Collectors’ Guide to Kennedy Half Dollars

Still Going Strong After 55 Years; Are They
The Morgan Dollars of the 21st Century?

Updated Sept. 17, 2019

President John F. Kennedy lost his life to an assassin on Nov. 22, 1963. The Franklin half dollar series was only 15 years old—introduced in 1948—and an 1890 law required Congressional approval for design changes. Nonetheless, Mint Director Eva Adams demanded new half dollar designs from Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts within a few days of Kennedy’s death. No serious Congressional opposition materialized. The authorizing legislation passed Dec. 30, 1963; the presses began striking proof coins Jan. 2, 1964. The extraordinary timeframe was achieved only because Roberts had designed the Kennedy inaugural medals, used as starting points for the coins.

The first proofs struck were the Accented Hair variety. The 1964 Accented Hair proofs are listed as FS-103 in the Cherrypickers’ Guide by Fivaz and Stanton, and as Heavily Accented Hair in the Guide Book. They show a pronounced V shape in the hair just above the apex of the ear; an easier diagnostic is the broken left bottom serif of the I in LIBERTY. Supposedly Jacqueline Kennedy, the president’s widow, asked for the hair to be remodeled. The 1964 Accented Hair proofs are really a one-year subtype rather than a “variety.” Both the 1964 Accented Hair and 1964 Normal Hair varieties are particularly prized when found in high grade with Deep Cameo contrast.

More than 400 million 1964 and 1964-D 90% silver Kennedy halves were struck for circulation (and many of those have been melted, but plenty survive). They today remain the only 90% silver Kennedy halves struck for circulation, and as such are a one-year type. Numerous Doubled Die Obverse (DDO), Doubled Die Reverse (DDR), and Repunched Mintmark (RPM) varieties exist for the 1964 and 1964-D (mintmark on reverse) coins, many listed in the fifth edition, volume II of the Cherrypickers’ Guide, which we recommend for series enthusiasts and variety collectors. (As well as Dr. James Wiles’ impossible-to-find The Kennedy Half Book.)

Concurrent with the new design was a “coin shortage” laid at the feet of collectors. A number of other factors were to blame, in reality:

—The 1963 introduction of the dealer-to-dealer Teletype system, increasing the speculative mania for BU rolls;
—Rising silver prices, partly due to increased industrial demand in photography and electronics;
—Bank payouts at face value of Morgan silver dollars, which continued until March 1964 (thank you!); and
—Widespread and increasing use of coin telephones and vending machines.

Introduction of the Kennedy half actually worsened the situation; collectors at home and abroad predictably kept many thousands of examples of the new 1964 Kennedys as mementos. The 1965–1970 coins saw reduced silver content of a “clad sandwich layer” composition, with an inner core of 0.791 parts copper and 0.209 silver bonded to an outer core of 0.800 silver and 0.200 copper, for a net silver content of 40%. Further demonizing collectors, the Mint chose to issue 1965–67 Special Mint Sets, rather than proofs, with coins lacking a mintmark (but struck in San Francisco) that were not as deeply mirrored or heavily impressed. Early prooflike strikes of these issues with Cameo or Deep Cameo designations are rare prizes.

Mintmarks were restored in 1968 but moved to the obverse. The 1968-D half dollars were the only business strikes produced bearing that date; the 1968-S proofs marked the first proofs bearing an S mintmark and struck in San Francisco. A similar scenario occurred with the 1969-D and 1969-S issues. The 1970-D is today a series key, issued only in Mint Sets to the extent of 2.15 million coins. It is rare in MS66 and extremely rare any finer, but in demand in all grades.

The 1971 and 1971-D half dollars marked the start of clad coinage, with no silver remaining in the composition. From 1971 through 1974, three mints produced the series each year: Philadelphia and Denver for business strikes, San Francisco for proofs. The 1974-D issue features a popular Doubled Die Obverse, FS-101.

No 1975-dated Kennedy half dollars were struck, in preparation for the special 1776-1976 dual-dated Bicentennial half dollars. They were struck as business strikes, proofs, and special 40% silver coins for collectors, The 1976 and 1976-D clad issues were business strikes. Rounding out the year are the 1976-S clad proof, and the 1976-S 40% silver BU and proof.

