Facts About One Of America's Favorite Coins
“You only have the right to pursue happiness; you have to catch it yourself.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
The Benjamin Franklin Half Dollar was minted from 1948 to 1963. It was the first regular U.S. coin intended for circulation to depict a person of interest to our history instead of a President or patriotic symbol (like Lady Liberty).
It was also the first coin to depict the Liberty Bell. To the right of the bell is a tiny depiction of an eagle. There was law at the time that the bald eagle had to be represented on the reverse of U.S. Half Dollars.
You will notice on the lower part of the bell, there are seven horizontal lines. It is uncommon to find examples of the coin that have these lines clearly shown with no breaks. The reason for this being that many were pressed with insufficient pressure or worn dies. A Franklin Half Dollar that has its bell lines clearly intact can have the designation “Full Bell Lines” or FBL for short. A coin in this condition can draw thirty thousand dollars or more.
The example shows a perfect Full Bell Lines half dollar. Some coin grading companies may show some lenience, particularly in the lines right next to the crack in the bell.
It’s worth looking through your collection to see if any of your Franklin Half Dollars qualify. In 2018 one FBL fetched a price of over 129K at auction. (Note that proofs do not qualify for the FBL designation. They are assumed to be struck well with full lines.)
Benjamin Franklin Half Dollar
Photo By Dave's Coins
Full Bell Lines Franklin Half Dollar
Photo By NCG
In the late 1700’s an artist named Jean-Antoine Houdon made a bust of Benjamin Franklin, shown here:
Much later, in 1933, artist John Sinnock was inspired by this work and made a metal commemorating Franklin based upon the bust.
In 1946, it had become time to replace the Walking Liberty Half Dollar with a new design. It is believed Mint director Nellie Tayloe Ross saw the medallion of Franklin and was inspired to create a half dollar with his image. She instructed Joe Sinnock, who was then Chief Engraver for the US Mint, to create the coin. Sadly, he passed before he could finish the work. Yet, his successor finished the depiction of Franklin for the half dollar and the coin was created.
Franklin’s Ideas On Coins
Franklin himself was a printer and a moneyer (a person who mints money). The nation’s first cent was made by him. He advocated ideas that the holder could benefit from reading. He was very frugal and often taught, “Mind your business” and similar ideas. It’s interesting to think what other quotes he would have put on the coins.
Many of the Founding Fathers, such as Franklin, didn’t want their image on a coin. And, specifically, he would have objected to an eagle. He never agreed with using the eagle as the national bird. In a letter to his daughter, he referred to the eagle as a scavenger and humorously said that a turkey would be a better bird.
The Franklin half dollar is ninety percent silver. The total weight of the coin is 12.5 grams. This leaves the silver content at 11.25 grams.
Many Franklin Half Dollars were melted down for their silver in 1979 and 1980. Regardless of the original minting, the melting of the coins leaves some dates rarer than one would expect. By mintages, the key dates in this series are the 1948, 1949-S, 1953 and 1955.
Do you have a full Franklin Half Dollar collection?
Bust of Benjamin Franklin
John Sinnock's rendition in metal
CoinWeek – All About the Benjamins: Why You Should Collect Franklin Half Dollars
Numismatic News – 1958 Franklin realizes $129,500
PCGS – Tips From the Grading Room Part 4
Wikipedia – Franklin half dollar
Wikipedia – Jean-Antoine Houdon
Wikipedia – John R. Sinnock
History – Did Benjamin Franklin propose the turkey as the national symbol?
Goodreads – Benjamin Franklin Quotes