In 2019, the rarest 1964 JFK half dollar sold at auction for an astonishing $108,000. It was the first time a Kennedy fifty-cent coin sold for over six figures.
But what made that particular half-dollar so valuable? And, if you could add a half-dollar to your collection, would it be worth a lot someday?
The 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar is a piece of United States currency with a unique, complex history. This history is part of what shapes so much interest in the coin.
John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States. Kennedy's memorable presidency and tragic death make him an essential part of American history.
The history of the coin created in his honor was equally storied.
Below, we look at the history of the 1964 John of Kennedy half-dollar coin and the coin itself. What is the coin made of? And how valuable is it today?
1963 Peace Tour
In John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, he gave his most famous quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
He valued answers that made countries great, like space exploration, and focused on peace over war.
In 1963, President Kennedy went on a peace tour of Europe. In preparation for this tour, he ordered the creation of 300 appreciation medals.
He distributed these medals to honor peace-making leaders across Europe, including Eastern European leaders. He also honored leaders of Native American tribes.
Presidential Medal Design
These medals were eventually called the Presidental Medals. Gilroy Roberts was a sculptor and engraver. He was predominantly responsible for the look of the medals.
In particular, he took great care to get a precise likeness of President Kennedy's profile on the face of the medal.
Reportedly, even though Kennedy approved of Roberts' initial draft of the design, Roberts redrafted the profile based on his observations of Kennedy in meetings in an attempt to perfect it.
The Assassination of President John F Kennedy
On November 2nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The JFK assassination was a pivotal moment in United States history. To this day, Americans who were alive in 1963 remember where they were when they heard the news.
Investigators charged Lee Harvey Oswald with the murder. However, before he could stand trial, Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner, killed Oswald while being transferred. This second murder sparked many conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination.
Most Americans sought ways to mourn and commemorate Kennedy during the tumultuous time.
Creating the Kennedy Half Dollar
Soon after Kennedy's assassination, the U.S. Mint began work on the JFK half dollar. US Mint Director Eva Adams wanted to design a coin that would both honor Kennedy and be easy to use so that Kennedy would maintain a place in daily American life.
Adams consulted with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, President Kennedy's widow, about the commemorative coin.
Onassis suggested a half dollar coin rather than a quarter dollar. However, the quarter dollar coin featured the profile of George Washington, and Onassis didn't want to replace it.
After getting Onassis's approval, Adams brought on two established artists to create the silver Kennedy half-dollar. Gilroy Roberts would design the coin's obverse side, and Frank Gasparro would design the reverse side.
Engravers and Artists
Mint Director Eva Adams selected Gilroy Roberts because he was the Chief Engraver at the Mint. He also had previous experience depicting Kennedy. In addition, Roberts was responsible for the bust profile of Kennedy on the Presidential Medal.
Roberts was a meticulous artist. Since he'd already refined the Kennedy profile for the 1962 medal, he chose to adapt for the new coin.
While some other leaders at the Mint suggested a half-body image of Kennedy for the coin, Roberts stuck with the bust. He simply didn't have time to create an entirely new engraving for the half dollar.
Frank Gasparro designed the reverse side of the half dollar.
Gasparro was the Assistant Engraver at the U.S. Mint in 1964. He was promoted to Chief Engraver in 1965.
Gasparro was a lauded artist. He graduated from The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and apprenticed under the sculptor Giuseppe Donato.
After creating the 1964 silver Kennedy half dollar, Gasparro would design the reverse side of the 1958 cent and both sides of the Susan B. Anthony dollar.
Frank Gasparro created the original design for the reverse side of the Presidential Medal. Like Roberts, he chose to modify his design for the half dollar coin. His eagle emblem became the reverse side of the Kennedy half dollar.
Jacqueline Kennedy's Revision
Roberts and Gasparro finalized their designs. Then, they sent them to the U.S. Mint, which created 100,000 proof coins. The Mint also made twelve Special Mint Sets (SMS) that year, specifically for commemoration.
When Jackie Kennedy reviewed the proofs of the silver half dollar, she was mostly satisfied. However, she didn't like the way Roberts accented her deceased husband's hair.
