Half Dollar Coins

The Half Dollar of the United States, sometimes known as the fifty-cent piece, has been produced nearly every year since the inception of the United States Mint in 1794. The only U.S. coin that has been minted more consistently is the cent.

Half dollar coins are commonly used in casinos. In particular, rolls of half dollars are kept on hand in cardrooms in the United States for games requiring 50-cent antes or bring-in bets, or where the house collects a rake in increments of 50 cents (usually in low-limit seven-card stud and its variants).

The half dollar's circulation, aside from use in some casinos and movie theaters, has declined significantly. This is primarily due to a confluence of two events: the silver crisis of 1963, and the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The value of silver had risen by 1962-63 to the point that it became worthwhile to melt down U.S. coins for their bullion value. U.S. Silver coins (those of ten cent value and above, which contained 90% silver through 1964) began to disappear from circulation, leading the United States to change to layered composition coins made of a copper core laminated between two cupro-nickel outer faces for the 1965 - present coinage years. The Kennedy half-dollar design, however, continued to be minted in a 40% silver-clad composition from 1965–1970.

Initially the Kennedy halves were hoarded for sentimental reasons and because they were recognized as the only precious metal U.S. coin remaining in circulation. By the time mintage figures could match normal demand and the coin's composition was changed to match the rest of the (non-silver) coinage in 1971, both businesses and the public had adapted to a world in which the half dollar did not generally circulate. Other uses had been found for the half-dollar section of the cash drawer. People had gotten used to depending on quarters as the major component of change.

Most coins enter circulation through the change drawers of businesses. Hardly any businesses stock their change drawers with half dollars or dollar coins, and many banks do not stock these coins and/or hand them out as normal business practice, so the coins do not see much circulation. The fact that virtually no vending machines in the United States accept half dollars does not help its circulation either.

List of designs

  • Silver Half Dollars
    • Flowing Hair 1794–1795
    • Draped Bust 1796–1807
      • Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796–1797
      • Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1801–1807
    • Capped Bust, 1807–1839
    • Seated Liberty 1839–1891
      • Seated Liberty, No Motto 1839–1866
      • Seated Liberty, With Motto 1866–1891
    • Barber 1892–1915
    • Walking Liberty 1916–1947
    • Franklin 1948–1963
    • Kennedy 1964 (General circulation issue.)
    • Kennedy 1992–Present (Not issued for general circulation; in silver proof sets only.)

  • 40% Silver Half Dollars
    • Kennedy 1965–1969
    • Kennedy 1970 (Not issued for general circulation; for collectors only.)
    • Kennedy 1976 (Only those issued in collectors sets were produced with 40% silver.)

  • Copper-nickel Clad Half Dollars
    • Kennedy 1971–1974, 1977–1986, 1988–2001 (General circulation issues.)
    • Kennedy 1987, 2002–Present (Not issued for general circulation; for collectors only.)
      • Kennedy Bicentennial 1975–1976 (All were dated 1776-1976.)

Obverse: Bust of Lady Liberty
Reverse: A bald eagle

Obverse: Lady Liberty
Reverse: A bald eagle

"Draped Bust" was the name given to a design of United States coins. It appeared on all regular-issue copper and silver United States coinage from 1795-1808. The denominations that featured the Draped Bust design included the half cent (1800-1808), large cent (1796-1807), half dime (1796-1805), dime (1796-1807), quarter (1796, 1804-1807), half dollar (1796-1807) and silver dollar (1795-1804). Gold coins did not carry this design.

Obverse: Lady Liberty
Reverse: A bald eagle

Obverse: Lady Liberty seated holding the Union Shield
Reverse: A bald eagle

The "Seated Liberty" designs appeared on most regular-issue silver United States coinage during the mid- and late-nineteenth century, from 1836 through 1891. The denominations which featured the Seated Liberty design included the half dime, the dime, the quarter, the half dollar, and the silver dollar. Another coin that appeared exclusively in the Seated Liberty design was the twenty cent piece. This coin was produced from 1875 to 1878, and was discontinued because it looked very similar to the quarter. Seated Liberty coinage was minted at the main United States Mint in Philadelphia, as well as the branch mints in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Carson City.

Obverse: Lady Liberty
Reverse: A bald eagle

Liberty Head ("Barber") designs appeared on United States minor silver coinage (the dime, quarter, and half dollar) from 1892 to 1916. They derive their common name from their designer, Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber.

Obverse: Lady Liberty walking and holding an olive branch
Reverse: A perched bald eagle

Walking Liberty Half Dollar A silver half dollar coin issued by the United States government, equal to 50 cents. Walking Liberties were minted from 1916–1947. The coin is named after its representation of Liberty on the obverse. The coin's obverse and reverse was designed by Adolph A. Weinman and his mark, AAW, appears under the eagle's wing feathers on the reverse.

Observe: Benjamin Franklin
Reverse: Liberty Bell

The Franklin half dollar is a coin of the United States, minted from 1948 to 1963. The coin pictured Benjamin Franklin on the obverse and the Liberty Bell on the reverse. A small eagle to the right of the bell was necessitated by law; ironically, Franklin himself had opposed the selection of the eagle as the US national symbol, preferring the turkey as a "more noble bird". A bill rushed through Congress after the assassination of John F. Kennedy caused the Franklin half to be replaced by the current Kennedy half dollar in February 1964, nine years before the design would otherwise have been eligible for a change.

Observe: President John F. Kennedy
Reverse: The Coat of Arms of the President of the United States

Evolving from the Franklin half dollar, the Kennedy half dollar is a coin of the United States first minted in 1964. This coin was first struck in 1964 less than a year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The front features the face of President John F. Kennedy on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. The obverse was designed by Gilroy Roberts and the reverse was designed by Frank Gasparro.