader. Although no other denominations were suggested in the President’s proposed legislation, the Congressional debates included discussion of reviving production of the discontinued silver dollar as a tribute to President Kennedy. In the end, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor (352-6) of producing the new 1964 Kennedy half-dollar.
Legislation passed through Congress and was signed into law by President Johnson on December 30, 1963, a mere five weeks after the assassination. Simultaneous striking ceremonies were held in Philadelphia and Denver on February 11, 1964, beginning the production of what Mint Director Eva Adams stated would be “90 million of the new half-dollars in 1964″ Public demand for the 1964 Kennedy half was unprecedented and total mintage of coins carrying a 1964 date approached 430 million.
Records indicate that within days of the President’s death, US Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts was contacted twice by Director Eva Adams, who informed him that a new half-dollar would be needed.
Roberts’ notes relate that he was told the new coin would feature the portrait used for the Mint list medal of President Kennedy on the obverse and a depiction of the Presidential Seal on the reverse. Roberts is quoted as stating that (his protégé), “Mr. Gasparro tackled the reverse and the obverse became my problem.” Interestingly, these notes were recorded two weeks before the legislation was proposed by President Johnson. In fact, Roberts’ account also reveals the production of trial strikes as early as December 13, 1963 – a full four days before the matter was debated on the floor of the House of Representatives. Clearly, the Mint anticipated the possibility that the new coin would be rushed into the 1964 production schedule.
As 1963 neared its end, Roberts and Gasparro, along with Mint Director Adams and Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon presented trial strikes for examination by the President’s widow and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Roberts’ notes reveal that both Mrs. Kennedy and the Attorney General expressed a desire for a design showing a full figure or half figure of the late President for the coin’s obverse. Lacking the time necessary to prepare new designs and models, Chief Engraver Roberts “strongly advocated the simplicity and directness of a profile portrait…”
For his design of the reverse of the new 1964 Kennedy silver half-dollar, Mint engraver Frank Gasparro detailed his concerns with the intricate details of the official Presidential Seal, notably the number and position of arrows, olives and leaves, the placement of the shield, the number of vertical stripes within the shield etc. Gasparro acknowledged that “Errors on coins are keenly sought by coin enthusiasts.” That noted, Gasparro did modify the Presidential Seal, noting “The E Pluribus Unum was greatly enlarged in comparison to the official Presidential Seal so that it could be easily read by the naked eye.”
The “D” Mint mark on 1964 Kennedy half dollars minted in Denver are located beneath where the eagle’s claws grasp the olive branch on the coins reverse.
1964 Kennedy half dollar Specifications
Mint Mark: none or D (Denver)
Manufacturer: U.S. Mint
Silver Content: .03575 troy oz
Grading Service: none
Grade: average circulated
Thickness: 2.2 mm
1964 Kennedy half dollar’s legacy:
Since its debut with the 1964 Kennedy silver half dollar 50 years ago, the Kennedy half-dollar has been a favorite among collectors, a cherished keepsake not only for Americans, but also for the late President’s foreign admirers. In all, more than 4.1 billion JFK halves have been struck by the United States Mint. Click HERE for more on the story of the Kennedy Half Dollar
Buy 1964 Kennedy 90% silver half dollars
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