The Kennedy half dollar, struck since 1964 to honor President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated on November 22, 1963, have not been issued for circulation since 2002. Since that time, the coins have been sold in rolls and bags at a premium by the U.S. Mint, allowing collectors to keep their sets up to date and making the series one of the longest running ones in our history.
Kennedy half dollars were issued in 90% silver only for the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar (except for Proof versions) then in 40% silver from 1965 to 1970 and in copper-nickel (which consists of an outer layer of copper-nickel bonded to an inner core of pure copper) since then.
But the clad half dollars are now once again being seen in circulation, specifically in 20-coin rolls and $500 boxes of 20 of those rolls.
At first blush it might seem like this happened because some collectors purchased half dollars from the Mint and either decided to put them into circulation, or perhaps needed the money for expenses. But when one understands how pervasive the recent reports of circulation-quality halves are, that is not what explains the situation.
Several collectors in Western states have reported to numismatic media publications and on the PCGS Message Boards and other places since last month that they were able to obtain rolls and boxes of 2021-D Kennedy halves that are not wrapped in the U.S. Mint wrapping used for the coins sold at a premium that say “U.S. Mint’ on them. Instead, they are in wrappers that read “$10 Halves”.
In a Coin World story in June a collector in Washington state reported obtaining $1,000 in Kennedy halves, or two $500 boxes, from his local bank and was told by the bank that they ordered them accidentally when they meant to order quarter dollars.
But based on comments on the PCGS Message Boards, Reddit.com and photos on eBay of sellers with bank-wrapped rolls of 2021-D and 2020-D coins, there is much more to this story and much more that remains to be revealed.
On July 6, the U.S. Mint’s spokesman Michael White confirmed to Coin World that the Federal Reserve has been placing ordered for circulation-quality Kennedy half dollars, but they did not indicate when this practice started or what the reason for it is. Neither the Mint nor the Fed responded to requests from the magazine for more details.
Some have speculated that perhaps the Mint decided to start issuing the coins again for circulation sometime in recent years, but simply did not publicize that fact, which is possible.
Others think the reason the Fed is ordering the coins is because of the current shortage of circulating coinage, or more specifically the distribution problems with getting coins to the retailers who need them for their businesses.
But half dollars have not really circulated to any major extent since the Walking Liberty half dollars were issued through 1947.
When the 1964 Kennedy silver, or JFK halves, were released, they were immediately mostly hoarded as mementos of the slain president. Later they were hoarded and saved for their silver content. And even the clad coins issued since 1971 are seen so infrequently in change, that most people think they are something special when they see them and put them aside rather than spend them.
Another interesting aspect to the story is that so far it is only Denver Mint coins that have been obtained from banks in Western states, and none so far in other parts of the country, so it could be they are being ordered because of problems with coinage circulation in states like Washington and California.
Others speculate that perhaps it is all those JFK half dollar collectors ordering rolls and boxes of the coins from their banks that is creating the perception of a demand for circulation-quality half dollars, which then led the Fed to order more coins and to keep doing that.
Collectors have long tried to obtain the coins from their local banks to search for silver halves or dates they need for their collections.
But other collectors have reported receiving boxes of 2018-D coins too, which again raises the matter of when the Fed began ordering the coins. Some support for the idea that they did it in 2018 and then again since 2020 is that mintage levels of half dollars rose during those years compared to other recent years.
In 2016 2.1 million Denver and Philadelphia halves were made, and then 2.9 million for 2017-P and 1.8 million for 2017-D, according to Mint data. Then in 2018 they rose to 6.1 million Denver coins and 4.8 million Philly coins, dipping in 2019 to 1.7 million for both types.
And in 2020 they again rose to 3.1 million for Denver halves and 2.3 for Philadelphia halves. And this year mintages have been ramped up even higher than any year since 2020, reaching already by mid-year 7.7 million for 2021-D and 5.1 million for 2021-P halves.
It will be interesting to see how this situation evolves. In the meantime, check your change as you might receive some JFK halves, especially if you leave on the West coast.
July 17 update: A collector in Virginia told Coin World he received 2021-P Kennedy halves when he requested a box of half dollars at his local bank, so the coins are now showing up on the East coast too.