USA Coin Album: The United States Coins Dated 1965 – Conclusion

Posted on 8/2/2016

This is my third and final installment on the United States coins dated 1965, nearly all of which were actually minted during 1966. This time, I’ll take a look at the 1965 half dollars.

The Coinage Act of 1965, passed in July of that year, made sweeping changes to three of the five USA coin denominations then current. All silver was eliminated from the dime and quarter dollar, erasing 170 years of fine silver coinage. In a bid to tradition, and to appease the silver mining industry, the half dollar became a compromise coin with a net silver content of just 40% To strike coins in a straight alloy of 40% silver and 60% copper was unthinkable, as this debased silver (known as billon) would have been dull in color when new and quite blackened after a bit of circulation. Instead, Congress approved a three-layer composition in which the center strip was 21% silver and 79% copper. On either side of this strip were outer strips of 80% silver and 20% copper, which gave the coins the appearance of fine silver without the substance of it.

The 1965 half dollars were the last of the new issues to debut. I’ve read conflicting reports saying that they were released in either March of April of 1966. The general public probably didn’t notice any change, as new pieces were just as lustrous as the 90% silver issue. When worn, however the silver-clad pieces did become a bit darker, and their billon center strip toned to a dark gray, exposing the debased core. The new coins struck up just as well as the 1964-dated pieces, and they remained satisfactory in all respects. But by 1965 the half dollar was already becoming a scarce denomination in most of the nation, so this transition was all for naught.

Though a small percentage of this issue’s mintage was struck at the Denver Mint in the final days of 1965, those coins supposedly were rolled into the figure for calendar year 1966. The reported sub-totals for 1966 show 63,049,366 1965-dated halves struck at Denver and 2,545,620 coined at San Francisco, for an overall production of 65,879,366. Since most sources state that the entire production of circulating silver-clad half dollars dated 1965-70 was struck at the Denver Mint, I suspect that the 1965(S) figure found in the Mint Director’s Report is actually the number of Special Mint Set coins made for collectors (net sales of these sets were 2,360,000). This would place the correct figure for 1965-dated circulating half dollars at the 1965(D) total of 63 million pieces, but this certainly has no bearing on the availability of such common coins.

Mint State 1965 halves are plentiful, though most are quite marred by numerous contact marks. The fact that so many were hoarded as bullion after 1970 further reduced the number of nice pieces available to collectors. While coins certified by NGC as MS-65 are fairly plentiful, this date becomes scarce in MS-66 and all but unknown in higher grades. The 1965 SMS edition for collectors is much more common in high numeric grades, since they were made with greater care and packaged in five-piece sets shortly after manufacture. There are several hundred certified by NGC as MS-68, but when the qualifier of Cameo or Ultra Cameo is added to the grade the numbers of certified pieces plummet. A small number of doubled-die reverse varieties is known for both editions of the 1965 half dollar, and these are highly sought by specialists.

Before leaving the subject of 1965-dated coinage, I’d like to include a few personal recollections. In that year was a newly-minted coin collector, and my knowledge of the field could fit in a thimble. For starters, the only coin book I had was the 1964 edition of the Yeoman’s Blue Book (A Handbook of United States Coins). At that time I was not even aware that the values printed in it were average dealer buying prices and not retail figures. It didn’t matter much, as I was too young to have any money for buying coins above face value. I was content to just fill the openings in my blue Whitman folders for Lincoln cents, as well as Buffalo and Jefferson nickels. My Lincoln folder starting at 1941 had been printed in 1963, as the mintage figures ended with 1962. To keep it from becoming obsolete within a year of manufacture, Whitman had thoughtfully included printed dates through 1965-D. In the absence of any updated books or periodicals, I searched for that 1965-D penny (as well as 1966-D and 1967-D) for the next few years. It was only when I got my first Red Book in 1968 that I discovered there were no such coins!

Since I didn’t graduate to collecting dimes for a year or two after discovering the hobby, I took only passing notice of the new clad dimes and quarters; for me, they remained simply money. It was not until the latter part of 1966, when I finally saw my first 1966-dated dime, that I got the bug more fully. At that point I began collecting all current denominations through half dollars. All of the 1965-dated coins were then available, though I did notice that the halves were not as often seen as those dated 1966. Also evident was that the cents and nickels dated 1965 were far less often seen than those of 1964 (It was not until years later that I learned of the date freeze on 1964 issues).

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

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