US Coins – Collect the Short-lived Franklin Half Dollar
Through Al Doyle for CoinWeek … ..
With a lifespan of only 15 years (1948-63) and no high-priced key dates, even in Mint State grades, the Franklin half dollar is an ideal series for budget conscious collectors.
The 35-coin date set contains 12.66 ounces of silver and is searchable by everyone from those with meager funds to numismatists who prefer high-end certified coins. How cheap can Franklin Hunting be? Is something near the fusion value cheap enough? With a little patience, just about any date in the series (including the lower prints) can be fetched from the “junk money” buckets found in most coin stores. The 1949-S (mintage: 3,744,000) may be the exception to the rule, but having to pay more than melt for a coin isn’t a financial mountain.
Even thrifty collectors can usually afford to get uncirculated Franklin’s. Coins dated 1956-1963 typically sell for between $ 12-20 in base BU, and the price sometimes includes a bit of attractive toning. It won’t cost much more for half dollars certified in MS-63 and MS-64, while slab MS-65s for dates such as the 1956, 1957, 1958, 1958-D, 1961 and 1963 can be purchased for $ 40 or less.
The 1953 and 1955 are parts A and B of how a cost-conscious buyer can pursue those chunks of money with little financial commitment or risk. The runs of 2,668,120 and 2,498,381 (proofs not included) are the smallest in the series. Even with that honor, it shouldn’t cost more than $ 70 in total to get the pair in MS-60 through MS-63.
Earlier dates raise the price bar a bit, but the cost is hardly prohibitive. All pre-1955 Franklin are available for less than $ 100 (and usually less than $ 50 each) in MS-63 and MS-64. While not renowned for their exceptional luster, a well-matched set of these 50-cent coins can attract attention. For those fascinated by the circulation numbers, nine dates have been minted in quantities of five million or less – as well as eight dates in the “Under 10 million” category.
So how can this affordable series for all men become an expensive quest? It begins and ends with the Liberty bell on the reverse.
Any Franklin with full, unbroken lines on the bell qualifies for the Complete Bell Line (FBL) designation. So what is the problem? It takes a strong strike for all the lines to pass, and the series is plagued by weakly struck coins. The bonuses for FBL specimens can be mind-blowing, and here are a few examples.
Instead of spending around $ 120 on the 1949-S in MS-65, earn $ 400 for the same part with Full Bell Lines. The spread for the 1952 is tighter, but still a big obstacle.
The Franklin P-mints of the 1960s are anything but rare, unless full bell lines are the desired feature. The 1961 is less than $ 50 in MS-65 – and more with all the details reversed. Win $ 900 for half a dollar MS-65 FBL slab. The 1963 Franklin may be an exceptionally common item, but there are few in high grades with fine detail. This is why $ 1,400 is not enough for a coin with everything you need, as in MS-65 with a full strike.
All of the above dates are just an opening act for the great kahuna of the series. The PCGS Price Guide lists the 1953-S at an extremely affordable price of $ 46 as MS-64, with something premium for full bell lines. How much more? Multiply that $ 46 by 315 to get $ 14,500. On the positive side, the spread in MS-65 narrows to a mere 308-to-one ratio, such as for $ 60 and $ 18,500. To say the ’53 -S is virtually nonexistent with a full strike and prominent bell lines is a numismatic understatement.
The first of two MS-66 FBL 1953-S certified by a major classification service (PCGS in this case) went for $ 69,000 at auction in January 2001. It would be interesting to see what this scarcity of condition would bring to the current era of ledger sets. (PCGS currently lists the price of $ 60,000 in its price guide)
The proofs from 1950 to 1963 made it possible to extend the set to 49 pieces. Issues prior to 1954 will cost significantly more than other dates. So why did the Franklin series have such an abbreviated run?
U.S. Currency Law says all series have a minimum lifespan of 25 years, but the shocking assassination of John F. Kennedy Almost 55 years ago, the public demanded a major commemoration in honor of the popular president. Legislation to create the Kennedy half dollar was enacted on December 30, 1963, and this ended the Franklin. It also marked another end for the 50-cent coin.
The denomination had a minor but constant role in commerce, as half dollars were circulated and used by Americans. It ended when Americans and millions of other countries gobbled up newly minted Kennedy halves as mementos. From super cheap to expensive for a full set of bells, the Franklin Half Dollar is a “something for everyone” series.