Half dollar (United States coin)

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50-Cent Piece
United States
Value 0.50 U.S. dollar
Mass 11.340 g (0.365 troy oz)
Diameter 30.61 mm (1.205 in)
Thickness 2.15 mm (0.085 in)
Edge 150 reeds
Composition 91.67% Cu
8.33% Ni
Years of minting 1794–present
Catalog number
US Half Dollar Obverse 2015.png
Design John F. Kennedy
Designer Gilroy Roberts
Design date 1964
US 50 Cent Rev.png
Design Presidential Seal
Designer Frank Gasparro
Design date 1964

Half dollar coins have been produced every year since the conception of the United States Mint in 1794. Sometimes referred to as the fifty-cent piece, the only other U.S. coin that has been minted as consistently is the cent.


Half-dollar coins saw heavy use, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. For many years, they were commonly used in casinos. Rolls of half dollars may still be kept on hand in cardrooms for games requiring 50-cent antes or bring-in bets, for dealers to pay winning naturals in blackjack, or where the house collects a rake in increments. Additionally, some concession vendors at sporting events distribute half-dollar coins as change for convenience.

By the early 1960s, the rising price of silver was nearing the point where the bullion value of U.S. silver coins would exceed face value. In 1965, the U.S. introduced layered composition coins made of a copper core laminated between two cupro-nickel outer faces. The silver content of dimes and quarters was totally eliminated, but the Kennedy half dollar composition still contained silver (reduced from 90 to 40 percent) from 1965 to 1970.

The 1964 Kennedy half dollars were removed from circulation by the public for sentimental reasons.[citation needed] Those issued through the end of the 1960s were hoarded as the only precious metal U.S. coins remaining in production, and as the price of silver continued to rise, pre-1964 halves disappeared from circulation as well. By the time that the coin's composition was changed to match that of the clad dimes and quarters in 1971, both businesses and the public had adapted to a country in which the half dollar did not generally circulate. The quarter took over the half's role as the highest-value component of change.

Most coins enter circulation through the change drawers of businesses. Few businesses stock their change drawers with half dollars, and many banks do not stock them or hand them out as normal business practice, so the coins do not see much circulation.

Most U.S. vending machines do not accept half dollars, nor do payphones, which further curtails their circulation; however, most sleight of hand magicians specializing in coin magic around the world prefer the half dollar for its size and weight,[1] and it is the most common denomination used for U.S. commemorative coins.[2]

Since 2002, half dollars have been minted only for collectors, due to large Federal Reserve and government inventories on hand of pre-2001 pieces; this is mostly due to lack of demand and large quantity returns from casino slot machines that now operate "coinless".[citation needed] If and when the reserve supply runs low, the mint will again fill orders for circulation half dollars.[citation needed] It took about 18 years (1981–1999) for the large inventory stockpile of a similar low-demand circulation coin, the $1 coin, to reach reserve levels low enough to again produce circulation pieces.[citation needed] Modern-date half dollars can be purchased in proof sets, mint sets, rolls, and bags from the U.S. Mint, and existing inventory circulation pieces can be ordered through most U.S. banks. All collector issues since 2001 have had much lower mintages than in previous years. Although intended only for collectors, these post-2001 half dollars sometimes find their way into circulation.[citation needed]


