All About the Benjamins: Why You Should Collect Franklin Half Dollars
Terrence Campbell at Gainesville Coins ………
Everyone likes Benjamins, right? Usually, when Ben Franklin is referenced in regard to currency, our first thought is that of the 100 dollar note. The Ben Franklin note itself has become an icon of modern pop culture, conspicuous consumption, and the nouveau riche lifestyle. However, as an avid coin collector, when I think of “Benjamins,” what comes to my mind is the Franklin Half dollar. Personally, I really love collecting this for several reasons. They had a limited run of just 15 years, from 1948 to 1963, when it was succeeded by the Kennedy half dollar. As well, they have an interesting uniqueness to them, the Franklin half dollar was the first U.S. circulation coin to depict a real historical figure that was not a President of the United States. Finally, their bullion value. Like many other coins minted before 1964, the Franklin half dollar has a relatively high intrinsic value since they are struck from 90% pure silver.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers, and a preeminent intellectual of his time. His titles are many: inventor, writer, political theorist, diplomat, printer, and many more. Truly, Franklin is a symbol of American ingenuity, one that has served us quite well. Another interesting feature of this coin is the depiction of the Liberty Bell on the reverse. It was the first half dollar, moreover the first coin ever, to depict the Liberty Bell. If you look closely, you’ll notice there’s a small engraving of an eagle next to the Liberty Bell. The reason for this, is that the mint was legally obligated to depict a bald eagle on any half dollar produced for circulation, so they chose to include a small and simple image of the bald eagle, merely to satisfy the legal requirement. In general, I find the Franklin Half dollar to be a very intriguing piece of coinage, both because of the symbolism it carries, and the history behind it.
Collectability, this is the most fundamental consideration when deciding whether or not to invest your time and money into any one coin, especially if your goal is to collect the entire series. For the most part, Franklin halves are relatively affordable coins to own. In fact, in About Uncirculated condition, you’re not going to pay much more than $30 for the most rare dates and mint-marks. Most of the more common dates and mint-marks can be had from 12-15 dollars, really allowing you to fill out a clear and beautiful collection. You might be thinking, “But if they can be had so easily, then why should I want to collect them?” A fair question, with a good answer.
Despite the fact that you can have the entire set in AU50 condition for a reasonable price, there are still some key dates, grades, and features that can be potentially worth a fair sum of money. One interesting feature of the Franklin half dollar are the lines on the Liberty Bell, which appears on the reverse. In early strikes, when the dies were still unworn, they appear as seven clear and distinct parallel lines that run horizontally across the bell.
However in later strikes, when the dies were older and more worn, the lines blurred together. This is a very important distinction for the Franklin half dollar, and can be the difference between a coin that is worth under $20, or a coin that is worth hundreds or thousands. A striking example of this distinction is the 1953-S in MS65 condition, if the coin doesn’t have the full bell lines, NGC U.S. Price Guide has it listed at about $85 retail value. However if it does have the full seven bell lines, NGC has it listed as being worth a staggering $30,000+. Note, in order for a Franklin half to be graded as being an FBL (Full Bell Lines) coin, it must also include the three wisps of hair on the side of Franklin’s bust, running in front of his ear.
Finally, the silver content. The entire series of Franklin half dollars was struck in .900 fine silver, the last circulation coin to be struck entirely with silver for the life of the series. The gross weight of the coin is approximately 12.5 grams with a net silver weight of about 11.25, which roughly translates to about .361 troy oz of silver per coin, certainly nothing to sneeze at. Numismatic value can be a subjective thing, but with all the silver content in the Franklin halves, you can have a sense of security that, even if you make a mistake in evaluating the numismatic value of the coin before you purchase it, the coin still has a considerable amount of silver content to serve as a hedge. In fact, during the economic turbulence of the 1970′s, the price of silver spiked so dramatically, that it caused many people to trade their Franklin half dollars in for their melt value. Given their relative abundance at the time, the numismatic value of the Franklin half was far outweighed by it’s intrinsic value. However, because the supply of Franklin halves is much more limited than it was during the 70′s, the numismatic value and the melt value of the coin have come into a more even balance.
Just to illustrate, take for example a 1955-P AU55, a solid example for a collection, and not a hard coin to come across. Typically, this coin will sell for about $14 dollars according to NGC. Now, if we assume that the spot price of silver is approximately $21.00(the exact spot price of silver was $20.90 when this article was written), then with an actual silver weight (ASW) of .36169 troy ounces, we arrive at an intrinsic value of roughly $7.60. So, if we subtract the intrinsic value from the average retail value of $14.00, we’re left with a numismatic value (or premium) of $6.40. That’s a healthy balance between intrinsic and numismatic value. Obviously, silver prices fluctuate daily, and numismatic value is very subjective. That being said, my point is merely to illustrate how the Franklin half dollar has a strong composite value, while still being quite affordable.
Overall, I think the Franklin half is an intriguing coin to say the least. It’s affordable to collect, rich in history, and has a relatively sizable intrinsic value, making it a very worthwhile coin to consider collecting.
Terrence O. Campbell is a writer specializing in Precious Metals, Coins and Numismatics. He is part of the Content Marketing team at Gainesville Coins, a Leading Gold and Silver distributor. Terrence helps clients share his passion of coin collecting and his acute knowledge of coins.
(c) Gainesville Coins, 2014