Franklin Half Dollars: Iconic Mid-20th Century US Coinage

Franklin half dollars, also called “Franklin halves,” are silver American 50-cent coins minted from 1948 to 1963. The name comes from these coins featuring Benjamin Franklin on the obverse (heads side). The reverse (tails side) depicts the iconic Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In American coinage history, Franklin half dollars were significant for finishing out all the circulation coin designs being replaced with real Americans instead of personifications like Liberty.

Though only issued for 16 years, Franklin half dollars are highly sought-after by collectors for their historical value and high silver content.

Today, our seasoned Coins Auctioned experts are excited to dive into the history, varieties, and value of Kennedy half dollars.

franklin half dollarPictured above: Combined image of obverse & reverse of 1963-D Franklin half dollar coin | Image credit: John Baumgart, Public domain

Historical Background

The idea for putting Benjamin Franklin on a coin came from Nellie Tayloe (or Davis) Ross. She was the first female US Mint Director, holding the position from 1933 to 1953.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the seven key Founding Fathers of America, among many other accolades. Ross had felt deep admiration for Franklin her entire life and hoped to feature him on a coin.

Franklin had been on the 100-dollar bill since 1914, but Ross wanted him to be on more widely accessible currency.

Her first chance came in 1940, when the Walking Liberty half dollar and Mercury dime were eligible for new designs after 25-year circulation.

Congress considered the redesigns, but World War II delayed them. In 1946, Congress decided to change the dime to depict recently passed President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Other Mint officials agreed the Walking Liberty half dollar design was outdated, so Ross got the go-ahead for the Benjamin Franklin half dollar redesign.

mint director nellie tayloe ross who pushed the franklin half dollarPictured above: Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross (left) looks on as Ralph Smith of the Bureau of Standards checks a coin during the 1942 United States Assay Commission meeting. Vernon Brown, also a member like Smith and curator of the Chase Manhattan Money Museum, is at right | Image credit: The Numismatist, May 1942, p. 380; Public domain

Designing & Approving the Ben Franklin Half Dollar

Ross assigned Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock to design the Franklin half dollar in 1947.

Sinnock finished the obverse design but unfortunately passed away in May before completing the reverse. The new Chief Engraver, Gilroy Roberts, finished Sinnock’s reverse design.

The Mint made a trial strike to show the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and get their opinions on the design. They liked the obverse but had issues with the reverse — namely, how small the eagle was and how the crack in the Liberty Bell may lead to public insults.

The Commission didn’t approve the designs, offering to hold a competition for a new design instead. However, Treasury Secretary John W. Snyder rejected their suggestions, possibly to honor Sinnock, allowing the Mint to proceed with the design.

js initals on franklin half dollar coin controversyPictured above: Close-up of "JS" initials on 1946 Franklin half dollar | Image credit: PCGS Trueview, Free use

Release & Communism Rumors

Franklin half dollars were introduced for public sale on April 30, the anniversary of George Washington presidential inauguration in 1789.

Sinnock had also designed the Roosevelt dime in 1946, and he placed his initials “JRS” on each design but this led to controversial rumors of both coins.

Aided by post-WWII fear of Communist infiltration, rumors flew that “JRS” initials stood for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Some theorized the initials were added by a Soviet undercover at the Mint.

These rumors ended quickly, unlike the Franklin half’s iconic design.

Design and Symbolism

The total weight of the Franklin half dollar is 12.5 g (~0.44 oz). The coin is made of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, and each Franklin half dollar contains 0.36169 troy oz (~11.25 g) of pure silver.

The coin is 30.61 mm (1.21 in) wide and 1.8 mm thick. The edge is reeded, or “milled,” meaning it has narrow ridges carved around the edge — 150 ridges, to be exact.

Many elements of the coin’s design symbolize American independence and Philadelphia, the nation’s first capital and the location of most of Franklin’s pioneering work.

obverse design of franklin half dollar coinPictured above: Obverse of 1948-P Franklin Half Dollar | Image credit: PCGS CoinFacts, Free use

Obverse Design

The Franklin half dollar’s obverse design features a bust of Benjamin Franklin facing right. The word “LIBERTY” is inscribed along the top, while “IN GOD WE TRUST” is inscribed along the bottom.

The mintage year is to the right of the bust. Sinnock’s initials “JRS” are inscribed below Franklin’s shoulder on the left, similar to the “VDB” placement on the 1936 penny.