With few exceptions, the 1977–1992 issues follow a similar pattern: business strikes made in Philadelphia and Denver, proofs in San Francisco. Many of those circulation strikes are quite elusive in MS66–MS68 grades. The proofs see heavy demand from Registry Set collectors in PR70DCAM, and many collectors are glad to collect the same coins in PR69DCAM. The 1979-S Type One proof has a filled S mintmark, the 1979-S Type Two proof a Clear S. Beginning with 1980-P, the Philadelphia Mint broke a 200-year-old tradition and began placing a P mintmark on the obverse. The 1981-S proofs have two mintmark styles. The more-common 1981-S Type One has a smaller-looking mintmark with a rounded top loop; the scarce 1981-S Type Two shows a frosty surface, larger openings, and flatter top loop. 1987-P and 1987-D were only produced in Mint Sets.

From 1992–present the Mint began offering silver proofs and clad proofs, many elusive and in demand in the highest grade, PR70 Deep Cameo. Business strikes continued in Philadelphia and Denver through 2000, along with the 2001-D and 2005-PD, for which high-grade business strikes are rare. The Mint has now stopped producing circulating Kennedy halves, but it still offers collector coins. Issues not made for circulation include all of the 2002-PD through 2019-PD issues. Beginning with 2005 Mint Sets, the Mint also offered 2005-PD through 2010-PD Satin Finish coins, with a satiny, somewhat mattelike finish.

The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the design, and the Mint pulled out all the stops to produce not only a gold dual-dated 1964–2014W version, but also a four-piece silver 50th anniversary set with coins with Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point, and special 2014-PD high relief clad coins as well as the usual “circulation strike” and silver and clad proofs.

Two final Kennedy half issues deserve mention. A number of experimental 1964 Special Mint Set (or Specimen/Special Strike) coins were produced under mysterious (and unknown) circumstances, which are quite rare. Through our extensive research we know that the 1964 SMS coins, the Kennedy halves in particular, are among the rarest coins produced in the second half of the 20th century. We have done much research and believe the true number of SMS sets produced was 15–20 at most. Not all of them contained true 1964 SMS Kennedys, however, according to a source who was present when they first came to light in Stack’s auctions in 1991 (not 1993 as is often given; we have found Stack’s catalogs from 1991 offering these coins). PCGS has certified only a dozen 1964 SMS halves, with some undoubted duplications. We sold our 1964 SMS half graded MS67/SP67 PCGS (PCGS switched later to the SP designation for Special Strike) in 2016 for some $47,000—a world record for a Kennedy half that stood for nearly three years. And since we were Heritage catalogers at that time, we published a roster of exactly one dozen surviving examples (viewable at the link above). We think most of the former NGC examples have been cracked out and resubmitted to PCGS; the population data for both services are undoubtedly inflated, for all five denominations. We have handled several examples of each denomination, cent through half (and four complete sets) via private treaty.

The 1998-S Special Mint Set Kennedy was also produced with a mattelike, satiny finish. The mintage was 63,250 coins, which are eminently collectible and in great demand. Those coins were part of a two-coin commemorative set along with the 1998-S Robert F. Kennedy commemorative silver dollar. But except for their special finish, they bear the same design as other Kennedy halves and are collected as part of the entire series, where they are considered another key issue.

Walter Breen wrote in his 1988 Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins: “The Mint Bureau has repeatedly discussed the possibility of abolishing the denomination, but to date no action has followed. Nevertheless … the end of half-dollar coinage is probably only a few years away.”

Despite those words (Breen actually made up a lot of stuff; don’t get me started), 31 years later, the Kennedy half dollar series continues. It is now, at 55 years long, 12 years longer than the Morgan dollar series. The PCGS Kennedy Half Dollars Complete Variety Set, Circulation Strikes and Proof (1964–Present), currently comprises 263 issues, including proofs, business strikes, SMS, and Cherrypickers’ varieties. The collection increasingly resembles the Morgan dollar set. Both collections:

—Span two different centuries and have endured much longer than predicted;
—Begin with a popular proof variety (the 1964 Accented Hair and the 1878 Seven and Eight Tailfeathers);
—Feature many common issues from multiple mints, with a sprinkling of low-mintage and condition rarities;
—Feature a low-mintage S-mint key (1893-S Morgan and 1998-S SMS Kennedy);
—Include a mysterious low-mintage key produced under curious circumstances (1895 proof and 1964 SMS);
—Include many noncirculating issues—numismatic unicorns unwanted in commerce; and, finally,
—Are technically completeable, although difficult and costly in the highest collector grades.

For a new collecting challenge, consider starting or expanding your Kennedy half collection. Are they the Morgan dollars of the 21st century?