Kennedy suggested that Roberts alter the design so that JFK's hair seemed more subtly tousled. Roberts took the critique to heart and revised the profile. So, the mass-produced version of the 1964 half dollar did not have accented hair.
Popular With Americans and Abroad
The 1964 silver Kennedy half dollar was wildly popular. Demand was sky-high. Even though the U.S. Mint predicted the coin's popularity, they did not initially strike enough coins to meet the demand.
Banks limited the number of coins an individual could get. At first, they only allowed a person to take out forty Kennedy half dollars.
Yet, even with this limitation, the Washington Treasury Department sold out all of their allotted 70,000 coins on the first day.
The U.S. Treasury Department originally planned to mint 91 million half dollars in 1964. Instead, they raised the number to 141 million. Ultimately, they minted 430 million Kennedy half dollars to meet demand in 1964.
Africa and Europe
The 1964 Kennedy half dollar was popular in African countries. Europeans also sought out the Kennedy half dollar. Part of this was an act of commemoration. Kennedy had a reputation as a peace-maker. So, his vision and tragic death moved people worldwide.
That said, U.S. Ambassadors abroad also distributed the Kennedy half dollar in 1964. It was a way to encourage good associations with the United States.
Some Americans complained to the Denver Mint about the appearance of the half dollar.
They believed that a small aspect of the engraving on the obverse side was a hammer and sickle. This symbol contributed to some Soviet Union-related conspiracy theories.
However, Gilroy Roberts explained that the "symbol" was his initials. The stylized "R" for Roberts could look like a sickle. He signed the engraving but kept his initials small.
That way, his signature wouldn't distract from the profile. Unfortunately, the small print led to confusion.
1964 Coin Shortage
There was a general coin shortage in 1964. The U.S. Treasury discovered that many coins weren't circulating. This created problems for shopkeepers who needed change.
It also created problems for people using vending machines. In the 1960s, Meilkien vending machines could sell beverages for the first time. These coin-based machines became increasingly popular.
Thus, the coin shortage frustrated the public. The drought also hindered the sale of inexpensive goods.
The U.S. Treasury was particularly frustrated by the low circulation rate of the 1964 silver Kennedy half dollar. Part of the problem was the Treasury's 1961 announcement that the silver reserves were being depleted.
The Treasury believed this was due to the high demand for coins. This led the public to become fearful of a silver shortage. As a result, people hesitated to spend any silver coins they had.
The U.S. Treasury also blamed collectors and numismatists for the low circulation rate. The Treasury alleged that dealers were hoarding the coins to inflate the prices artificially.
As a result, the U.S. Mint chose to strike some Kennedy half dollars in 1965 using the 1964 die. They also increased coin production in 1964.
Despite this, people still frequently sought out the 1964 silver Kennedy half dollar and chose not to spend it.
Coin Act of 1965
Ultimately, Congress passed the Coin Act of 1965 to address the coin shortage. This act made it unlawful to melt coins.
It also enabled the Mint to redesign popular coins without silver. The Mint could also re-create coins with a lower silver composition. As a result, dimes and quarters minted after 1965 did not contain any silver.
Kennedy half dollars were minted with considerably less silver after the Coin Act than they were in 1964.
Finally, the Coin Act of 1965 limited how often the U.S. Mint could redesign a coin.
The aim was to reduce the risk that people would hoard coins. People didn't circulate coins when they feared that a specific coin would only be minted for a short time.
1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Composition
What was the 1964 silver Kennedy half dollar content in terms of metals?
The U.S. Mint comprised the original 1964 Kennedy half dollar with 90% silver and 10% copper. When it became clear that the coin wasn't circulating widely, the U.S. Mint wondered if the high degree of silver was the cause.
In later half-dollar productions, the U.S. Mint reduced the coin's silver content. So, after 1965, Kennedy half-dollars were only 40% silver. But, decreasing the percentage of silver in the coin did not increase circulation.
Instead, the subsequent Kennedy half-dollars were just as popular as before, and people continued to hesitate to spend them. Eventually, the U.S. Mint recreated the coin entirely out of base metals.
Even the cheaper-to-produce version didn't circulate as much as they'd hoped. As a result, the U.S. Mint finally stopped printing Kennedy half-dollars for circulation in 1987.
