The half dollar was eligible for a change in the early 1940s based on the Act of September 26, 1890, which specified that a coin design could be modified if it had been in use for a minimum of 25 years. Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross was interested in using Benjamin Franklin’s image on a coin. After seeing John R. Sinnock’s portrait of the Founding Father on a medal he created in 1933, Ross had Sinnock prepare a Franklin coin design. Implementation was delayed because of World War II, but Sinnock completed the obverse and reverse models, unfortunately only a few weeks before his death in May 1947. In her speech to the public when the Franklin half dollar was presented, Director Ross noted that some had urged her to place Franklin’s portrait on the penny because of his maxim “A penny saved is two pence clear” (usually misquoted as “A penny saved is a penny earned”). Her justification for using the half dollar was that the size and the silver composition of the half dollar were better suited to the “impressive effect” that was Franklin’s life.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Sinnock’s portrait is modeled after a bust by 18th century sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The design, arguably a more clean and bold effort than Adolph Weinman’s acclaimed Liberty Walking motif, was not without controversy. The Fine Arts Commission objected to the small reverse eagle (added to the design because an eagle on coins was required by statute) and, oddly, to the obvious presentation of the crack in the Liberty Bell. As it turned out, public controversy was instead generated by Sinnock’s JRS initials, which during the fears of the Cold War were mistakenly thought by some to be a reference to Joseph Stalin. The reverse Liberty Bell was adapted from John Frederick Lewis’ original sketch for the 1926 Sesquicentennial half dollar, information not revealed by Sinnock at the time but discovered and reported in the 1960s by Don Taxay. Another rumor was that the small “O” in oF, part of UNITED STATES oF AMERICA, was a mistake and would soon be corrected, making the original issues more valuable; but the text remained the same for the entire series.
Franklin’s right-facing portrait occupies much of the obverse. LIBERTY forms an arc inside the top rim and IN GOD WE TRUST a second arc inside the bottom rim. The date is placed to the right of the portrait, below the chin, extending nearly to the T in TRUST. The Liberty Bell dominates the center of the reverse, with UNITED STATES oF AMERICA encircling around the top and HALF DOLLAR, in slightly larger text, around the bottom. The phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM, in three lines and with a dot on both sides of E, is to the left of the bell, and a small eagle is to right. The eagle rests on a perch, with wings partially outstretched. San Francisco (S) and Denver (D) mintmarks are located above the wood beam holding the bell.
Franklin half dollars were produced in significant quantities and there are no date rarities in the series, though the 1949-D and 1950-D are considered key dates. Thousands have been certified for each date of the circulation issues. Prices are modest even as Gem and finer for many dates, though Premium Gem Uncirculated are expensive for some dates. FBL (Full Bell Line) examples, referring to the completeness of the encircling lines depicted on the bell, generally have higher premiums. The 1953-S issues with that designation are expensive as Select Uncirculated, increasing to very expensive as Gem and finer. A few prooflike uncirculated coins have been certified. Proofs are also plentiful (except for some of the varieties) and many cameo and deep cameo examples have been certified. The proof 1961 Double Die Reverse variety is expensive, and deep cameo examples, particularly early dates, are generally higher priced than regular or cameo pieces, some very expensive as Gem or finer.
Designer: John R. Sinnock (the reverse eagle by Gilroy Roberts)
Circulation Mintage: high 67,069,292 (1963-D), low 2,498,181 (1955)
Proof Mintage:high 3,218,019 (1962), low 51,386 (1950; none produced in 1948 and 1949)
Denomintion: $0.50 Fifty cents (50/100)
Diameter: ±30.6 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: ±12.5 grams
Varieties:A few varieties are known, most consisting of die doubling and differences in the details of the small reverse eagle. Those identified in census/ population reports are the 1951-S DDR (double die reverse) circulation strike; the 1956 Type 1 and Type 2 proofs, which differ by the number of separated feathers shown on the eagle’s right wing; the 1960 DDO (double die obverse) proof varieties; and the 1961 DDR varieties.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.