Collectors’ Guide to Lincoln Cents

110 Years Old, More Popular Than Ever

Lincoln Wheat Cents
The year 2009 marked the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln cent, with an obverse design that remains largely unchanged. (There have been minor hub changes and changes in metal composition over time.) The Lincoln cent obverse of 2009 thus marked the first time in American coinage history that a coin design (or half of one, anyway) has endured for 100 years.

The U.S. Mint introduced the Lincoln cent with Wheat Ear reverse in 1909, designed by Victor D. Brenner, on the urging of President Theodore Roosevelt to observe the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Struck in Philadelphia and San Francisco, the first issues bore a small “V.D.B.” designer’s initials on the reverse at the bottom rim. After an uproar arose, the initials were removed. The mintage of the 1909 VDB was nearly 28 million, and today those pieces are popular type coins, with pieces available up to MS67 Red. The 1909-S VDB, however, saw only 484,000 coins made. Although many were hoarded at the time, they are the first key to the series, even if not as costly and much less elusive in higher Mint State grades than many later issues. Beware of 1909-S VDB forgeries! Buy only 1909-S VDB cents certified by a reputable third-party grading service such as PCGS or NGC or from a coin dealer who has earned your trust, unless you are a true expert; many dangerous counterfeits exist, and more are being made all the time. (This is true for most expensive coins, but the 1909-S VDB and 1916-D Mercury dime are among the most frequently counterfeited coins.)

1909 VDB-1916 matte proof issues were made, extremely popular coins today, of which the 1909 VDB is the rarest. Again, beware of counterfeits. The removal of the VDB initials created the 1909 “Plain,” mintage 72 million, and the 1909-S, mintage 1.8 million. The 1909-S is also considered a key to the series in circulated grades, along with the 1914-D, 1922 “Plain” (No D mintmark) and 1931-S. Together with the 1909-S VDB, these make up the five keys to the 1909-1934 circulated set.

Two 1909 Doubled Die Obverse varieties, listed in the Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties by Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton as FS-1101 and FS-1102, are among the many collectible errors and varieties in the series, some of which are also listed in the Guide Book. The two-volume Cherrypickers’ set is highly recommended for variety collectors.

In higher Mint State grades (MS65-finer) and more especially with certified Red color, many, if not most, of the early mintmarked business strikes from 1909 through 1933 are actually much more expensive and elusive than the 1909-S VDB. For reference, we show the PCGS-certified populations (or, more accurately, the number of submissions) of each mintmarked Lincoln from 1909 through 1933, showing the total certified in MS65 Red, MS66 Red, and MS67 Red as of January 2015 (including Plus coins and excluding varieties):

Issue. MS65RD/MS66RD/MS67RD
1909-S VDB.
63/1/0 (finest one MS66 Red)
134/28/1 (finest one MS67 Red)
23/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
30/7/1 (finest one MS65 Red)
16/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
61/12/1 (finest one MS67 Red)
20/1/0 (finest one MS66 Red)
10/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
17/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
1922 “Plain” (No D, Strong Reverse).
0/0/0 (finest one MS64RD)
90/10/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red)
16/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
40/1/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
9/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
48/2/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
11/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
45/4/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
1926-S. 2/0/0
(a second Gem Red was certified at PCGS sometime between 2012 and 2015)
53/2/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
16/0/0 (unavailable above MS65 Red at PCGS)
82/13/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
48/5/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
199/28/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
246/25/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
145/34/1 (one MS67 Red finest at PCGS)
775/97/0 (unavailable above MS66 Red at PCGS)
495/298/47 (finest one MS67+ Red at PCGS)

According to these data, in MS65 Red or finer the 1922 Plain (0) is the rarest Lincoln, followed by the 1926-S (2), 1924-S (9), 1920-S (10), 1925-S (11), 1918-S (16), 1927-S (16), 1923-S (16), 1917-S (17), 1919-S (20), and 1916-S (23). The 1909-S VDB in Gem Red condition is incredibly popular rather than conditionally rare, much like the 1937-D Three-Legged Buffalo nickel.

The designer’s initials VDB were restored to an inconspicuous position on Lincoln’s shoulder beginning in 1918. The 1914-D is another issue frequently counterfeited due to its popularity; genuine examples have no VDB initials on Lincoln’s shoulder. Genuine examples have a triangular opening in the D mintmark, which is small and of a style used only from 1911 through the first part of 1917. The mintmark on a genuine 1914-D rests in a small depression, and there are five different mintmark positions known. The spacing of the date digits will differ from an altered 1944-D, which will read 19 14. Again, certification or buying from a trusted dealer is your best protection.

