USA Coin Album: Coins of the 1950s - Part 6

Posted on 2/18/2014

This series comes to an end with a look at the half dollars coined between 1950–59.

After collecting the smaller coins from circulation starting around 1965, I didn’t buy any folders for half dollars until a couple years later, by which time nearly all the halves in circulation seemed to be of the silver-clad composition. These coins actually debuted in the spring of 1966, though the initial issue was dated 1965. I managed to find all of the Kennedy pieces with little effort, as halves still circulated in the San Francisco area where I lived. I also found several Walking Liberty halves in change, yet I never once saw a Franklin. It was thus a somewhat mysterious coin to me.

The San Francisco Mint, which was just a few miles from my home, hadn’t coined half dollars since 1954 (and even then in just modest numbers), so it didn’t surprise me that they weren’t to be found. I came to know this series only years later when I put together a gem set from dealers’ inventories. All of my purchases were raw, as this was very early in the era of certified/encapsulated coins, and no one was submitting Franklins or other “modern” coins then. In fact, they were still being traded mostly by the roll. I witnessed many a dealer break open original, bank-wrapped rolls that had nicely toned end coins and then routinely dip each and every piece white, after which he would give the coins just a cursory rinse before setting them out to dry. The same fate befell many coins retrieved from the Mint’s cardboard-mounted Uncirculated sets of 1947-58 period, as these sets carried very little premium at the time, and toning was something few appreciated until recently.

The decade of the 1950s began in economic recession, but the onset that year of the Korean War and other factors boosted the economy enough to drive up mintages. The Philadelphia Mint increased its production of halves rapidly through 1952, when it struck more than 21 million, after which time this output plunged to just 2,668,120 the following year. The 1953(P) issue did not seem to undergo the massive hoarding of fresh rolls that the 1950-D nickels experienced, but collectors did draw most examples from circulation by the early 1960s. Philadelphia never again coined half Franklin halves in large numbers until the coin shortage year of 1963, subsequent mintages of the 1950s not exceeding the single millions except in 1954. Both the 1955 and 1956 Philadelphia halves had relatively small mintages and were widely hoarded by the roll. The 1955(P) half dollar in particular is rare in worn condition.

The Denver Mint was the main coiner of half dollars throughout the decade, though it too put out relatively small numbers during 1950-51. Compared to the mintages of other silver denominations during these years, it is obvious that half dollars were beginning to fall into disuse. The San Francisco Mint coined no halves in 1950, but it produced a generous 13,696,000 pieces in 1951. After that year, however, production slumped to around a third that number for each of the three remaining years of half dollar coinage in California.

The Franklin half dollar during the 1950s conformed to trends noted for other denominations of those years. As a general rule, the Denver Mint coins were the most consistently well struck pieces, at least by the low 1950s standard. P-Mint halves were likely to show a bit more die erosion and incomplete details, and the San Francisco coins were almost always poorly struck from very tired and blurry dies. One of the side effects of this soft detail is that it tended to both resist and hide contact marks and other flaws, which has resulted in S-Mint Franklins having higher certified populations of gem pieces than coins of the other mints. In contrast, the sharply struck Denver coins are the ones with the smallest numbers of certified gems for each date, while the Philadelphia issues fall between these extremes, though far behind the San Francisco coins.

As with many 20th Century coin series, specialists in the Franklin half dollar have focused on one particular feature in determining a well struck coin. The horizontal lines spanning the Liberty Bell are quite shallow in the reverse die, yet they appear within one its deepest cavities. These two conditions conspired to render the lines incomplete or almost indistinguishable on the majority of coins, and advanced collectors will pay various premiums depending on the individual rarity of each date/mint combination having Full Bell Lines (FBL). The major grading services identify such coins routinely, and these pieces are given separate line entries within their published population reports. The relative rarities of Full Bell Lines on Franklin halves conform to the same overall pattern of striking described above for the three mints, with Denver Mint halves being the ones most likely to display FBL and S-Mint halves the least likely.

This coin series is not rich in die varieties, but a few are worth mentioning. There are several doubled-dies within the currency issues, but these are quite minor compared to those of other denominations during the 1950s. More collectable are the various repunched mintmarks, the 1951-S/S being the most distinctive. There’s also a triple-punched mintmark for 1952-S, with the first and second impressions flanking the final, deepest one.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in the Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free NGC eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the NGC eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List

Add Coin

Join NGC for free to add coins, track your collection and participate in the NGC Registry. Learn more >

Join NGC

Already a member? Sign In
Add to NGC Coin Registry Example
The NGC Registry is not endorsed by or associated with PCGS or CAC. PCGS is a registered trademark of Collectors Universe, Inc. CAC is a trademark of Certified Acceptance Corporation.