The History Of 40% Silver Coins

Some of the most beloved coins ever issued by the United States Mint were produced between 1965 and 1970, bearing the profile of President John F. Kennedy. These 40% Silver half dollars are extremely collectible and highly sought by collectors and investors alike.

Silver’s Changing Historical Role in U.S. Currency
Following a supply shortage of Silver in the early 1960s, Silver prices began to climb. As a result, Congress found it necessary to examine how large a role Silver would play in the country’s future currency. By 1965, Congress decided that Silver must be phased out of U.S. currency. Quarters and dimes would contain no Silver, but half dollars would still be composed of a 40% Silver alloy. However, because of a second problematic Silver shortage, these 40% Silver half dollars were produced for a very limited time. The 40% Silver half dollar coins were officially removed from circulation in 1971, making them especially desirable to collectors today. You may be wondering what brought on these waves of Silver shortages. Many people believe that they were the result of our nation’s love—a love that bordered on mania—for one extraordinary man.

On the evening of November 22, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas, while traveling in a presidential motorcade, U.S. Mint Director Eva Adams contacted Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts to tell him to get ready to depict President Kennedy’s profile on the Silver dollar, half dollar, or quarter dollar.

President Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline, herself a beloved American icon in her own time, expressed her preference for her husband’s likeness to appear on the half dollar. Following Congressional approval for the new half dollar arrived quickly, and in December 1963 work on the Kennedy half dollar began in earnest. Dies of the coin were completed in January of the 1964 and in March the 90% Silver Kennedy Half Dollar was released to circulation.

The day of the coin’s launch, the Treasury Department had 70,000 ready coins for public sale. People literally lined the street waiting to get their hands on the Kennedy half dollars; even though the coins were carefully limited to 40 per person, the Washington, D.C. supply sold out immediately. In New York City the next day, the same scene played out again. Then, despite the staggering popularity of the coin, it quickly became apparent that the new half dollars weren’t really circulation. In fact, they had all but vanished from general circulation because no one wanted to spend them—they wanted to hoard them as memorial keepsakes.

More and more collectors and investors sought Kennedy Half Dollars, and the Treasury simply couldn’t meet such startlingly high demand. In an attempt to satisfy the public’s continued demand, the U.S. Mint ended up striking 430 million Kennedy half dollars rather than the planned 91 million. Still, the coins didn’t make it into circulation because people simply didn’t want to spend them, as if using the coins as money was a sacrilege. As a result, the price of Silver began a precipitous climb as the supply slowly dwindled to a trickle.

In 1965, as the 90% Silver half dollars continued to vanish as if by magic and Silver prices kept rising, President Johnson announced plans to eliminate Silver from U.S. quarters and dimes, and reduce the Silver content of the Kennedy Half Dollars to what the Treasury hoped would be a more manageable 40%. The inner layer of the new half dollars was made of 79% Copper and 21% Silver, while the exterior layer was 80% Silver and 20% copper. Thus, the coin when totaled consisted of 40% Silver. A 40% Silver half dollar weighs 11.5 grams, and it is still worth 50¢ as legal tender of the Unites States.

Even after the actual Silver content was reduced, collectors continued to clamor for the Kennedy Half Dollar. And the coin still barely made it into circulation between 1965 and 1970. Congress was again forced to examine the wisdom of using Silver stores to produce currency that never circulated.

By May 1969, the Treasury had decided the only appropriate course of action would be to completely eliminate Silver from U.S. currency. Anticipating this change, the Mint struck few 40% Silver coins in 1970. Beginning in 1971, the Kennedy Half Dollars would be struck in the same copper and nickel alloy as other Silver-colored coinage in an effort to end the collector hoarding that had strangled the Kennedy Half Dollar and driven up minting costs. By that time, so few half dollars were in circulation that the public had grown accustomed to not using them, and new coin-operated machines were no longer configured to accept them

Today, tin the unlikely event that you run across a 40% Silver Kennedy Half Dollar in circulation, you might want to hang onto it. They still spend like any other coin, at a face value of 50¢. Eva Adams, the U.S. Mint director at the time of Kennedy’s death, could have never, even in her wildest imagination, foreseen the wild popularity of the half dollar depicting beloved president’s likeness or the far-reaching impact of its production. Despite the coin’s relative failure as a properly circulated piece of money, the 40% Silver Kennedy Half Dollar remains a beloved and coveted collector’s item.

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