From the Grading Room: 1948 Obverse Die Trial for the Franklin Half Dollar

Posted on 6/22/2009

An unusual and likely unique Franklin Half Dollar die trial illustrates the careful consideration underlying the placement and appearance of the designer's initials.

click image to enlarge

Among the interesting “stuff” in Appendix A of the Judd book (United States Pattern Coins, 10th Edition, Whitman Publishing, LLC) is number J-A1948-2. This is a uniface, obverse die trial for the Franklin Half Dollar dated 1948. Judd lists it as white metal, but it appears to be simply lead. The reverse of this trial impression is plain, save for the target-like concentric circles imparted by the engine lathe and a single numeral 2 punched into it.


The truncation of Franklin's bust shows two sets of the designer's initials.

What makes this trial so interesting, however, is that it bears two sets of designer’s initials at the truncation of the bust. It’s a well known story how John Ray Sinnock’s initials “JS” on the 1946 Roosevelt Dime were interpreted by some alarmists as a reference to the dreaded Josef Stalin. The U. S. Mint wasn’t taking any chances with its new half dollar, and all three initials “JRS” were included. In this trial piece, the letters appear in both the familiar position with the letters nearly upright and also further to the right in italic form. As issued, the Franklin half utilized italic initials, but these were placed to the left.

This die trial is believed to be unique and serves as the plate coin in the Judd reference. It was acquired by its present owner from a Herbert Melnick auction of November 19-20, 1982, listed as Lot 49. It was authenticated at the time by the late Charles R. Hoskins but, appearing at a slow period in the coin market, drew little attention at the time. Though it carries no other provenance, it was most likely a souvenir retained by Gilroy Roberts, Chief Engraver of the U. S. Mint 1948-65, who completed the models of the Franklin coin after designer Sinnock died in 1947. It is graded MS-60 by NGC.

From the Grading Room is an occasional feature on this site in which we highlight some of the unusual, interesting, and special coins submitted to NGC for certification. You can also learn more about the Franklin Half Dollar in the NGC Coin Encyclopedia.

click image to enlarge