Only the Denver Mint struck cents in 1922, the popular 1922-D. The 1922 “Plain” or No D cents were produced by die fatigue, where the D mintmark slowly disappeared entirely. One variety, the so-called Strong Reverse, has just that, a fresh new reverse die combined with an obverse that shows no trace of the D. This is the only 1922 No D cent that PCGS certifies. The so-called 1922 Weak D varieties, two different, show a trace or shadow of a D and are combined with a weak reverse; they generally trade for less than the Strong Reverse variety. Authentication is recommended.

The 1931-S had a low mintage of only 866,000 coins, but by the 1930s it appears as though a few collectors in San Francisco kept a few rolls of Uncirculated coins. The 1931-S would be the last S-mint coin produced until the 1935-S. The 1932 and 1933 cents were produced only in Philadelphia and Denver. Of the four issues—1932, 1932-D, 1933, 1933-D—the 1932-D is the most elusive in high grade.

After 1934, as the nation slowly staggered out of the depths of the Great Depression, mintages for all Lincoln cent issues took a noticeable upturn. Most of the cents from 1934-present can be found in any grade desired up to Gem Red condition, the only limit being your pocketbook.

The popular 1943-PDS cents were made of a zinc-coated steel composition, and are a subtype within the set. A few rare 1943-PDS copper cents and 1944 steel cents are known to be genuine, although fakes abound and authentication is mandatory. In 1955 one of the most famous error coins in U.S. numismatics was produced, the 1955 Double Die Obverse, in which a single working die was misaligned between the multiple impressions required. The result was two bold impressions rotated with respect to each other from the coin’s center. The San Francisco Mint struck its last circulation strike cents that same year, the 1955-S.

Brown and Red-Brown Cents
Another fertile ground for Lincoln cent collectors is assembling high-grade sets of “so-called” Brown or Red and Brown coins, which in reality can come in a wonderful, endless array of stunning colors due to the high reactivity of copper. I am pretty sure I will never be able to purchase a Gem Red 1926-S, and even if I did, I would worry about its color stability. Collectors of Brown and Red and Brown coins can assemble wonderful sets at much lower prices than for Red coins. The only trouble is, for many issues (the early D- and S-mints), there are actually fewer around, grade-for-grade, than there are Red examples … and their owners tend to hang onto them tightly! Click this link to see what one dedicated collector has done in assembling the top Toned Lincoln Cents PCGS Registry Set: Winged Liberty’s ‘Fireball Rainbow’ Lincolns.

Lincoln Memorial Cents
The Lincoln Memorial reverse commemorates the Washington, D.C., edifice and the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth—but its design, by Frank Gasparro, won little favor with the legions of collectors for whom it resembles a streetcar. It lasted another 50 years, until the 2009 Bicentennial Lincoln cent reverses.

A hub change in 1960 resulted in two different date sizes, the 1960 and 1960-D Small Date and Large Date cents. Among business strikes the 1960 Small Date was the most elusive, and at one time during 1960 after Coin World published a story on the varieties, the price of a $50 bag of bank-wrapped BU 1960 Small Date rolls soared to more than $12,000. Other rolls, especially the 1950-D Jefferson nickel, were also the subject of much hoarding and speculation. During the early to mid-1960s numerous factors—increasing silver prices, BU roll speculation, increased use of coin vending machines/pay telephones that accept cents (and slower collections therefrom), and introduction of a dealer-to-dealer Teletype system—led to a coin shortage that was largely (and wrongly) blamed on collectors. There are also proof 1960 Large Date and Small Date cents, as well as hub-doubled dies such as the 1960 Large Date Over Small Date proof (FS-101), 1960 Small Date Over Large Date proof (FS-102), and 1960 Tripled Die Obverse (FS-103), technically a Large Date Over Large Date Over Small Date. Business strike 1960-D Small Date Over Large Date cents (FS-101) are known that also have a widely repunched mintmark.

No proof Lincoln cents were made in 1965 through 1967; when proof coinage resumed in 1968, it was at the San Francisco Mint, which makes proof coins to this day. The proof Lincolns beginning with 1968-S proofs henceforth bore an S mintmark, although San Francisco also made 1968-S through 1974-S business strikes.