  • On December 1, 1794, the first half dollars (approximately 5,300 pieces) – were delivered. Another 18,000 were produced in January 1795 using dies of 1794, to save the expense of making new ones.[3]
  • Due to the high production of half dollars from the 1790s, another 30,000 pieces were struck by the end of 1801. The coin had the Heraldic Eagle, based on the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse.[3]
  • One of the great mysteries of half dollars was the 150,000 that were minted in 1804 without one specimen known to exist. The coinage of 1804 was struck with dies from 1803, accounting for the confusion.[3]
  • In 1838, half dollar dies were produced in Philadelphia for the newly established New Orleans branch Mint, and 10 test samples of the 1838-O halves were made at the main Philadelphia mint. These samples were put into the mint safe along with other rarities like the 1804 Silver Dollar. The dies were then shipped to New Orleans for the regular production of 1838 -O half dollars. However, New Orleans production of the half dollars was delayed due to the priority of producing half dimes and dimes. The large press for half dollar production was first used in New Orleans in January 1839 to produce 1838-O half dollars, but the reverse die could not be properly secured, and only ten samples were produced before the dies failed. Rufus Tyler, chief coiner of the New Orleans mint, wrote to Mint Director Patterson of the problem on February 25, 1839 [4] The Orleans mint samples all had a double stamped reverse as a result of this production problem and they also showed dramatic signs of die rust, neither of which are present on the Philadelphia produced test samples. While eight Philadelphia minted samples survive to this day, there is only one known New Orleans minted specimen with the tell-tale double stamped reverse and die rust. This is the famous coin that Rufus Tyler presented to Alexander Dallas Bache (great grandson of Benjamin Franklin) in the summer of 1839 and was later purchased in June 1894 by Augustus Goodyear Heaton, the father of mint mark coin collecting,[5] while the 1838-O Philadelphia produced half dollars are excessively rare, with two separate specimens having sold for $632,500 in Heritage auctions in 2005 and 2008[6] respectively, the sole surviving Orleans minted 1838-O is one of the rarest of all American coins.[7][8] In 1840 this mint produced nearly 180,000 half dollars.[3]
  • In 1861, the New Orleans mint produced coins for three different governments. A total of 330,000 were struck under the United States government, 1,240,000 for the State of Louisiana after it seceded from the Union, and 962,633 after it joined the Confederacy. Since the same die was used for all strikings, the output looks identical. However the Confederate States of America actually minted four half dollars with a CSA (rather than USA) reverse and the obverse die they used had a small die crack. Thus "regular" 1861-O halves with this crack probably were used by the Confederates for some of the mass striking.[9]
  • There are two varieties of Kennedy halves in the proof set issues of 1964. Initially, the die was used with accented hair, showing deeper lines than the president's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, liked. New dies were prepared to smooth out some of the details. It is estimated that about 1–3% (40,000–100,000) of the proof halves are of the earlier type, making them somewhat more expensive for collectors.[10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "HALF DOLLAR COIN TRICKS - COIN MAGIC MADE EASY | COIN TRYX". www.cointryx.com. Retrieved 2016-01-27. 
  2. ^ "USA Commemorative Half Dollars". www.commem.com. Retrieved 2016-01-27. 
  3. ^ a b c d Julian, R.W. (December 2006). "All About the Half Dollar". Numismatist Magazine 119 (12): 38. 
  4. ^ U.S. Archives, general correspondence of the Philadelphia Mint box 39
  5. ^ "Treatise on coinage of The United States Branch Mints " published 1893/ author Augustus Heaton
  6. ^ [1] Proof-63
  7. ^ "The Surprising History Of The 1838-O Half Dollar " published Jan 2012 by Ivy Press/ David Stone and Mark Van Winkle authors Heritage
  8. ^ [2] Proof-64
  9. ^ The SS Republic Shipwreck Project: the Coin Collection, p.23
  10. ^ What exactly is an Accented Hair Kennedy?
  11. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1794–95 Half Dollar Flowing Hair". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  12. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1796–97 Half Dollar Draped Bust Small Eagle". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  13. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1801–07 Half Dollar Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  14. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1807–36 Half Dollar Capped Bust Lettered Edge". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  15. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1836–39 Half Dollar Capped Bust Reeded Edge". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  16. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1839–66 Half Dollar Seated Liberty No Motto". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  17. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1866–91 Half Dollar Seated Liberty With Motto". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  18. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1892–1915 Half Dollar Barber". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  19. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1916–47 Half Dollar Walking Liberty". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  20. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1948–63 Half Dollar Franklin". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  21. ^ NGC Photo Proof (1994). "1964 – Half Dollar Kennedy". CoinSite. ROKO Design Group, Inc. Retrieved 2009-03-13.