Sinnock adapted the Franklin bust from his design on the 1933 Benjamin Franklin Memorial bronze medallion. The 1933 medal was modeled after a bust of Franklin by 18th-century French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.

reverse design of franklin half dollar coinPictured above: Reverse of 1948-P Franklin Half Dollar | Image credit: PCGS CoinFacts, Free use

Reverse Design

The reverse of the Franklin halves features the Liberty Bell, a symbol of American independence outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

A small eagle is to the right of the bell, placed by Gilroy Roberts to abide by the 1792 and 1783 Coinage Acts’ rules that all silver coins greater than a dime ($0.10) have an eagle on the reverse.

“UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” is inscribed along the top, while “HALF DOLLAR” is inscribed along the bottom. The traditional national motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is inscribed to the left of the bell.

If present, the mint mark on the Franklin half dollar is located above the bell, under the “E” in “STATES.”

According to Sinnock, the reverse design was adapted from his design for the 1926 commemorative Sesquicentennial half dollar.

However, Sinnock likely based both designs (without giving credit) from sketches for the 1926 half dollar done by numismatist John Frederick Lewis. Numismatists didn’t give Lewis credit until decades later.

Regardless, the Franklin half dollar was minted for circulation for a solid 16 years.

denver mint mark on franklin half dollar coinPictured above: Closeup of mint mark on Franklin half dollars. Just above the bell on the reverse | Image credit: Photo taken by user bobby131313, Image courtesy of CCF Numismatics; CC-BY-SA-3.0

Minting and Production

Throughout the Franklin half dollar series, three mints struck the coin, denoted by their mint marks:

  • “D” — Denver Mint

  • “S” — San Francisco Mint

  • None — Philadelphia Mint

In total, over 497.5 million Franklin half dollars were minted from 1948 to 1963 — around 487.1 million were business strikes (circulated) and almost 16 million were proof strikes. The Philadelphia Mint struck the only proof varieties, minted from 1950 to 1963.

Total mintage figures separated by mint and variety:

  • Philadelphia Mint - Circulated: 154,178,490

  • Philadelphia Mint - Proof: 15,886,955

  • Denver Mint: 295,415,219

  • San Francisco: 32,107,400

The San Francisco Mint only struck Franklin half dollars in 1949 and 1951 to 1954. The Denver Mint struck the coins every year except 1955 and 1956.

The highest proof mintage was 3,218,019 in 1962. The highest circulated mintage was 92,308,937 in 1963.

1948 franklin half dollar obverse and reversePictured above: Obverse and reverse of 1948-P Franklin half dollar (Key date) | Image credit: PCGS TrueView, Free use

Key Dates and Varieties

Overall, the value of a Franklin half dollar is a combination of these factors:

  • Variety: Business strikes (for circulation) are easiest to find, while rarity and value subsequently increases for proofs, cameo proofs, and deep cameo proofs.

  • Low Mintage: Issues (e.g. 1951-P) where fewer coins were minted are rarer and generally higher-value.

  • Mint Errors: Unintentional errors are almost always valuable, particularly rare types.

  • Demand: Fluctuating popularity means fluctuating market value

  • Condition: A more well-preserved Ben Franklin 50-cent piece is often vastly more valuable than one in poor condition.

Condition is typically given as a grade by a professional third-party service like Professional Coin Grading Services (PCGS) or Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC).

We’ll discuss grading later on, but for now we’ll start with rarer varieties: Franklin half proofs.

franklin half dollar proof type 1 versus type 2Pictured above: Comparison of Type 1 vs Type 2 feature on 1956 Franklin half dollar proof coins | Image credit: PCGS Coinfacts, Free use

Proof Varieties

A limited number of Franklin half dollars were proofs, struck multiple times with special dies & planchets to create a frosted foreground and mirror-like background.

Proof coins have three grading subtypes:

  • Standard Proof (PR): Background (field) isn’t highly reflective

  • Cameo (CAM): Rarer; Background highly reflective plus a) light to moderate frosting on obverse & reverse, b) not frosted, or c) frosted on only one side

  • Deep Cameo (DCAM or UCAM): Rarest; Background highly reflective plus highly & evenly frosted obverse & reverse

Two types of 1956 Franklin half dollar proofs were struck, differing in their reverse eagles:

  1. Type 1: Four distinct feathers

  2. Type 2: Three feathers

Type 1 1956 half dollar proofs are rarer than Type 2s.

full bell lines FBL on franklin half dollar reversePictured above: Reverse of 1950-D Franklin half dollar with Full Bell Lines | Image credit: Heritage Auctions, Public domain

Strike Quality (Full Bell Lines)

A unique grading factor for Franklin halves is how sharply the coin was struck.

