The Franklin half dollar honors the American patriot Benjamin Franklin. Production began in 1948 under Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross and ended in 1963. Beginning collectors will find this series challenging since these coins are not found in general circulation any more. Intermediate and advanced collectors will have no problem assembling their sets given the ample supply of Franklin half dollars in the market place.
History of the Franklin Half Dollar
Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1723 he moved to Philadelphia Pennsylvania and began working as an apprentice printer. In the 1730s and 1740s his public service resulted in the founding of such institutions as libraries, fire companies and insurance companies.
In the 1750s his career as a scientist led to the inventions of such items as the Franklin stove, swim fins, musical instruments and bifocals. His most famous scientific experiment revolved around electricity and the flying of a kite in a thunderstorm. In the 1760s he began his political career and was elected to the Second Continental Congress. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and signed it 1776. After the fight for independence, Franklin spent much of his time in France. He later returned to the United States where he died on April 17, 1790.
In 1947, Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross, an admirer of Franklin, desired to replace the current Walking Liberty half dollar with a design honoring him. The new coin featured Franklin's portrait on the obverse and an image of the Liberty Bell with a small eagle on the reverse. Coinage began in the spring of 1948 and continued through 1963 when it was replaced by the Kennedy half dollar in 1964. Early production figures were light compared to the later years because of the abundance of Walking Liberty half dollars still in circulation. By the early 1950s production picked up as the popularity of this coin took off and continued through the end of its run. Franklin half dollars were produced at all three operating mints at the time: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco.
Collecting Franklin Half Dollars
Assembling a complete set of Franklin half dollars requires only a total of 35 date and mint mark combinations. Because these half dollars were saved in great quantity, there is no key date that carries an exorbitant price. Since these coins are no longer circulating, you will have to buy these coins through coin dealers or online. All coins were struck in 90% silver and hence the price of lower grade circulated coins are greatly influenced by the price of silver.
For the beginning collector a basic set of circulated Franklin half dollars will be a challenge but not an undoable task. The intermediate collector will strive to complete a set with all uncirculated examples. While the advanced collector will attempt to complete a set that includes uncirculated examples, proof issues and some of the major varieties listed below.
Quick Link: Franklin Half Dollar Values
Keys to Collecting Franklin Half Dollars
Most coin dealers have an ample supply of circulated Franklin half dollars for you to purchase. Uncirculated examples are also readily available, but specimens that have few bag marks and great eye appeal will be a challenge to find.
The advanced collector will not only strive for a complete uncirculated set, but they will want to buy only coins that are fully struck. You can determine if a Franklin half dollar is fully struck by looking at the reverse of the coin. The highest point on the coin is the bottom of the Liberty Bell where there are six horizontal lines decorating it. If the coin is not fully struck, the lines will be weak or nonexistent in the middle of the bell. If the coin is fully struck, the lines will be complete all the way across the bell. This is what Franklin half dollar collectors refer to as a "full bell lines" or FBL.
Proof coins were struck in every year except for 1948 in 1949. About the first 100 strikes from a fresh set of dies have a cameo contrast effect where the raised portion of the design has a frosted surface. These specimens are most desired by advanced collectors. After the first 100 strikes, the frost effect began to wear away and this resulted in the entire coin having a brilliant mirror-like surface.
Franklin Half Dollar Errors and Varieties
Being produced for only 16 years, left the mint little time to accidentally produce errors and varieties on the Franklin half dollar. While you're searching for specimens at your local coin store or coin show, you may find some examples of these listed below that sell for a premium over normal prices.
- 1951-S Doubled Die Reverse
This doubled die production error caused the letters in "E Pluribus Unum" to look like they are doubled.
- 1955 "Bugs Bunny"
As a result of a die clash (obverse and reverse die striking each other without a planchet in between them) the obverse die was damaged. The damage occurred near Franklin's mouth that made him look like he has two large buck teeth.
- 1956 Proof Type 1 and Type 2 Reverse
In the middle of 1956 a new reverse proof die was made. This resulted in two different types of proof coins being manufactured. On the "Type 1" variety, the eagle has very little detail on its feathers. On the "Type 2" variety, the eagle's feathers are well defined.
- 1961 Doubled Die Reverse (business strike)
This production error caused all the lettering on the reverse to look like it is doubled.
- 1961 Proof Doubled Die Reverse
This major mint error caused all the lettering on the reverse to look like it is doubled. This doubling is so pronounced you do not need a magnifying glass to see it.