Half dollar (United States coin)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Half dollar
United States
Value 0.50 U.S. dollar
Mass 11.340 g (0.365 troy oz)
Diameter 30.61 mm (1.205 in)
Thickness 2.15 mm (0.085 in)
Edge 150 reeds
Composition 91.67% Cu
8.33% Ni
Years of minting 1794–present
Catalog number
S Half Dollar Obverse 2016.jpg
Design John F. Kennedy
Designer Gilroy Roberts
Design date 1964
US 50 Cent Rev.png
Design Presidential Seal
Designer Frank Gasparro
Design date 1964

The half dollar, sometimes referred to as the half for short, is a United States coin worth 50 cents, one-half of a dollar, and is the largest United States circulating coin currently produced[1] in both size and weight, being 1.205 inches (30.61 mm) in diameter and .085 inches (2.15 mm) in thickness, and is twice the weight of the quarter. The current half dollar, the Kennedy half dollar, depicts the profile of President John F. Kennedy on the obverse and the Seal of the President of the United States on the reverse, but the design has undergone a number of changes throughout its history.[2]

Though not commonly used today, half dollar coins have a long history of heavy use alongside other denominations of coinage, but have faded out of general circulation for many reasons. They were produced in fairly large quantities until the year 2002, when the U.S. Mint ceased production of the coin for general circulation. As a result of its decreasing usage, a large amount of pre-2002 half dollars remain in Federal Reserve vaults, prompting the change in production. Presently, collector half dollars can be ordered directly from the U.S. Mint,[2] and pre-2002 circulation half dollars may be ordered through most U.S. banks.


Half dollar coins saw heavy use, particularly in the first half of the 20th century. For many years, they were commonly (and in many areas still are) used by the gambling community. Rolls of half dollars may still be kept on hand in cardrooms for games requiring 50-cent antes or bring-in bets, for dealers to pay winning naturals in blackjack, or where the house collects a rake in increments. Additionally, some concession vendors at sporting events distribute half dollar coins as change for convenience.

By the early 1960s, the rising price of silver was nearing the point where the bullion value of U.S. silver coins would exceed face value. In 1965, the U.S. introduced layered composition coins made of a copper core laminated between two cupronickel outer faces. The silver content of dimes and quarters was eliminated, but the Kennedy half dollar composition still contained silver (reduced from 90% to 40%) from 1965 to 1970.

Half dollars issued through the end of the 1960s were hoarded as the only precious metal U.S. coins remaining in production, and as the price of silver continued to rise, pre-1964 halves disappeared from circulation as well. By the time that the coin's composition was changed to match that of the clad dimes and quarters in 1971, both businesses and the public had begun to adapt to a country in which the half dollar did not generally circulate. The half saw a moderate increase in usage during the mid 1970s, only to fall again by the end of the decade. The quarter then took over the half's role as the highest-value component of change in general use.

Most coins enter circulation through the change drawers of businesses. Few businesses stock their change drawers with half dollars, and some banks do not stock them at all. Most banks do not hand them out as normal business practice, so the coins see little circulation. Most U.S. vending machines do not accept half dollars, nor do payphones, which further curtails their circulation; Many transit systems however, accept halves and the coin is the most common denomination used for U.S. commemorative coins.[3]

Since 2002, half dollars have been minted only for collectors, due to large Federal Reserve and government inventories on hand of pre-2001 pieces; this is mostly due to lack of demand and large quantity returns from casino slot machines that now operate "coinless". Eventually, when the reserve supply runs low, the mint will again fill orders for circulation half dollars.[citation needed] It took about 18 years (1981–1999) for the large inventory stockpile of a similar low-demand circulation coin, the $1 coin, to reach reserve levels low enough to again produce circulation pieces.[citation needed] Modern-date half dollars can be purchased in proof sets, mint sets, rolls, and bags from the U.S. Mint, and existing inventory circulation pieces can be ordered through most U.S. banks. All collector issues since 2001 have had much lower mintages than in previous years. Although intended only for collectors, these post-2001 half dollars sometimes find their way into circulation.[4]

Aspects of early history[edit]

On December 1, 1794, the first half dollars, approximately 5,300 pieces, were delivered. Another 18,000 were produced in January 1795 using dies of 1794, to save the expense of making new ones.[5] Another 30,000 pieces were struck by the end of 1801. The coin had the Heraldic Eagle, based on the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse.[5] 150,000 were minted in 1804 but struck with dies from 1803, so no 1804 specimens exist, though there were some pieces dated 1805 that carried a "5 over 4" overdate.[5]

