By Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy half dollar, and the Mint has plans to issue special coins and sets to honor the occasion. This is an important anniversary for collectors of American coins because of the longstanding popularity of the JFK halves. President Kennedy is the most widely admired modern American president, and Kennedy halves have always had special appeal for both coin collectors and others who admire the slain president. Congress authorized the new coins a little over a month after JFK's death, and the new coins were struck in January 1964. As soon as they were released in March 1964, millions of Americans began hoarding them when received in change. The silver versions, especially the 90% silver ones from 1964, are also popular for bullion stacking, and some people believe the 2014 anniversary will give those coins more of a premium than they currently have over melt value, which is not very much apart from high grade examples. And the design, especially the JFK bust on the obverse, is widely admired as a great one.
Last year the Mint surveyed collectors about several different possible JFK coin sets in clad and silver, which would involve coins with different mintmarks and finishes, and one with a limited mintage and another with an unlimited mintage. These sets would include several firsts like the first reverse proof coin of this type. Comments from the Mint’s Acting Director, Richard Peterson at the August World’s Fair of Money in Chicago about that venue being a good one to roll out major new Mint offerings seemed to suggest that the JFK sets might be released at this year’s summer show. The JFK coins are widely expected to be the hottest 2014 U.S. Mint product, much like last year’s Buffalo gold reverse proof $50 coins and the West Point special American silver eagle sets.
Mint officials told CoinWeek that they will be issuing a number of different JFK half dollar anniversary products during the year, but that no final decisions have been made. This week the Mint sent a new survey out to prospective buyers, which indicated they are also considering a possible gold coin in the size of the original half dollar coins, which they said would cost $1200-1300 based on current gold prices (meaning a premium of about $300-400) and have a 50,000 mintage , or possibly be minted to demand.
There is no question most collectors would prefer a limited mintage coupled with a household limit of some kind. Those limits may be impossible to produce 100% compliance, but they at least help level the playing field. Many collectors are still unhappy about the way in their view large dealers seemed to receive preferential treatment last year when the West Point sets were shipped out. If the JFK gold half dollar had no household limits, whatever the mintage, that would again make many buyers feel they would be likely to get locked out of purchasing a coin and might even discourage them from trying to order. Other world mints take steps to reduce speculation and encourage a fair distribution of major releases, and there is no reason the largest mint in the world can’t do the same.
At this point no decisions have been made, but there is already high interest in the possible gold coin. Even buyers who normally do not purchase gold coins because of their high cost have indicated they plan to buy this one, if it is issued.
The new survey also asks about interest in the silver and clad JFK half dollar sets. The first would include four coins with different finishes not normally associated with that Mint. For example, the proof coin would be struck at a mint other than the one in San Francisco. The set would cost around $15. The second set would be similar but struck in 90% silver like the 1964 coins, and it would cost about $100. There is no indication about mintage levels, or whether the coins would be made to demand. A combination of a clad set made to demand, and a silver set with a limited issuance would be an ideal way to allow people of all budgets to get a set, while still appealing to serious collectors who seek coins issued with limits.
The survey also asks about interest in changing the silver composition of coins currently issued in 90% silver such as commemorative silver dollars, and the coins that are in each year’s silver proof set, to pure, .999 silver, as is the case with American silver eagles. One interesting aspect to this issue is one question asks about interest in buying coins made of pure silver if the cost were the same as now, and another seeks to determine how raising the cost of the commemoratives by $2 and of the sets by $5 would impact the likelihood of buying such coins.
It also asked potential buyers about interest in some possible new products like various sizes of silver medals, and a Director’s set that would include a large silver medal for the first U.S. Mint Director, James Rittenhouse, and four smaller ones for each branch mint with an estimated cost of $200. Most Mint buyers strongly prefer coins over medals, but if the sets were housed in an attractive wooden case and had a limited run, I think they might do well.
It is always good to see the Mint taking the pulse of collectors and buyers of its product, and the U.S. Mint does this more than other major world mint, as far as I know. The only caveat is a lot of people interested in the Kennedy coins and sets thought that by now the Mint’s plans would be in place, or almost in place, and to many the new survey suggests they may be further away from actually issuing the coins than was previously thought.
My own view is that the clad and silver sets are probably moving forward and collectors can pretty much count on them, and I also think the gold coin will probably be issued when the Mint sees how much interest there is in it, though it may not be released until the latter part of the year. And keep in mind that other coins besides these will also be released. Last year the Mint ramped up production levels of the clad half dollars to levels not seen in many years, and many people have speculated that they minted extra 2014 halves in anticipation of the high interest in those coins this year, especially since clad circulation-type coins can be struck in one year and sold afterwards. One option that could be in the works, though this was not in the survey, is a set with a P and D clad half, a proof S half, and a silver Kennedy medal. I know I would order a couple of those, and that they would make nice gifts.
"Update: The Citizens Coinage Advisory Commission (www.ccac.gov) will hold a meeting on February 11,and the agenda includes discussion of "a 24K Gold Kennedy Half Dollar product."
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, a number of different coin web sites in addition to being a contributor to “American Hard Assets magazine”. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.