5 facts about the Kennedy half dollar

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Soon after, the president was memorialized in many ways, including through currency. Robyn Einhorn, a specialist in the museum's National Numismatic Collection, investigates the Kennedy half dollar.

 

The obverse of the Kennedy half dollar
The obverse of the Kennedy half dollar
  • A coin representing Kennedy was conceived the very day of his assassination. Within hours of the assassination, Director of the Mint Eva Adams spoke with Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts about depicting Kennedy on a coin. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy selected the half dollar for the coin's denomination.
  • About one month after Kennedy's death, Congress approved the Kennedy half dollar to memorialize the president; the bill authorizing the coin passed on December 30, 1963. The coin was first minted in 1964, with a ceremonial first strike held February 11, 1964, at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints concurrently. In his recollection of the coin's production, Roberts wrote, "…the new U.S. Half Dollar bearing the late President's portrait and issued by a sorrowing nation [is] a fitting and enduring memorial honoring our former President, John F. Kennedy."

 

The reverse of the Kennedy half dollar
The reverse of the Kennedy half dollar
  • In order to produce the coin more quickly, the U.S. Mint had Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts and Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro modify the designs they had created for the Kennedy inaugural medal. Roberts had been responsible for the obverse and Gasparro for the reverse. Gasparro designed a number of well-known coins during his long career with the U.S. Mint, including the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the reverse of the Lincoln Memorial cent.

 

President Kennedy is presented his inaugural medal in the Oval Office. Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.
President Kennedy is presented his inaugural medal in the Oval Office. Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • The coins were hoarded right from the beginning, as many people wanted a souvenir of the popular late president. When the coins were first made available to the public on March 24, 1964, the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., was sold out of its 70,000 coins by the end of the day, while banks in Philadelphia and Boston ran out by noon despite rationing the supply. 
  • The 1964 editions of the coins were made of silver with a small amount of copper, while the 1965-1970 editions were clad in silver on the outside with a copper core. Since 1971, the coins have been made with a combination of copper and nickel, with the only pure silver coins produced for the Mint's proof sets. The coins are still available through the Mint and other sources to satisfy demands from collectors.

Robyn Einhorn is a specialist in the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History. She has previously blogged about the V-nickel and told us about some fascinating fiscal facial hair. For more about President Kennedy, check out this blog post about how Americans heard the news of his assassination.

Posted at 7:00 am EST in From the Collections,Numismatics