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A Collector's Guide to Half Dollar Coins

A Collector's Guide to Half Dollar Coins

Sep 10th 2020

Half dollars are some of the most popular coins that collectors like to buy. They're also some of the first-ever produced coins by the U.S. Mint. In fact, the first half dollar coins were struck in December 1794.

Half dollars are so much fun to add to your collection because there are many different variations. Since the Mint has been producing these since 1794, you can imagine they've gone through several evolutions.

Early evolutions of this coin focused on Lady Liberty. You'll note several depictions of her in the early phases. After that, one of our founding fathers was the focus - Benjamin Franklin.

Then, he stepped aside and made room for the late President Kennedy. These are the half dollars still in circulation today. Together, let's talk a walk through history and explore all the half dollar coins that have been struck throughout the years.

Flowing Hair Half Dollar

The Flowing Hair Half Dollar was one of the originals, dating back to 1794. It features a profile of Lady Liberty and her signature mane of flowing hair. She's glowingly surrounded by 15 stars, representing each state in the union at the time.

On the reverse, you'll see an American bald eagle that's circled by a wreath and the words, "United States of America." This coin beautifully encapsulates freedom in a coin that also happens to contain a composition of 90% silver.

The Flowing Hair Half Dollar is, by far, the most sought-after half dollar coin. You won't be able to purchase one of these for less than a thousand dollars (at a minimum). It was only minted for two years, so it can be tough to get your hands on one. But, it's also a remarkable collector's item for the ideals it touts and its heavy silver ratio.

Draped Bust Half Dollar

Next up, we have the Draped Bust Half Dollar, produced between 1796 and 1807. This was designed by the same engraver as the Flowing Hair, Robert Scot. Here, we see Lady Liberty with her gorgeous locks of hair and a gown that's hanging low over her bust.

What's exciting about this collector's piece is that there are three different reverse sides. The first features a naturalistic bald eagle. The other two feature two different heraldic eagles. All three versions shout liberty and freedom for all. But, the first version with the naturalistic bald eagle will earn you a pretty penny.

Any type of half dollar featuring a bust is going to be sought-after. Draped busts can be purchased for anywhere from a couple hundred to tens of thousand dollars. These are tokens of American history because they were some of the first half dollar coins to ever be minted by this great country in its newly-founded years.

Capped Bust Half Dollar

Although this next evolution came to pass at the hands of a different engraver, Lady Liberty was still the focal point. John Reich designed the engraving on this beauty and they were minted from 1807 to 1839.

This half dollar coin is also referred to as the "Turban Head" Half Dollar. It features a bust of the revered Lady Liberty in a full profile view. On the reverse, you'll find a heraldic bald eagle with its wings spread out far and wide.

You'll have noted by now that age and condition are the biggest determining factors when it comes to price. So, the busts produced in the early 1800s will cost more than those produced in the 1830s. We've seen Capped Busts range anywhere from $40 to $30,000.

Seated Liberty Half Dollar

In this series, Lady Liberty was allowed to take a seat. These were minted between 1839 and 1891. Here, she's in a seated position, holding onto a staff that's topped with a liberty cap. The reverse holds true to the theme that the bald eagle conveys, but things have a little twist here, too.

Here, a heraldic bald eagle is holding onto an olive branch and a quiver of arrows. Sends quite a message, doesn't it? Lady Liberty is seated with her staff and her comrade, the bald eagle, has a few things up his sleeve.

These coins were minted without any motto until 1866. Then, the words, "In God We Trust" were inscribed atop the bald eagle. We enjoy seeing these familiar words that still hold true today.

The value for these coins are based on their age and rarity. Some of the rarest editions include 1842-O, 1870-CC, and 1878-S. In an uncirculated condition, these coins could cost thousands of dollars because they're far more scarce than other half dollars.

Barber Half Dollar Coins

In 1892, things took a turn. The public began to become dissatisfied with these flowing depictions of Lady Liberty because they considered it to reflect too much of an English style. So, here, we only see Lady Liberty's head. The same motto, "In God We Trust" was engraved atop her head.

Below her head, you'll note the year of issue and, on the back, there's a heraldic bald eagle proudly taking flight. These half dollars were minted from 1892 to 1915 and are also referred to as the "Liberty Head" half dollar. These half dollar coins were designed by chief engraver at the time, Charles E. Barber, hence their name.

As for value, you'll want to keep an eye out for the rare Barber half dollars. These include 1896-O, 1897-O, and the 1915 coins. If you buy coins simply for their silver content, however, you can buy a circulated roll of 20 coins for an affordable price.

Walking Liberty Half Dollar

In 1916, the public was able to enjoy a beautiful turn of events. We suppose the uproar about the former coins looking "too English" were tossed into the Boston Harbor because, with this edition, Lady Liberty stepped back into the spotlight in a major way.

