Learn Grading: What Are Full Bell Lines?

Posted on 11/13/2018

NGC’s designation gives collectors a more comprehensive assessment of Franklin Half Dollars.

NGC uses a numeric grade to succinctly describe a problem-free coin's condition. Certain coins, however, are eligible for a more nuanced description of their condition and appearance. For these coins, NGC graders follow the numeric grade with a range of designations, often called "Strike Characters."

The Franklin Half Dollar series (1948-1963) is the shortest Half Dollar series after the Civil War. Relatively easy to collect, the series was cut short by the intense response to the assassination of President Kennedy, which results in a new Half Dollar series.

The coin features the iconic Liberty Bell on its reverse. To qualify for NGC's Full Bell Lines (FBL) designation, all the horizontal lines on the bell must be distinct. Often, the strike can leave the lower bell lines incomplete. The rarity of the FBL designation varies across the series, though coins from San Francisco consistently have trouble qualifying.

LEFT: Reverse of 1952-S Franklin Half Dollar, graded NGC MS 65. RIGHT: Reverse of 1948 Franklin Half Dollar, graded NGC MS 66 FBL.
Click images to enlarge.

Franklin Half Dollars do not need to be Mint State to qualify for the FBL designation, but it should be no surprise that most that qualify are Mint State. The FBL designation is not used for Franklin Half Dollar Proofs, which are assumed to have been well-struck.

The part of the Franklin Half Dollar that determines the FBL designation.

The Franklin Half Dollar is the only Half Dollar with a unique strike character. Other series with unique strike chracters include the Standing Liberty Quarter, the Mercury and Roosevelt Dimes and the Jefferson Nickel.

The FBL strike character can be combined with the strike characters for "PL" (for Prooflike) and "DPL" (for Deep Prooflike), but to date, only a handful of PL Franklin Half Dollars have been certified by NGC (with no DPL ones). The full list of potential combinations is as follows:

CENSUS LABEL DESCRIPTION APPLICABLE COIN TYPES
(how the strike character appears in the NGC Census) (how the strike character appears on the NGC label) (a verbal description of the strike character) (the types of coins to which it applies)
FBL FBL Full Bell Lines Franklin Half Dollars Only
FLP FBL PL Full Bell Lines, Prooflike Franklin Half Dollars Only
FLD FBL DPL Full Bell Lines, Deep Prooflike Franklin Half Dollars Only

Coins with certain strike characters are often more highly prized by collectors. As a result, strike characters are separated on different lines for each coin in the NGC Census to give a better understanding of their relative rarity. The NGC Price Guide also lists the FBL designations separately.

NGC assigns these strike characters automatically as part of its normal grading process for no additional fee.

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