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Long Beard's Blog

27 Nov 2020

Opportunity Galore

Coins-United States | Long Beard

Benjamin Franklin. Inventor, scientist, author and statesman. One of the most influential founding fathers pivotal in securing freedom and independence. So what do we really know about the coin which bears his likeness? With 35 coins, 49 including proof versions, few other series composed of silver are obtainable on practically any budget for a complete mint state set while offering long term value. From origin to current trends, as well as undervalued specimens, the Franklin Half Dollar (1948-1963) is the subject of the week. Enjoy!




For Benjamin Franklin to be immortalized on a United States circulating coin seemed fitting in early 1947 as U.S. Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross, an avid admirer of Franklin, set out to do just that. The half dollar was the only logical choice being that all other denominations now had actual individuals engraved upon them. With this in mind, she consulted with Chief Engraver, John Sinnock, to create a design honoring Franklin. Using the model from a 1933 medal (that represented below) of his design, and requiring only slight modifications, Sinnock focused on a reverse design. Since Philadelphia was home to Franklin and the birthplace of America, the Liberty Bell seemed appropriate. Like many new coinage designs, with setbacks and/or resistance, his was no different. The redesign of a new half dollar, however, came with his death on May 14, 1947 before completion of his work. Pushing forward, Director Ross assigned the task of finishing Sinnock's design to Assistant Engraver, Gilroy Roberts. Soon, Roberts himself faced a setback as federal law required that all coinage larger than the dime must bear an eagle on the reverse. Which the new design clearly did not account for. Because of this omission, and not wishing to do a complete design change (out of respect for the former engraver or pressure from Director Ross), a small eagle was placed in the available open space to the right of the Liberty Bell. A model of which was sent to the Commission of Fine Arts for approval in November. The commission found the designs, specifically the reverse, unappealing, insignificant and hardly discernible. Calling the tiny eagle "an afterthought". The design in general, an exposed crack in the bell, may bring unneeded criticism and negativity toward the mint. In rejecting the designs, the commission recommended that a public competition be put forth. Again speculating, Nellie Ross through her influence, may have persuaded Treasury Secretary John W. Snyder to over ride their recommendations stating that the role of the Commission of Fine Arts is purely that of an advisory role. The striking of half dollars in 1948 brought to an end the use of Lady Liberty as an allegorical image on circulating coinage.




With mintages ranging from the lowest at 2,796,920 to a highest of 67,069,292 it becomes obvious as to how plentiful they remain in the marketplace. This is also a series which lacks the normal key and semi-key dates which others do. With such high production and survivor totals assembling a set in mint state 64, for instance, is quite simple and wallet friendly. With exception to the Roosevelt dime, not so with any other pre-1964 series. So let's examine the "key dates" in third party MS64 at their current averages.




1948, $70.00

1949s, $78.00

1953, $55.00

1953s, $55.00



Again, these are averages so with some searching they may be had for a bit less. The remaining 31 seem to run between $25 and $50. What this means is that for approximately $1200 one could assemble a beautiful and consistent set to admire and enjoy. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when discussing Franklin Half dollars.



So, you want full bell lines? Who wouldn't. To explain, for those new or unfamiliar, full bell lines (FBL) are the complete and uninterrupted lines running horizontal at the bottom of the Liberty Bell. Distinguishing these is extremely tricky and best left to the third party graders. These highly sought after specimens become challenging to say the least, especially in grades above MS64. While some, such as the 1948 FBL pictured, are not much above a standard grade, most require deeper pockets. While those of a straight mint state grade rise in price, FBL skyrocket quickly beyond beyond MS64. Here are the latest auction results found.




1963 PCGS MS65+ FBL, $1938.75

1962 PCGS MS66 FBL, $2585

1951 PCGS MS67 FBL, $7050



These three coins range in mintage from 12,932,019 to 25,239,645! Proof that a high number of struck coins does not translate to affordable. And if you are curious, no Franklin half has yet to grade above MS67 at PCGS. Only four grade an MS68 at NGC. One 1948, 1949s, 1957 and one 1959. So it becomes easy to see how this series shows tremendous upside for those able to do so. For those of us who are not, myself included, with the numbers still ungraded the odds are on our side. And that's what make this a great series to pursue.




Finally, had John Fitzgerald Kennedy not been assassinated, perhaps Benjamin Franklin would still be on the half dollar. Or would it have become obsolete altogether as did those denominations of a distant past?



The bronze medal image was sourced from EBAY

Comments

Mal_ANA_YN

Level 4

Great blog about a GREAT AMERICAN! Even us younger collectors can afford many Franklin Half dollars.

Mokie

Level 6

A wonderful assessment of the Franklin Half as a fun and relatively easy collection goal. I do think the Franklin Half would still be around today if not for the Kennedy assassination, but as Gary noted, it would still have become an NCLT coin. Maybe they would have used the reverse for some special issues. In any event, I hope there is a complete change in our nation's circulating coins by our 250th anniversary. ,

Long Beard

Level 5

You and I both on the complete redesigns.

