A Dozen Top Halves|
December 19, 2012
This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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When it comes to the business of numismatics, many dealers tout how rare their coins are, either for the series, the denomination, or the grade. They have too, really. After all, this isn’t the grocery business. You can’t eat what you don’t sell—and high end coins tend to sell very well.
But with all that, it’s probably fair to say that none of us have ever seen an ad that says, “more than 1 million produced—so buy this common coin.” Yet, when it comes to half dollars, an ad like that could actually lead to a pretty amazing collection. If you have your doubts, well, here’s a list of half dollars all of which have a mintage of more than 1 million (in some cases, far more than 1 million) that would make a wonderful collection with quite a bit of eye appeal.
1. Proof 1964 Kennedy half. OK, most of us probably don’t consider the Kennedy half a coin that is high on any want lists. Not many people even seem to collect the series by date, although it never costs much. But with 3,950,762 proofs minted in 1964—the only year in which it was a 90 percent silver coin—it’s a remarkably affordable coin, even in Proof-65. If you have even $20 to spend, you should be able to purchase one of these gorgeous proofs and be on your way to a “million-plus” half dollar collection. If you have more to spend, this is a coin you can probably land in grades like PR-68 or even -69.
2. Proof 1963 Franklin half. By the tail end of the Franklin series the U.S. Mint had gotten very proficient at producing annual proof sets. That means they pounded out 3,075,645 of them that year, almost all of which still survive, either as part of a whole set or as individual coins.
Franklin half aficionados will quickly point out that proof coins are sometimes not worth as much as mint-state versions of the “full bell line” specimens, but if you land one of these proofs in PR-65, with some cameo surface effect no less, and do so for less than $50, those full bell lines don’t end up being that important, as you have just procured a truly beautiful piece for your collection.
3. Proof 1957 Franklin. The reason this coin makes it onto my growing list, when there is already a proof Franklin, is that this is the first year of record when the Mint did take production to more than 1 million proofs. The record states 1,247,952 proof sets were produced in 1957, and the price of the Franklin half as a lone coin isn’t really too much higher than the just-mentioned 1963.
Once again, it’s a gorgeous coin with a rather low price tag stuck onto it. Thus, it’s worth adding to any growing collection of good-looking half dollars.
4. 1943 Walking Liberty half. While there were proofs in the Walking Liberty half series, they were not made every year, they are quite scarce, and they always command a premium. Proof Walking Liberty halves tend to be the stuff of auction headlines. But the 1943 Walking Liberty half dollar was minted to the tune of 53,190,000 coins. This makes it pretty darn common today in just about every grade. A Mint State-65 example will run about $150, and one in MS-60 only costs about $30.
5. 1942 Walking Liberty half. It’s not quite as common as the 1943, but with 47,818,000 to the tally it’s not going to be a rare coin any time soon. Plus, the prices are virtually the same for the 1942 and the 1943. If you only want one, take some time and find the one with the best eye appeal. If you want them both, the cost probably won’t end up being a limiting factor for you. One other note about the Walking Liberty halves is in order here. There are 15 dates in this series that are over the 10 million point when it comes to mintages. All are common, all are beautiful in mint state, and all are pretty affordable.
If you are only interested in a type coin, take your time and find the one that warms your heart the most. If you want them all, well, why not? There are certainly worse ways to spend one’s money. And there aren’t many better ways to begin a Walking Liberty half date set, or date and mintmark set.
6. 1899 Barber half. The mintage for this year from Philadelphia was 5,538,000, which is far lower than the Walking Liberty halves I just mentioned, but it is still pretty high. Close to it is the somewhat older 1894-S, this time with 4,048,690 to its tally.
The prices of these two coins are higher in mint state than anything we’ve zeroed in on thus far, but in grades like Extremely Fine or Very Fine they are still affordable to almost every interested person.
Many collectors don’t go back this far when it comes to collecting U.S. coin series. This is because they fear the prices have risen too high for comfort. When it comes to the higher grades of mint state, I agree. But there are enough good-looking coins within this series that no one should feel left out.
