The Gold and Silver Mine
The 1970-D Silver Kennedy Half Dollar
By: Douglas Keefe
The assassination of president John Kennedy on November 22,1963 resulted in a popular demand for a coin with his image as a commemoration of his life. The half dollar was chosen to feature Kennedy, in part because the other coins, the one cent, five cent, ten cent and twenty five cent coins already featured presidents but the half dollar didn’t. It featured Ben Franklin who was an important person in his own respect, he was not a president. Also, quite frankly (no pun intended), it wasn’t a very attractive coin, so replacing it was a no brainer.
To speed up production, existing designs were used for the coin which resulted in the new Kennedy half dollar coin actually being released in January 1964, with final mintage figures for the Philadelphia Mint being 273,304,004 coins and the Denver Mint 156,205,446 coins, an amount only slightly less than the mintage figure for the entire Franklin half dollars struck from 1948 until 1963.
By 1964, with the price of silver rising along with production costs, each dime , quarter and half dollar cost more to mint than their face value. Mint officials decided 1965 would be the year to change from silver to clad coinage, a decision not done without concern as to the publics’ reaction since coins would no longer have their value as a precious metal. Dimes and quarters were then struck with a copper core sandwiched in a nickel layer, the intent being the color to more closely resemble the appearance of the original silver coins.
The 1965 Kennedy half dollar was spared this fate (temporarily) by being redesigned to contain only 40% silver instead of the original 90% silver. The reasoning was to continue to have a “premium” coin (Kennedy half) in circulation. That didn’t last long. By 1969 it was evident that with the hoarding of silver coins due to the rising price of silver, the Kennedy half would have to go the way of the other denominations. Therefore for 1970 a two-fold change was made. First, the proof set made by the mint would contain a half dollar consisting of the nickel-copper sandwich. But the mint set of coins issued by the mint (a mint set contains one each of every coin from every mint that is to be released into circulation) would contain a Kennedy half still containing 40% silver and struck at the Denver
mint, even though none were to be released for circulation. The first time a circulation coin was struck only for inclusion in an annual set.
In 1965, along with minting coins that were metallically different, it was decided to eliminate adding the mint marks to coins indicating their origin. This was done to discourage the speculation in coins that was common at the time. That didn’t turn out well, so the adding of mint marks resumed in 1968. At that time half dollars were only struck at the Denver Mint (San Francisco struck half dollars, but only for inclusion in the proof sets.
As would be expected, the mintage figures for the 1970-D half dollar are low compared with other years, 2,150,000 coins, the lowest for any half dollar since 1938 which was struck at the Denver mint, a semi-key coin for that series. And since the 1970-D half is only found in a mint set, that set must be broken to obtain that coin for ones collection. The approach to obtaining a 1970-D half is to buy a coin already removed from the 1970 mint set rather than buying the entire set, a single 1970-D half would cost around $10 where the 1970 mint set would cost over $15 and leave you with a bunch of coins you may not need.