1964 SMS Kennedy Half MS67 PCGS Incredible 20th Century Rarity!

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1964 SMS Kennedy Half MS67 PCGS. Please see the press release also on the site where we brokered the sale of the finest known 1964 SMS set, five coins all certified by PCGS, for a world record of $151,200. The set included a 1964 SMS Kennedy half in MS69 PCGS, the finest graded, and four coins graded MS68 PCGS.

The 1964 SMS coins–especially the Kennedy halves–are among the rarest coins issued in the last half of the 20th century. Facts are few about these legendary coins. Speculation has always centered around Mint Director Eva Adams (or another Mint employee) as the source for the handful known. New York coin dealer Lester Merkin reportedly bought them from her estate after her death in 1991 (although we cannot trace a source for the rumor). Stack’s sold Merkin’s estate, including these sets, beginning in 1993. Coin and currency dealer Jesse Lipka bought 80%-90% of the known 1964 SMS sets and aggressively cracked them out and resubmitted them over the course of a decade (and the inserts were lost), so the certified populations at NGC and PCGS appear considerably inflated. Lipka has said that the 1964 SMS sets in the Stack’s sales were not in any Mint packaging, merely inserted individually into snap-tight plastic holders. He has also said that not all of the Stack’s sets contained true 1964 SMS half dollars; why is unknown. He estimates that as few as “15-20 cents, nickels, and dimes, 12 quarters, and 8 halves” exist of the 1964 SMS coins.

We are attempting to complete a roster of all certifed NGC and PCGS coins and would appreciate information on the whereabouts of any certified PCGS or NGC 1964 SMS or “Specimen” coins.

The 1964 coins show immaculate preservation, clearly coins that were struck for some special purpose. Stack’s has theorized that the 1964 SMS coins were struck as “experiments” for the 1965-67 Special Mint Sets, which are quite common. However, the dime, quarter, and half dollar in the 1964 SMS sets are made of 90% silver, yet the 1965-67 SMS sets contain a 40% silver Kennedy half and clad dime and quarter. The 1964 SMS coins display incredible sharpness, even surpassing that of proofs in many cases, but the surfaces are satiny rather than prooflike. The coins show heavy die polishing lines, visible in many cases to the naked eye.

Die Markers

–Every example of the half dollar we have seen except the MS69 example shown under “Finest Known 1964 SMS PCGS Set” shows a small, teardrop-shaped tine of metal drooping from the underside of the 4. (This leads us to believe that the MS69 was among the first struck, or perhaps the very first.) See the closeup (a different coin, pinkish-toned but showing the same marker).
–(Clearly visible with a 16x loupe.) A wispy die crack runs from the left upright of the 1, about three-quarters of the way up (one-quarter below the flag), extending slightly NW into the field out from under the flag.

–Die polishing line running diagonally from bottom of middle serif of F in OF to A(MERICA). Also visible in the closeup photo above.
-Prominent NW-SE die polish lines between A, L in HALF. Also visible in the closeup photo.
–Supersharp strike and excellent preservation. Squared-off “railroad rims.”

PCGS Population 7 in 67, 5 finer (5/2019). Only one new example has been added to the PCGS population in this grade since November 2010 (a coin that was offered in June-July 2017 on eBay as part of a complete set by Mitch Spivack “Wondercoins’ ” son, Justin). The current coin, formerly owned by us, sold in Heritage’s September 2016 Long Beach Signature auction for $47,000. (That coin was later cracked out, dipped, and last I heard was in an NGC SP67 holder, looking considerably the worse for wear.) More recently, a SP67 PCGS 1964 SMS half dollar sold in Heritage’s CSNS Signature auction for $108,000. The previous auction record for an MS67 PCGS coin was $16,100 (at Heritage Auctions, FUN 2010), www.ha.com/1136*2793. The certified populations at both services are: Lincoln cents 33 [including Red, Red and Brown], Jefferson nickels 23 [including non- and Full Steps], Roosevelt dimes 23, Washington quarters 29, Kennedy halves 18. These certified populations have not changed one iota in three years, although during that time we have bought and sold three complete 1964 SMS sets, we know of the sale of one other set, and we have handled a singleton dime and quarter. Clearly the market is private trades at this point. One last point for clarity: When PCGS first began certifying the 1964 SMS coins, they used the “MS” prefix with a separate line “SMS” below it on their inserts. More recently (within the past few years), they have gone to the “SP” prefix for Special Strike or Specimen. NGC has certified their coins as “SP” all along. Personally, we have never seen a certified NGC 1964 Specimen coin and believe that most of those coins must have been crossed to PCGS holders.