7. & 8. 1876 and 1877 Seated Liberty halves. At 8,418,000 coins, and 8,304,000 coins, respectively, both of these are going to be very common for ages to come. They both actually have a tiny proof mintage that is given in most price guides, but those prices are well into the thousands of dollars. No, when looking at these two common 50-cent pieces, it might be wisest to think instead about specimens in the MS-60 zone at the highest. Believe it or not, these come in at less than $400 per coin today. Moving down to the About Uncirculated or EF grades, they become even more attractive in terms of their cost.
If those two dates within the Seated Liberty series have incredibly high mintages for coins that are well over a century old, the 1858-O Seated Liberty half isn’t too far behind, with 7,294,000 coins listed.
I mention it here because it is the first to have a mintmark on it from a now-defunct branch mint. In addition, it’s a pre-Civil War date, and that date and mintmark don’t add anything to the cost of the coin, at least not when compared to the 1877 and the 1876.
9. 1839 Seated Liberty half. I gave this coin its own spot because it is the first of Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design, and that alone makes it something special. As well, with 1,972,400 coins on its ledger line, it, too, is a relatively common half and it probably will be well into any foreseeable future.
The prices for mint-state specimens can get high quickly, but that’s just because there is always a bit of mania attached to owning the absolute best coins from a very old series. But when $275 is all that you need to part with for an AU-50 example, or $150 for an EF-40, it probably won’t be an expense that completely flattens anyone’s wallet. This can be a great coin to add to any 50-cent piece collection.
10. 1825-1839 Capped Bust halves. I mentioned that some collectors go back to the Barber series when it comes to their collecting and they stop there for fear of rising prices. Imagine then hearing that there is more than a decade worth of dates way back within the Capped Bust series, most of which were produced at the level of 1 million coins or higher.
Yes, mint-state versions of these coins are going to be expensive. That’s not just a function of their age.
Remember, these coins have gone up in value because those mintages don’t reflect the actual number of coins that have survived various melts, at times when the cost of silver rose on world markets. No, these coins are worth looking at in grades such as VF-20 or EF-40, where their prices straddle the $100 to $250 range.
Look carefully down any price sheet in Coins magazine or Coin Prices and you will find that a delightfully large number of these halves are still very affordable. This is truly the case of history in your hand—and history that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (or a hand) at that.
11. 1808 Capped Bust half. This coin is old enough that it is only the second of the Capped Bust halves, and was minted when the Mint was only 15 years old (if you consider the silver trial pieces of 1792 its first issue and its first year). There are 1,368,600 of them listed, and they are still affordable in grades such as Fine to VF.
It’s pretty amazing to think you can land an 1808 half dollar for only $100 in F-12, or its slightly better kin for $150. Yet that possibility is out there for the collector who has the patience and the eye.
12. 1806 Draped Bust half. I’m going to end my half dollar list with this coin—one that has only 839,576 listed as its output. Yes, it’s one that is less than 1 million strong. But this number is very close to my seven-figure mark, and one more look at any price guide will indicate that a savvy collector can obtain one of these for about $300 in VF-20.
Of course, that same look will let you know there are no less than six different varieties of the 1806, with some rather rare ones in the mix. So, if you see one of these early half dollars with a price tag attached to it that makes you think it must be made of gold, it’s probably just the scarce variety. You might want to gaze and sigh. But like most of us, you’ll have to move on to a more common piece.
Going back even farther than the Draped Bust halves gets us into some incredibly expensive, and incredibly rare half dollars. There’s nothing earlier than the 1806 that even comes near the million-plus mark. The early years of the Mint were generally marked by low output in any number of denominations. But don’t despair, I’ve just shown you a couple of dozen dates, in just about every half dollar series out there, all of which you could add to a collection without spending too much. If you’ve never thought about assembling a collection of these most common 50-cent pieces, why not do so now? It could be a very rewarding pursuit.
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