1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Current Valuation
Most 1964 Kennedy half dollar coins aren't that rare since the U.S. Treasury intended the coins for general circulation. The U.S. Mint struck 277 million Kennedy half dollars.
Still, 1964 Kennedy half-dollars were unusual among coins because each one included so much silver. The silver coin value is higher than other metals.
Beyond that, the sentimental value of the coins led many people to keep their half dollars rather than spend them. So, even fairly typical 1964 Kennedy half-dollars are worth more than fifty cents today.
Like most coins, 1964 Kennedy half dollar uncirculated variants are worth more. They are more likely to be near mint condition.
That said, the highest-value 1964 JFK half-dollar coins were unusual in some way. Some rare varieties stem from a double-strike error. The U.S. Mint created others exclusively for special mint sets.
Rare variations aside, let's unpack the typical value of a 1964 silver Kennedy half-dollar.
The average 1964 silver Kennedy half-dollar has an estimated value ranging from $10.95 to $21. This range is for half-dollars rated MS60 to MS65.
The higher the mint state rating (MS), the better condition the coin is in. To determine a given JFK half dollar value, get your coin's condition evaluated by a professional.
1964 Kennedy half-dollar coins rated MS66 to MS68, or higher have a higher valuation. These coins have sold for $85 to $700 at auction.
It's rare to find a 1964 Kennedy half-dollar rated MS67 or higher. The pCGS has only granted that rating to 110 silver Kennedy half dollars.
Even a low-quality "pocket change" version of the 1964 Kennedy half-dollar is worth something. You can reliably sell a highly circulated version of this coin for $10-11.
This is slightly above the raw value of the silver in the coin, which would be worth $9.61 if you melted it down.
Most Recent Auction
Dealers held the most recent auction to sell a 1964 Kennedy half dollar in May 2021. Evaluators rated the coin MS65. It sold for $55.
Variants and Rarities
Beyond the typical range of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar value, there are variants and rarities. The U.S. Mint created some of these variants specifically for collectors. Others, though, were accidents.
As always, the value of a given rare variant coin will change depending on the mint state of that coin in particular. So, if a coin is in poor condition, even if it's rare, it won't go for as much at auction.
In many cases, rare coins are the result of a minting error.
There are a few categories of minting errors:
- planchet errors
- hub or die errors
- strike errors
These three types of minting errors create unusual coins. If you understand them, you can be on the lookout for coins with these errors. This includes JFK half dollar coins with errors.
Minters cause planchet errors when there's some problem with the metal sheets. Planchets are long strips of metal that minters feed into a minting press—the press prints coins from these sheets.
If the metal is weak, damaged, or loaded incorrectly, the resulting coins will have noticeable irregularities.
Hub and Die
Issues with the engraved rods that stamp the image onto a coin cause hub and die errors. If the rod is misaligned, damaged, or deteriorated, it won't press the image onto a coin precisely.
The rod itself is the hub. The die is a cast that connects to the coin on the opposite side.
A notable hub and die error is a "double die" error. This is when a hub stamps an image onto a single coin twice. This creates duplicate elements.
Misalignment can also cause "overdate" (OD) and "over-mintmark" (OMM) errors. These errors cause a coin to bear more than one date or mintmark.
Strike errors are due to a malfunction in the minting machinery. These are the most common types of errors.
Some of the rarer variants of the Kennedy half-dollar have minting errors. Others are simply limited print runs before a design revision.
The 1964-D DDO Kennedy half-dollar is a valuable variant. Its unique quality is the result of a "double die obverse" error. This means a hub struck the face of the coin twice.
The most noticeable difference between the 1964-D DDO Kennedy half-dollar and the typical silver half-dollar is the slightly visible replication of the date.
Typically, 1964-D DDO versions of the Kennedy half-dollar have sold for auction prices between $75 and $552. These coins ranged from MS63 to MS66 condition.
The highest value 1964-D DDO Kennedy half-dollar sold for $2000 at auction. Professional coin graders rated this coin MS67.
1964 Accented Hair Proof
The "accented hair" proof is another valuable variant of the 1964 Kennedy half-dollar. Unlike the 1964-D DDO variant, this version of the coin was actually the original, intended version.
When Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts first designed the Kennedy half-dollar, he highlighted and shaded parts of Kennedy's profile with accent marks. Many of these accent marks made it into the final design.
However, upon seeing the initial proofs, Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis (President Kennedy's widow) suggested JFK's hair be more subtle. So, Roberts made slight alterations to the design.
As a result, the mass-produced Kennedy half-dollars did not have accented hair.
However, by the time Roberts implemented the changes, about 100,000 proof coins were already minted with the original "accented hair" design. The initial run of proofs totaled over 4 million coins.
This makes the accented hair proofs relatively rare. Only 1/40 Kennedy half-dollar proofs have a version of Kennedy's profile with accented hair.
In 2021, 1964 Kennedy Half-Dollar Accented Hair Proof coins sold at auction for between $94 and $4,551.
That said, the highly-rated mint state editions of this coin have garnered five-figure valuations not infrequently. For example, an MS68 Accented Hair Proof sold for $11,000 in 2009. A different MS68 Proof went for $13,200 in 2019.
The highest value accented hair proof half-dollar sold for $108,000. However, it was not only rare due to the accented hair design.
That coin was also from a 1964 Special Mint Set (SMS) edition of the half-dollar. Read on to learn about the SMS variant.
1964 SMS (Special Mint Set) Half-Dollar
The 1964 SMS were special mint sets of two Kennedy half dollar coins. The U.S. Mint only made twelve of these sets altogether. The U.S. Mint enclosed the coins in the special mint sets within a protective casing.
The coins themselves have a satin-like finish. They have no contact marks.
Instead, the U.S. Mint pressed the coins with a strong strike and a "dangling 4." This raindrop-shaped indicator beneath the "4" in "1964" shows the rare half-dollar's true provenance.
Because the U.S. Mint only made twelve of the SMS Kennedy half-dollars, they are incredibly rare. These coins often break auction records.
In the past ten years, the value range for 1964 SMS Kennedy half-dollars starts at $6,037 and gets as high as $151,000. It is typical for SMS half-dollars to sell for five figures.
The highest value SMS Kennedy half-dollar sold for $108,000. This was the record-breaking half-dollar mentioned in the introduction.
Both the buyer and seller at that auction wished to remain anonymous. Nobody knows when an SMS half-dollar will be up for auction again.
Other Kennedy Half-Dollar Coins
Periodically, the United States Mint has designed new Kennedy half-dollar coins for historical anniversaries. The Mint released some of these coins to the general public and others in special mint sets exclusively to numismatists.
The U.S. Mint continued to mass-produce Kennedy half-dollar coins for general circulation until 1987. Low circulation rates prompted the Mint to discontinue production.
From 1965-1987, the Kennedy half-dollars were not minted in 90% silver. Instead, these coins were only 40% silver. In 1971, the U.S. Mint redesigned half dollars with a base metal composition.
For the bicentennial, the mint issued Kennedy half dollars with new reverse designs. Artist Seth G. Huntington won a design competition.
His engraving of Independence Hall replaced Frank Gasparro's eagle emblem on the reverse side.
1998-S Matte Finish (SMS) Kennedy Half Dollar
The U.S. Mint created 62,000 Kennedy half-dollars for their 1998 Special Mint Set (SMS). They struck these coins in silver.
The U.S. Mint sold the half dollars in sets of two directly to collectors. They sold the original sets for $59.99.
Today, 1998-S Matte Finish (SMS) Kennedy half-dollars have an estimated value range of $94 to $264.
2014-W Gold Kennedy Half-Dollar
In 2014, the Mint worked with a private firm to create a special edition of the Kennedy half-dollar.
These coins are the only Kennedy half-dollars minted on a gold planchet. They have Gasparro's eagle emblem on the reverse side.
These gold coins typically sell for about $1,400 at auction today.
Surprising Coin Histories and Values
The 1964 Kennedy half dollar isn't the only coin with a surprising history or valuation. The long history of United States currency has plenty of unexpected twists.
The 1964 Kennedy half dollar coin is an excellent addition to any collection. Whether you're a novice numismatist or an expert, there are many pristine half dollars on the market.
Compare ratings and explore the best options for your collection. Why not create an account and build your collection today?