These are one of our favorite half dollars because they feature a full-length depiction of Lady Liberty with flowing hair and a sweeping gown as she walks toward a rising sun. This epic design was created by engraver and sculptor Adolphe A. Weinman.

On the reverse, you'll see a bald eagle with its wings spread as it heads to its perch on top of a mountain. We have several of these beauties on our site for $79.95. These are from the first year these were minted, 1916, making them a stunning addition to everyone's collection.

The value on these lovely coins varies based on year, mint mark, mintage, and quality. Common date versions will only cost you about $30. Meanwhile, key dates can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Some of the key dates include 1916-S, 1919-D, and the 1921 Walking Liberty half dollar.

Franklin Half Dollar

In 1948, Lady Liberty stepped out of the spotlight and made room for one of America's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. While engraver John R. Sinnock was the designer, he based his work off the famous 18th-century sculpture of Franklin, created by Jean Antoine-Houdon.

It features a right-facing portrait of Franklin on one side and, on the reverse, you'll see the Liberty Bell. These were minted until 1963 when John F. Kennedy's assassination changed the lay of the land.

The value for the Franklin half dollar varies from ten dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. The varieties that are worth the most feature full bell lines and deep cameos of Franklin. Here at Bullion Shark, we carry Franklin Half Dollar rolls in mint state and proof condition.

Kennedy Half Dollar

These coins were minted to pay respect to the late president, John F. Kennedy and they're the half dollar coins that are current to today. On one side, you'll see a profile shot of President Kennedy.

Only the 1964 Kennedy half dollars contain 90% silver. Coins minted from 1965 to 1970 contain 40% silver. Barring the ones you may find in a special collector's set, any Kennedy half dollar minted after 1971 is made of nickel and copper.

One of our best deals on these half dollars is our roll of 20 coins. We sell rolls of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar circulated coins for $249.95. This is, of course, the year it was minted, struck from 90% silver, making it a fine addition to anyone's collection.

How to Value These Coins

As of 2020, the half dollar value is trending upward. All coins minted before 1965 are going to contain 90% silver. And, of course, older series will always be in demand because they're popular among collectors. Here's how to begin inspecting the value on your half dollar coins:

1. Know the Series

As we saw above, each design denotes a different denomination. If you're looking at a Bust half dollar, you may have a coin with a bit of value.

So, the first thing you'll need to do is identify the series. Is it a Bust half dollar, a Barber half dollar, or a Franklin half dollar, which led to the current evolution of Kennedy half dollars?

2. Note the Date

Back in the 17 and 1800s, mintages were lower than they are today, creating dates in demand. Of course, a Flowing Hair half dollar will create a higher yield than a Franklin half dollar.

3. Note the Mintmark

The mintmark is separate from the date. It represents each different mint, making it identified and valued separately. For example, the Walking Liberty half dollar was produced at three different mints: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco.

So, those minted in Denver have a (D) mint mark; those minted in San Francisco have an (S) mint mark; those minted in Philadelphia have no mintmark.

4. Consider Grading Conditions

All silver dollars will be closely inspected for their condition. Remember the Liberty Bell on the back of the Franklin half dollar? Something like that will help determine the condition. If the lines of the bell are quite clear, this will signal a higher condition than one with lines that are worn down.

5. Consider Bullion Value

The bullion value is tied to the amount of silver in each coin. That's why those consisting of 90% or more are worth their weight in - ahem - silver.

Presently, for example, Barber half dollars in "Fine" condition are considered to be in collector quality range. So, they're valued above silver bullion worth.

Bullion value, or quality, changes over time. Walking Liberty half dollars are also entering into collector quality range. So, this is an interesting component to keep an eye on as you get ready to buy, sell, or trade.

Start Your Half Dollar Collection Today

And there you have it! From Lady Liberty to Mr. Kennedy, you can have yourself a fine, fair half dollar collection. If you can get your hands on any Flowing Hair half dollars, Draped Bust half dollars, or Capped Bust half dollars, you're doing quite well.

Consider each of the five value points listed above and, if your desire is to sell, start shopping around to see who carefully considers each of these components.

Here at Bullion Shark, we have a wide variety of half dollars available for sale. You can round out your collection with a roll of 20 Walking Liberty almost uncirculated half dollars.

Or, you can add a 1950 Franklin half dollar proof to your growing collection. Proofs are the highest quality of any strike. They're very polished and are preserved specifically to maintain their condition.

No matter what you're looking for, feel free to browse our huge inventory of modern rare coins and classic rare coins. From $1 Gold Liberty Heads to $2.5 Gold Indians, we've got you covered.

And don't stop there. Our ancient & shipwreck coin collections are enough to make even the finest traders envious. Take a walk back in time with our Biblical coins collection. No matter your fancy, we look forward to shopping with you today.