Long Beard's Blog

02 Oct 2020

A Modern Classic

| Long Beard

This week's blog looks at one of the most popular coin series collectors opt to purse. The Kennedy half dollar. While there are many books, publications and a variety of online reference material covering the series the focus on this modern classic examines the origin and those responsible for it's creation. Enjoy!

A President Inaugurated
The official inauguration medal of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (the third image shown below) was produced by the Medallic Art Company in 1961. The obverse bust design created by Paul Manship, the reverse by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver, Frank Gasparro. While this bronze medal was the official version, another had been struck and issued by the Mint (the first image as shown below) that same year . The Presidential Series Medal differed slightly, the obverse bust design by Gasparro and the Great Seal of the United States reduced in size between two torches designed by U.S. Mint Assistant Engraver, Gilroy Roberts. With these being the only two Inaugural medals, a third medal bears reference to the subject discussed. This 44mm bronze President John F. Kennedy Appreciation was struck at the Philadelphia mint in 1962. The difference being, aside from design, both sides were the work of Frank Gasparro. Of the 300 produced, these were reportedly only given to the staff of the President. All three of these medals are collectible in their own right, and often become quite pricey if and when they appear in the marketplace.

Barely Interred
In the history of the United States Mint, no other coin has gone from an idea, through the design phase and into full production as quickly as the Kennedy half dollar. John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas on November the 22, 1963. The President's flag draped casket, having left the Capitol Rotunda on Monday the 25th where he lie in State since Saturday, and horse drawn caisson slowly proceeded towards Arlington National Cemetery. Within days, Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon and U.S. Mint Director, Eva Adams began discussion of a commemorative coin to honor the now deceased President. Following their private conversations, a meeting was requested, and granted, on the 27th between Dillon, and Adams with Jacqueline Kennedy and brother Robert Kennedy to create a new coin rather than a commemorative. The nickel, quarter and half dollar were suggested with Jacqueline preferring the half as to not replacing Jefferson or Washington. To which no one objected. With the decision finalized, Adams immediately telephoned Philadelphia instructing the engravers to begin designing a new half dollar bearing John F. Kennedy. Under normal circumstance the design process could take months if not longer. But circumstances were far from normal when informed that striking was to begin in January, a mere five weeks away. To facilitate such an audacious undertaking, Gilroy Roberts recalled the 1961 Presidential Series medal and began modifying the obverse bust design. At the same time, Frank Gasparro did likewise to the reverse design, presumably based from the Appreciation reverse. Sixteen days later, on December 13, a series of trial pieces going from clay model to working dies were produced at the Philadelphia Mint. The following day, Roberts personally delivered the trial pieces to Washington for approval Secretary Dillon, Director Adams and the Kennedy family. While all approved of the designs, again, Jacqueline suggested a slight change of hair accent of the obverse bust. Roberts obliged the modification for the final design of the new half dollar. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law a bill authorizing the design change on December 30, 1963. Thirty-six days from design to production.

A Mournful Memento
Striking of the new half dollar began on January 2, 1964 with an initial order of 90 million by Director Adams. With the Treasury Department shipping out half dollars over the first few months of the year, an eager public was able to acquire this new coin on March the 24th. That morning, before the banks had opened, long lines of a still mournful public had formed in every major city across the country. Many financial institutions foresaw the anticipation and had limits set as to how many could be exchanged or transacted. Even so, by noon the 70,000 which were shipped by the Treasury had been depleted. Seeing the increase in demand, Director Adams revised the order to 140 million. Despite the increase, the American public continued to collected them as fast as they were struck. Again, the order was increased to 160 million. Yet the public's mourning of a beloved President continued long into the year. So great was the demand that Congress granted special permission to strike coins dated 1964 into the next year. In total, 410 million 1964 Kennedy half dollars were struck across two years.

A Lasting Tribute
By the end of 1965, the strong demand coupled with the high mintage of half dollars, the government's silver stockpile had been severely depleted. With a world-wide silver shortage and rising costs associated, the Coinage Act of 1965 became necessary. Beginning that year, the half dollar had been reduced from 90 to 40 percent while the dime and quarter saw an elimination to a complete clad content. Although slowed, the demand for Kennedy half dollars forced the mint to eliminate silver from the denomination at the close of 1970. This was to be the last coin struck for circulation bearing precious metal. From a collector's view point of the 1964 Kennedy, I recall in my youth assembling several sets from circulating half dollars, finding perhaps two or three first year of issue coins. This stretched into the early eighties when they could be found freely in circulation. As evident by the 1964 circulated grades versus the mint state in the marketplace, the love of both a President and coin which bears his namesake was and is strong. Which, in my opinion, makes this date a commemorative.



Level 6

Great blog of an historic event. For those of us old guys, it was a tragic time. Thanks. I look forward to your next blog on this.


Level 5

I have started to become increasingly interested in these medals... Thanks for the great blog! Cheers, NM


Level 6

Thanks for sharing. Very good blog and beautiful Medals!


Level 5

There aren't many things a five-year-old remembers and Kennedy's assassination is one of those. This is truly tragic and permanently changed what is now history to us. :(


Level 6

Thanks for an outstanding history of the Kennedy inaugural medals and the half dollar. I learned things today and that is always a good thing.


Level 7

I bought the anniversary set of four coins. In it was a booklet. Now it says that Roberts was doing medals of the Presidents . He was working by J.F.K. office and he would comment on it. Shortly after we lost this great man. They needed a coin they took the one Roberts just finished. Kennedy had chosen his own coin. Not knowing he would be killed. I called Rick Tomaska and he read it and agreed. The last one Roberts did was Kennedy. Kennedy loved it. The accented hair was already in production. They stopped it. Mrs. Kennedy didn't like his hair. . I couldn't of made such a decision . She as a strong woman. Thanks for your blog. I always like them. Keep up the good work many of us learn from you. And thanks for writing about one of my favorite coins


Level 3

Kennedys certainly are interesting. I've found 2 64's, 1 of each year 1965 thru 7, and a 69, as well as 4 68 D's in circulation. In any case, the Kennedy halves certainly are iconic modern US coins!


Level 5

Nice medals. I have some 1970 D Kennedy halfs and a few 1964 silver ones. Always liked the Kennedy, but never got into collecting them for a set or yearly. Very popular series.


Level 5

You're a man after my own heart Long Beard ! As I've mentioned earlier, I was 10 years old at that time in history. It was the first time that my school had closed early, so I knew something was "afoot". GREAT post buddy! I also will be posting about Kennedy in a few minutes which will also enlighten those who do not collect Kennedys, Another Great Read from the pen of Long Beard! Thanks buddy!


Level 5

Nice medal! Cheers, NM

I. R. Bama

Level 5

I was only 5 but so many details of the first few days are etched in my memory so sharply. Everybody appreciates this well executed coin. The reverse is one of my top favorites of all time


Level 5

I was very young during this time and my memories are dim, all I knew is that everyone was sad. I do however remember my Grandmother doing a show and tell with her new "Kennedy" that had it's cherished place in the display case in the living room. I still have that "Kennedy" and all the good memories from then and later. Nice Blog. Thanks.


Level 6

Nice blog and nice medals.

Incredible how fast the government works when it wants to. The one cent piece was also recommended with a tree on the reverse, the half dollars are still collected by everyone.

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