In 1838, half dollar dies were produced in the Philadelphia Mint for the newly established New Orleans Mint, and ten test samples of the 1838 half dollars were made at the main Philadelphia mint. These samples were put into the mint safe along with other rarities like the 1804 silver dollar. The dies were then shipped to New Orleans for the regular production of 1838 half dollars. However, New Orleans production of the half dollars was delayed due to the priority of producing half dimes and dimes. The large press for half dollar production was not used in New Orleans until January 1839 to produce 1838 half dollars, but the reverse die could not be properly secured, and only ten samples were produced before the dies failed. Rufus Tyler, chief coiner of the New Orleans mint, wrote to Mint Director Patterson of the problem on February 25, 1839.[6] The Orleans mint samples all had a double stamped reverse as a result of this production problem and they also showed dramatic signs of die rust, neither of which are present on the Philadelphia produced test samples. While eight Philadelphia minted samples survive to this day, there is only one known New Orleans minted specimen with the tell-tale double stamped reverse and die rust. This is the famous coin that Rufus Tyler presented to Alexander Dallas Bache (great grandson of Benjamin Franklin) in the summer of 1839 and was later purchased in June 1894 by A. G. Heaton, the father of mint mark coin collecting.[7] The 1838 Philadelphia-produced half dollars are extremely rare, with two separate specimens having sold for $632,500 in Heritage auctions in 2005 and 2008[8] respectively. The sole surviving Orleans minted 1838 is one of the rarest of all American coins.[9][10] In 1840 this mint produced nearly 180,000 half dollars.[5]

In 1861, the New Orleans mint produced coins for three different governments. A total of 330,000 were struck under the United States government, 1,240,000 for the State of Louisiana after it seceded from the Union, and 962,633 after it joined the Confederacy. Since the same die was used for all strikings, the output looks identical. However the Confederate States of America actually minted four half dollars with a CSA (rather than USA) reverse and the obverse die they used had a small die crack. Thus "regular" 1861 half dollars with this crack probably were used by the Confederates for some of the mass striking.[11]

There are two varieties of Kennedy half dollars in the proof set issues of 1964. Initially, the die was used with accented hair, showing deeper lines than the president's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, liked. New dies were prepared to smooth out some of the details. It is estimated that about 1 to 3% (40,000 to 100,000) of the proof halves are of the earlier type, making them somewhat more expensive for collectors.[12]

List of designs[edit]

List of early commemorative issues[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. MINT Catalog
  2. ^ a b "kennedy-half-dollars". United States Mint. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  3. ^ "USA Commemorative Half Dollars". www.commem.com. Retrieved 2016-01-27. 
  4. ^ United States Half Dollars Denver Coin Store. Web. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Julian, R.W. (December 2006). "All About the Half Dollar". Numismatist Magazine. 119 (12): 38. 
  6. ^ U.S. Archives, general correspondence of the Philadelphia Mint box 39
  7. ^ "Treatise on coinage of The United States Branch Mints " published 1893/ author Augustus Heaton
  8. ^ [1] Proof-63
  9. ^ "The Surprising History Of The 1838-O Half Dollar " published Jan 2012 by Ivy Press/ David Stone and Mark Van Winkle authors Heritage
  10. ^ [2] Proof-64
  11. ^ The SS Republic Shipwreck Project: the Coin Collection, p.23
  12. ^ What exactly is an Accented Hair Kennedy?
  13. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1794–95 Half Dollar Flowing Hair". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  14. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1796–97 Half Dollar Draped Bust Small Eagle". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-03-21. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  15. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1801–07 Half Dollar Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-03-21. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  16. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1807–36 Half Dollar Capped Bust Lettered Edge". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-03-21. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  17. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1836–39 Half Dollar Capped Bust Reeded Edge". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-03-21. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  18. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1839–66 Half Dollar Seated Liberty No Motto". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-03-21. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  19. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1866–91 Half Dollar Seated Liberty With Motto". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-04-04. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  20. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1892–1915 Half Dollar Barber". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  21. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1916–47 Half Dollar Walking Liberty". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  22. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1948–63 Half Dollar Franklin". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  23. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1964 – Half Dollar Kennedy". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13.