JFK Half Dollar History
The JFK half dollar, first minted in 1964, is a fifty-cent coin currently issued by the United States Mint. Intended as a memorial to the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, it was authorized by Congress just over a month after his death. Use of existing works by Mint sculptors Gilroy Roberts and Frank Gasparro allowed dies to be prepared quickly, and striking of the new coins began in January 1964.
The silver coins vanished from circulation upon their release in March 1964 due to collectors, hoarders, and those interested in a memento of the late president. Although the Mint greatly increased production, the denomination was seldom seen in circulation. Continued rises in the price of silver increased the hoarding—many early JFK half dollars have been melted for their silver. Starting with 1965-dated pieces, the percentage of fine silver was reduced from 90% to 40% (silver clad), but even with this change the coin saw little circulation.
On June 3, 1965, President Johnson announced plans to eliminate silver from the dime and quarter in favor of a clad sandwich with layers of copper-nickel on each side of a layer of pure copper. The half dollar was changed from 90% silver to 40%. Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1965 in July. The new half dollars retained their silvery appearance, due to the outer layer being 80% silver and 20% copper. The coin was also minted with an inner layer of 21% silver and 79% copper. The first clad half dollars were struck at the Denver Mint on December 30, 1965. They bore the date 1965; the date would not be changed for US coins until the coin shortage was eased. Beginning on August 1, 1966, the Mint began to strike 1966-dated pieces, and thereafter it resumed the normal practice of striking the current year’s date on each piece. Despite the proclaimed end to the coin shortage, Kennedy half dollars circulated little, a scarcity caused by continued hoarding and a dip in production, with the Treasury reluctant to expend more of the nation’s silver holdings on a coin which did not circulate.
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 JFK half dollars as well as the later mini-dollar coins, are almost never encountered.”