The Franklin half dollar was introduced in 1948, and would probably have continued in circulation well into the 1960s and beyond were it not for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. While a shocked nation mourned, some considered steps that could be taken to help it heal. One of those people was Mint director Eva Adams. Just three days after the national tragedy, on November 25, she contacted Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts with some news: The Treasury department was going to ask Congress to pass a bill authorizing the slain president's portrait on one of the nation's silver coins—Roberts should begin work on a design so the Mint would be ready. Two days later, after learning that Mrs. Kennedy did not like the idea of displacing Washington's portrait on the quarter (with their portraits of FDR, dimes were obviously out of the question), Adams gave Roberts some more direction: The coin would be the half dollar, and the presidential coat of arms would go on the coin's reverse. Roberts tasked Frank Gasparro to design that side of the coin, and two rounds of proofs for the coin's final design were submitted to Mrs. Kennedy and Treasury Secretary Dillon during December. Congress passed a bill authorizing the new coin on December 30, 1963, and the first coins minted in Denver and Philadelphia were shipped on March 5, 1964.

More than 425 million Kennedy half dollars were minted that year, and each had the same silver content as the Franklin coins that preceded them (.36169 ounces per coin). Of these, the 100,000 or so Kennedy half dollars with "accented" hair command a premium over the rest. In fact, circulated 1964 Kennedy half dollars are more sought after than other Kennedy half dollars of the 1960s, even though the mintage in 1965, for example, is much lower. That's because from 1965 through 1970, Kennedy half dollars were silver clad (which is a bit of a misnomer since the insides of the coins also contained some silver), reducing the total silver net weight to just .1479 ounces.

Kennedy half dollars minted from 1971 to the present, with the exception of bicentennial half dollars in 1976, contain no silver at all, which does not mean they are entirely lacking in numismatic value. For example, in 1974, some of the 79 million half dollars minted in Denver have a double-die obverse, which can usually be spotted on the words "WE TRUST." In 1976, to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States, the presidential seal was replaced by a view of Independence Hall, designed by Seth Huntington. These bicentennial half dollars were actually minted in 1975 and 1976, but there is no way to distinguish the coins from each other since they all bear the same date, 1776-1976. And even though as many as half of the 11 million silver-clad versions of these coins were melted down in 1982 when the value of silver content eclipsed the value of the denomination itself, the coins are easily acquired and inexpensive.

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