The Benjamin Franklin design half dollars minted from 1948 through 1963 are no longer being passed over by collectors. For years they were considered commonplace and hardly worth saving because they were made in large quantities compared to the more glamorous Walking Liberty half dollars that they replaced. Now collectors are taking a fresh look at these attractive coins and learning that they are neither as common or as mundane as was once believed.
The engraver of the Franklin half dollar, John R. Sinnock, was faced with the monumental task of creating a design to replace the beloved Walking Liberty coin. It was an image that had endured since 1916 and reflected patriotism and artistry. Sinnock, however, was up to the task. His subject was a famous statesman and the only non-president to appear on United States coins for many years. On the reverse of Sinnock’s coin was the well-known Liberty Bell. It was not a new theme for the artist. He had used a very similar version of the bell in 1926 when he designed a commemorative half dollar celebrating the sesquicentennial of American Independence. On the circulating coin he added a tiny eagle in the field to comply with the law requiring the National bird on all silver coins. Unfortunately, the addition of that element meant overcrowding the design and wording to the point of losing some of the artistic appeal.
Over the years collectors have enjoyed saving Franklin half dollars because the series is relatively short and there are very few scarce dates to contend with. All 35 dates and mint marks can be found easily and can usually be purchased in circulated condition for only a little over silver melt value. Even in uncirculated grade most of the coins are valued at under $10 each, and the rarest date, the 1949-S, still sells for around $50.
Now, after years of being ignored by the hobby, Franklin half dollars are beginning to be appreciated as a serious collectible challenge. They began to gain that respect when it was realized that millions of them had been melted in the period of 1978 to 1980. At that time the price of silver bullion rose to nearly $50 per ounce and Franklins in any condition could be sold for $15 each and thrown into the melting pot. The melt value was so much more than the numismatic value of these coins that nothing could stop the mass destruction of even high grade uncirculated pieces. In recent years collectors who turned their attention to these coins have attempted to form sets in the highest possible grade of condition because circulated pieces are still commonplace. Pride of ownership in “super” coins is evident in the outstanding prices that are paid for pieces that are near perfection in grade and boldness of strike. A mark of the coins quality, and desirability, is dependent on how well the design of the Liberty Bell is visible. On ordinary coins the lines in the bell are often ill formed or missing. Coins displaying full bell lines are the gems that serious collectors seek.
A review of mintage figures in this series reveals that there are several dates and mints that are worthy of notice for collectors. Many are under three million, and with the unknown factor of heavy melting years ago, there is no way of knowing how many may still be available to fill future needs. It has long been known that of the remaining coins in uncirculated condition, most of them suffer from nicks and imperfections caused by long-time storage. Coins above the level of MS-65 are considered exceptional and worthy of substantial premiums.
What the future holds for Franklin half dollars is anyone’s guess, but it seems certain that forming a set at today’s prices represents a good value. No more will ever be made, they are a significant part of our numismatic history, and they are reasonably priced in anything but the very highest grade of condition. Whether your budget can afford coins in the range of $5, $20, $50 or even $50,000 this is a set worth pursuing.