World_Coin_Nut

Level 5

Very enjoyable read. At one time I had a set of business strikes that eventually I moved on from. Still one of my favorite US coins.

coinsbygary

Level 5

Your post on Franklin half-dollars is both a good and enjoyable read. You speculate on the survivability of the Franklin half-dollar as a circulating coin. With the hoarding of Kennedy half-dollars due to his assassination and the removal of silver from all coinage except the half-dollar in 1965, the public got used to not seeing half-dollars in circulation. This has led to the decline of the circulating half-dollar and its permanent status as a collector coin only. IMO without the assassination of JFK, maybe the Franklin half-dollar design would have survived. However, the hoarding of the only coin minted in 40% silver would have continued from 1965-1970. Therefore the Franklin half-dollar, like the Kennedy half-dollar, would have eventually been relegated to collector coin status.

Long Beard

Level 5

How did that escape my memory? As for the hoarding, I think the vast majority of today's youth are uninterested in coin collecting and should the hoards of their parents/grandparents find their way into the hands of the children's they'll end up on the market in large numbers. A good portion of which would most likely be in mint state. Either way, from what I've been seeing in the big auction houses over the past few years points to a hot market. Some outrageously high spikes in valve from five years ago, especially on the higher production '60's strikes.

the coin guy

Level 4

you've got a nice looking Benjamin half there! I'm not very big on collecting Benjamin halves but they are very eye appealing when they're in that condition!

Long Beard

Level 5

Think I paid around $40 a while back from a coin show in Spatanburg, SC.

TheNumisMaster

Level 5

Absolutely loved this overview. These classics always have fascinated me, and I greatly appreciated this blog. I look forward to the next one! Cheers, NM

Long Beard

Level 5

Thank you kindly. I chose a topic relatively easy for any collector to build upon which has some added value. More bang for the buck if you will.

"SUN"

Level 5

Great blog! Nice overview of series. I just completed my Franklin halves this year.

Long Beard

Level 5

Congratulation on the accomplishment.

Longstrider

Level 6

I think your blog has convinced me into collecting this series. I am an old fart and had this coin in my pocket as a kid. Man, you really had some money if had this. It's a nice big coin and felt great. Those FBL sure inflate the price. I did try collecting some nice toned ones a few years ago. I gave it up as they didn't seem to tone in an attractive way to me. My opinion. Kinda like my Peace Dollars don't tone well. Great blog I reckon I better order a Dansco album. Thanks, I think.

Long Beard

Level 5

Nice and big. Seems to be the direction my collection is heading with my old eyes. Hopefully I'll complete the Seated and Capped Bust dimes by then.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

I enjoyed this, as all of your articles, very much. This coin is also one of my favorites and I completed my set earlier in the year. I have to agree with the art commission. the eagle detracts from the reverse design. It unbalances the field. I didn't know the history about the pigmy eagle until you mentioned it, so you filled in one of my blanks of my numismatic knowledge But how could it have been done better? Who am I to suggest to the great designers how to do it better? Heck! I'll do it anyway! Your article provoked some thought in a direction I've never gone before. So here is my Trime's worth. (LOL). What if the bell had been overlaid on an eagle in flight? The bell would be smaller of course and the field more filled evenly on both sides, though the body of the eagle would be covered mostly by the bell. Now that might have been a more attractive reverse design!

Long Beard

Level 5

Pigmy eagle.... i'm using that one!

You have a lovely coin, well-struck too. I've always been a fan of this coin. Franklin was talented but very strange by our modern standards.

Long Beard

Level 5

Thanks. Unlike most collectors, I think the 64/65 range as a set looks much better consistency wise.

CentSearcher

Level 5

The small eagle on the reverse of the Franklin half always puzzled me, but now I know why! I am assuming that by larger than a dime that means larger in face value, because no cents or nickels bore an eagle on the reverse. Thanks for the information! Later

Long Beard

Level 5

I caught that as well doing further research on the laws of the time.

Golfer

Level 5

Ben Franklin was an amazing man. He sure got around and helped this country . I was reading a book about this country back then. Franklin had a very interesting life. Great blog and history lesson. Always like to read about this time period.

Long Beard

Level 5

I as well love the early history of this great nation.

Mike

Level 7

Great blog Always look forward to them. He got his writing skills when he went to France at the age of 18. There he worked the press it's now in the Smithsonian Institution. He made so many trips back and forth across the Atlantic. From here to France. He became so well known that's how he got us the help we needed from the French. There is also a token made of his press. He was a man for all seasons. I just received my Fugio back from NGC our first coin. He designed it. I love the coin it's sad that it was stopped the way it was. Thanks again for great information.

Long Beard

Level 5

In case you were unaware, there's a blog on the ANA Blog page discussing the authenticity of the Continental Dollar, which the Fugio Cent is essentially the same design minus the date. A great two part read on this fascinating coin.

Golfer

Level 5

Your Fugio is graded? I know you said it wasn't in the best condition. You wanted to make sure its genuine? Thats great, I was wondering how you made out.

Stumpy

Level 5

Excellent Blog! Full of incredibly fascinating facts about "Benjamin" Half Dollar coins I was unaware of. Very thought provoking, Thank you! You're making me want to go pull mine out, just to admire them.

Long Beard

Level 5

You're welcome. Got to enjoy them from time to time.

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