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The Secrets of Collecting Key Date Half Dollars

The Secrets of Collecting Key Date Half Dollars

Jul 22nd 2020

The three most widely collected U.S. half dollars are the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, Franklin Half Dollar and Kennedy half dollars.

Walking Liberty Half Dollar values

Within the Walking Liberty Half Dollar series, there are many scarce dates especially in high states of preservation, but the key date coins based on mintages and surviving populations are scarce even in lower circulated grades and worth tens of thousands of dollars in the finest grades.

These include 1916-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar with a mintage of 508,000; 1921 with a mintage of 264,000; 1921-D with a mintage of 208,000 (the lowest of the series); and 1921-S with 548,000 struck.

For 1916-S it is estimated that only 25,000 of the original mintage still exists, and of those just 1500 are uncirculated coins and only 150 of them grade MS65 or higher. In VF-30 the coin is worth $575 graded, while MS60s bring $1750, MS65 $62,50 and MS66 at least $37,500 with the record being one that sold for $43,200 in 2018. Only 15 exist in that grade, and there is one MS67.

1921 and 1921-D have always been in demand because they are the lowest mintage coins of the entire series.

Only 12,500 examples of the 1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollar coin are believed to exist with 750 uncirculated coins and a mere 95 gems grading MS65 or better. A VF30 graded is worth $1200, an MS60 $6,250 and an MS65 $23,500. The finest examples are 4 that grade MS66. The record is $60,500 for one of those 4 that sold all the way back in 1990.

Only 10,000 total examples are estimated to still exist of 1921-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar, and of them only 600 are mint state coins and only 60 of those grade MS65 or higher. In VF30 the coin brings $1850 and jumps to about $10,000 in MS60. The record sale is $168,000 for one of the three MS66 coins in 2018.

For 1921-S 27,500 coins are believed to remain of the original mintage with 300 mint states and just 20 grading MS65 or better. VF30 coins are worth $1450, but in MS60 the value jumps to $20,000 and all the way to $110,000 in MS65. The record is $188,000 in 2018 for the one MS66, but the current PCGS guide prices it at $250,000.

Franklin Half Dollar values

The key date coin for the Franklin half dollar series used to be the 1949-S in mint state, especially MS65 coins. This was before the advent of third party grading, which eventually revealed there are other dates that are scarcer in mint state.

1949-S usually comes softly struck and without full bell lines. In the top grade of MS67 it is worth $1800 today, but with full bell lines it is worth ten times that amount or more.

Franklin expert Rick, who you may have seen on television, says that it has been years since an MS67 FBL has been on the market.

The 1955 Franklin Half Dollar is the lowest mintage coin of the series with 2,498,181 struck but only 10% or about 250,00 are believed to still exist and 10% of those are mint state coins. In MS66 the coin is still modestly valued at $130 but reaches $1250 in the top grade of MS67.

But this date usually comes scruffy with lots of bag marks, and choice examples especially with FBL command much more. MS66 FBL is a good deal today at $250, while MS67 FBL is valued in the PCGS price guide at $8,500, though we offer a great deal on one of these.

This shows how much a point difference in grading can be worth. There are 14 such coins with recent auctions in the $6-7,000 range, and one that brought $14,000 in 2016.

The rarest and most valuable coin of the series today is 1953-S FBL Franklin Half Dollar with only 45 mint state coins graded by PCGS, including 2 at MS66 and just 1 at MS67 that is worth $60,000! In 2002, an MS66 sold for $69,000, which is likely the highest amount ever paid for a Franklin half dollar.

Kennedy Half Dollar values

Although the Kennedy half dollar series has been issued for over 50 years since 1964, there are only a few key date coins and some condition rarities like the 1964-D worth $26,500 in the top grade of MS68 and variety issues like the 1974-D Double Die Obverse.

The lowest mintage issue is the 1998-S, which was issued as part of a popular two-coin set that also included a commemorative silver dollar for JFK’s brother, Robert, who was also assassinated. Only 62,000 of these were issued according to the Red Book, but PCGS says it could be 64,000.

This coin, which has an unusual matte finish, is worth $175 in Specimen, or SP69 (2,376 graded by PCGS) and $400 in SP70 (433 graded).

The most valuable Kennedy half dollar by far is the ultra-rare 1964 Special Mint Set coin that is not supposed to exist since those sets were issued in 1965-1967 when no proof sets were made. 15 have been graded by PCGS, and in SP69 they are valued at $200,000, though the highest sale was at $156,000 in 2019.

The Kennedy half worth the most in all grades based on its intrinsic value is the 2014-W 50th anniversary gold coin that has .75 ounces of pure gold worth about $1400 at today’s spot gold of $1850 and have been selling for about $1500 recently. Examples graded PF70 have traded recently for about $1900.