While Franklin half dollars were only minted for a period of 16 years, making them one of the shortest minted coin types, they still have an intriguing history. Therefore, it would behoove you to become familiar with their history and the rare mintages, which contribute to the value, before you sell Franklin half dollars. One thing you don’t want to make the mistake of doing is using Franklin half dollars for legal tender at face value, since they are worth far more than a half dollar both to coin collectors and as silver.
Nellie Tayloe Ross, U.S. Mint Director, was a long-time admirer of Benjamin Franklin and wanted him to be depicted on a coin. She instructed John R. Sinnock, the Mint’s chief engraver, to prepare Franklin half dollar designs in 1947. It’s believed that a 1933 medal Sinnock designed with Franklin’s image on it may have given Ross the idea.
Sinnock worked on the designs, basing them on his earlier depictions, but before they were completed, he died. Gilroy Roberts, Sinnock’s successor, completed the work.
The obverse of Franklin silver half dollars features Benjamin Franklin’s head in profile to his shoulders; he is dressed in a period suit. This marked the first time a U.S. coin produced for circulation depicted a non-president American.
The reverse of the coin depicts the Liberty Bell, complete with a crack. Sinnock’s design for the reverse was based on the 1926 commemorative half dollar which was produced for the 150th anniversary or sesquicentennial of American Independence. As an afterthought, a small bald eagle was added to the reverse, in order to remain compliant with the Coinage Act of 1873, which required an eagle to be depicted on all coins valued greater than a dime.
The Franklin silver half dollars were minted from 1948 to 1963, are 90% silver, and have a reeded edge. The 50-cent pieces were struck at mints in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver. The coin was replaced in 1964 by the Kennedy half dollar, coinage that was issued to honor President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated.
Franklin half dollars were subjected to several criticisms, including:
- The Commission of Fine Arts believed that showing a crack in the Liberty Bell would subject the coinage and the U.S. to ridicule and make the coins the butt of jokes, and they hesitated to approve the design.
- The Commission also disapproved of the eagle, which they felt was small to the point of being insignificant.
- Sinnock’s initials, “JRS,” are shown at the cutoff of Franklin’s right shoulder, and the Mint received accusations that the initials were a tribute to Joseph Stalin, a Soviet dictator. The Mint did not change the coinage; however, they responded to the accusation by simply pointing out that the letters are the designer’s initials.
- In a 1948 interview, Ross was compelled to defend her choice to depict Franklin on a coin when it was pointed out that Franklin was actually an advocate of putting proverbs on coins which could cause the holder to profit from reflection. In addition, a numismatic writer, Jonathan Tepper, pointed out that Franklin was known to have detested the eagle and might have been upset about being on a coin with the eagle on the reverse. Franklin was a strong proponent of choosing the wild turkey as the U.S. national bird.
- In the first few years, relatively small numbers of the coin were struck; this was due to a limited demand caused by an overabundance of Walking Liberty half dollars.
- In 1955 and 1956, no half dollars were struck at the Denver mint.
- The San Francisco Mint closed in 1955 and reopened in 1965.
- Starting in 1962, Franklin half dollars were struck in much greater numbers than in previous years.
- Proofs included, approximately 498 million Franklin silver half dollars were struck.
- The coinage makes for a somewhat inexpensive collection, since there are only 35 different mintmarks and dates in the series.
- A 1955 “Bugs Bunny” half shows a marking on the outside of Franklin’s mouth which some say resembles buck teeth. A die clash between an obverse and reverse die caused this variety.
- Beginning in the late 1950s, the quality of half dollars declined due to deterioration of the master die from which working dies were made for U.S. coinage.
Though none are truly rare, semi-key dates for the Franklin silver half dollars are 1948, 1949-S, 1953 and 1955. Because the coinage has been extensively melted for their silver, a lot of the dates are rarer than mintage figures might indicate. An example is that over 9 million 1962 Franklin half dollars were struck for circulation along with 3 million in proof; but the coin, in any condition, was more valuable in bullion because silver prices reached record levels in 1980. In MS-65 condition, the 1962 half dollar is second only to the 1953-S in value.
It has been noted by numismatists that well-struck Franklin half dollars which display clear, full horizontal bell lines (FBLs) on the Liberty Bell are very rare, particularly for certain mintages. Collectors are willing to pay well for exceptional specimens of FBLs, especially for 1953-S and 1963.
To get the best price when you sell Franklin half dollars, become familiar with the intricacies that indicate the true condition and value of the individual pieces. Selling to a reputable coin collector is usually the surest way to get the best price for a treasured coin.