Many other Repunched Mintmarks and Doubled Die Obverse and Doubled Die Reverse varieties are sprinkled throughout the Lincoln cent series, with many of the most popular listed in the Cherrypickers’ Guide. Another remarkable error coin is the 1969-S Doubled Die, which also shows spectacularly wide die doubling and is considered the king of the Lincoln Memorial series. Do not confuse this variety with the many, many 1969-S cent that show strike or shift doubling and have no numismatic premium.

Another hub change for proof dies resulted in the 1970-S Large Date and rarer 1970-S Small Date proofs, alternately called Low 7 and Level 7, respectively. There are nine different 1972 Doubled Die Obverse cent varieties known, of which the 1972 DDO FS-101 is the most popular, with strong spread on the date, LIBERTY, and IN GOD WE TRUST. Genuine pieces show a small die gouge on the reverse, near the rim above (UNITE)D. The 1979-S and 1981-S proofs are known in two different mintmark styles.

In 1982 the cent composition was changed from 95% copper/5% zinc (technically brass) to about 95% zinc with copper-plating. At the same time, there were 1982-P and 1982-D Large Date and Small Date cents produced, so all told there are seven varieties for the year, the 1982-D copper (brass) being unknown. The copper (brass) coins should weigh about 3.1 gm while the zinc coins should weigh about 2.5 gm.

1992 and 1992-D Close AM cents. These cents bear a reverse design style only regularly adopted in 1993. Before 1993, a Wide AM style was in use on both business strike and proof Lincoln cents. In 1993 the Close AM was adopted for business strikes and proofs. After 1993 the Wide AM style was reserved for proof coins through 2008, the last year of the Lincoln Memorial reverse. About 15 1992-D Close AM Lincolns are known, and only the second 1992 Close AM cent was discovered in July 2009. A Coin World article on Sept. 7, 2009, called the 1992 Close AM cent “many times more rare than a 1969-S Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cent (with an MS-64 red example that sold for $126,500 in 2008).” Other varieties are being discovered; collectors should continue checking all the following table may be helpful. (Many thanks to error specialist Ken Potter for some of this information.)

Bus Strk Close AM
P Mint
Bus Strk Close AM D Mint Bus Strk Wide AM P Mint Bus Strk Wide AM
D Mint
Close AM
S Mint
Wide AM
S Mint
1992 Close AM ext. rare 7-10 known 1992-D Close AM v. rare 30-40 known 1992 Wide AM normal var. 1992-D Wide AM normal var. 1992-S prf Close AM unknown 1992-S Wide AM normal var.
1993 Close AM normal var. 1993-D normal var. 1993 Wide AM unknown 1993-D Wide AM unknown 1993-S prf Close AM normal var. 1993-S prf Wide AM unconfirmed
1994-after Close AM normal var. 1994-D & after Close AM normal var. 1994-after Wide AM unknown 1994-D & after Wide AM unknown 1994-S & after prf Close AM unknown 1994-S & after prf Wide AM normal var.
Close AM normal var.
1998-D Close AM normal var. 1998 Wide AM scarce 1998-D Wide AM unknown 1998-S prf Close AM rare 1998-S prf
Wide AM normal var.
1999 Close AM normal var. 1999-D Close AM normal var. 1999 Wide AM rare 1999-D Wide AM unknown 1999-S prf Close AM rare 1999-S prf Wide AM normal var.
2000 Close AM normal var. 2000-D Close AM normal var. 2000 Wide AM fairly scarce 2000-D Wide AM unknown 2000-S prf Close AM unknown 2000-S prf Wide AM normal var.

The year 2009 saw the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. For the occasion the Mint issued four new commemorative reverses—Birthplace, Formative Years, Professional Life, and Presidency. The 2009 Mint Sets contain special 2009-PD Satin Finish coins, one of each reverse, that are 95% copper/5% tin and zinc composition, just like the original 1909 VDB cents. The 2009-S proof sets also contain the cents in the same original composition, but they lack the Satin Finish of the mint sets.

The Lincoln cents of 2010-after bear a Union Shield reverse, symbolizing President Lincoln’s success in preserving the Union. The 2010 Lincoln cents are thus another first-year subtype, just like the 1909, 1959, and 2009 cents. With a Mint that continues to produce new numismatic products for collectors, a government that seems unwilling to discontinue the cent denomination for fear it will be seen as a concession to inflation (even though Canada, our mighty neighbor to the north, discontinued the cent in 2013), and legions of eager collectors for both the mightiest and humblest issues in the series, the future of Lincoln cent collecting appears as bright today as a Gem Red 1909-S VDB cent. Thank you for including in your collecting activities.