The History and Value of the Kennedy Half Dollar


The Kennedy half dollar is a very popular collectible coin that has both sentimental value for many Americans as well as numismatic value for coin collectors. Why is this coin worth seeking out? Which ones are the most valuable? We will answer those questions here.

The History of the Kennedy Half Dollar

When John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960, he was the youngest man to ever hold that office, and many saw in him hope for the future of the country. The war years were over, the economy was booming, and the future seemed bright. When Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, the nation was shocked and mourned him deeply. It was a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. Generations of people still can say where they were when they heard Kennedy was shot. An outpouring of grief resulted from this tragedy. One tangible symbol of that grief was the Kennedy half dollar.

Congress authorized the production of the Kennedy half dollar only a month after his death, and the United States Mint first struck this coin in 1964 and released in March. Fortunately for the Mint, Kennedy already had his profile on a medal for the Mint’s Presidential series so they did not have to create one from nothing. Jacqueline Kennedy approved the use of this image for the coin. Her only request was that the hair be modified slightly.

When the Mint issued the coin, the public grabbed them up immediately. There were long lines at the Treasury Department they day they went up for sale and actually sold out. Few of the first coins released ever saw circulation because the demand for them was so intense both by coin collectors and also by the public who wanted a memento of their beloved president. The Mint increased production over time. In 1964 alone it struck 160 million half dollars and continued producing this coin into 1965 until numbers reached 430 million, but the coin remained very popular and scarce.

Silver Content of the Kennedy Half Dollar

Another reason for the continued scarcity of the Kennedy half dollar was its silver content. In 1964 these half dollars were 90% silver and 10% copper. The silver content makes them valuable independent of their numismatic value. While 1964 Kennedy half dollars aren’t rare, they are still valuable and very collectible for their historical significance.

In 1965 the Mint reduced the amount of silver in the half dollar. The price of silver had gone up. From 1965 to 1970 the half dollars they produced were 40 percent silver and 60 percent copper. The outer layer of this coin is plated in a mix that is 80 percent silver, so they still have the same look, but they are not as intrinsically valuable. These coins remained popular and out of circulation. Half dollars from this era generally have a value of about $2 – $10 dollars depending on condition. There are standout Kennedy half dollars that are worth much more, of course.   

The Kennedy half dollars minted beginning in 1971 have no silver content at all. The U.S. government decided they did not want to continue to use the more expensive metal to produce coins that never found their way into circulation. Interestingly enough, people still held on to these coins even with their lower value. The post-1971 half dollars aren’t worth much beyond their face value except for the 2014 commemoratives the Mint produced for the coin’s 50th anniversary.  There is a gold half dollar and also a 90 percent silver version. Both are collector’s items, of course.

Do you have any Kennedy half dollars? This coin is rare in that it has unique historical value for its contemporary collectors – real personal meaning for many people yet today. If you would like to add some to your coin collection, we at Grand Rapids Coins would be more than happy to help you meet that goal. Make an appointment to talk to us today by calling 616-884-5048!

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