The key for sharply struck Franklin halves of much higher rarity and value is “Full Bell Lines” — shortened to “FBL” in grades. PCGS defines this grade as:

“Franklin Half Dollars that grade MS60 or better and show full separation of the lines on the bottom of the Liberty Bell on the reverse… must also show no major disturbances, including cuts and marks, of the separation of the bell lines.”

Full bell lines are generally rare overall, but rarer in certain issues.

The rarest issue to find with FBL is a 1953-S Franklin half dollar. In 2001, one of these sold for a record-high $69,000!

key date 1962 franklin half dollar with full bell linesPictured above: Obverse and reverse of 1962-P Franklin half dollar graded MS66+FBL | Image credit: PCGS CoinFacts, Free use

Key Dates

Collectors often seek out “key date” Franklin half dollars. Key dates are harder to find, often because their issue was low-mintage or fewer have survived.

The lowest circulated mintage issue is the 1955-P Franklin half dollar at 2,498,181. The lowest mintage proof variety was the 1950-P Franklin half dollar proof at 51,386.

However, some key dates in the Franklin half dollar series aren’t just the lowest mintages.

Many were melted down for their silver, and the silver bullion value of certain Franklin half dollars can vary by fluctuating silver spot prices.

Key dates for Franklin half dollars and their values:

  • 1948-P: MS grades - $30 to $650; FBL grade - $30 to $35,000

  • 1949-S: MS grades - $70 to $1,400; FBL grade - $90 to $18,000; PL grades - $200 to $3,100

  • 1949-D: MS grades - $50 to $1,250; FBL grade - $50 to $45,000

  • 1950-D: MS grades - $35 to $600; FBL grade - $40 to $18,500

  • 1953-P: MS grades - $25 to $4,350; FBL grades - $45 to $5,500

  • 1955-P: MS grades - $20 to $1,650; FBL grades - $25 to $6,000

  • 1960-D: MS grades - $20 to $425; FBL grade - $25 to $25,000

  • 1961-P: MS grades - $20 to $975; FBL grade - $20 to $12,000

  • 1962-P: MS grades - $20 to $1,000; FBL grade - $30 to $70,000

  • 1962-D: MS grades - $20 to $2,000; FBL grade - $25 to $15,000

bugs bunny error on franklin half dollarPictured above: Close up of the "Bugs Bunny" error on 1955 Franklin half dollar | Image credit: Photo taken by user bobby131313, Image courtesy of CCF Numismatics; CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mint Errors

Mint errors on Franklin half dollars are much more valuable than standard strikes.

Some valuable errors to look for in Franklin halves include:

  • “Bugs Bunny” Die Clash: Franklin looks like he has buck teeth; Most well-known on 1955-P issues, worth up to $7,000

  • “Scarface” Cud: Scar-like die break on Franklin’s lower jaw; Most prominent in 1952-P issues, worth up to $700

  • “Booger” Die Clash: Booger-like mark on Franklin’s nose; Known on 1950-P & 1952-D issues, worth up to $1,250

  • Doubled Die Reverse (DDR): Doubling on reverse design; Most prominent & valuable on 1961-P Proof varieties, sold for up to $23,000; Only known on one 1956-P Type 2 DCAM Proof worth $1,750

  • Quadruple Die Obverse (QDO): Extreme doubling from 4 misaligned strikes; Only known on 1950-P Proof, worth up to $9,600

  • Repunched Mint Marks (RPM): Doubling on “S” mint mark letter; Most prominent on 1952-S issues, worth up to $675

  • Double Clipped Planchet: Edges have two curved clips; Worth up to $130

  • Quarter Planchet: Struck on a planchet intended for 25-cent quarters; Some worth over $1,500

For collectors, though, grading is key.

type 1 franklin half dollar proof graded dcam deep cameoPictured above: Obverse & reverse of 1956 Franklin half dollar proof (Type 1) graded PR68DCAM by PCGS | Image credit: PCGS Coinfacts, Free use

Collecting and Grading

Franklin half dollars carry historical value and contain precious metal (silver), meaning their market value will always be higher than their face value of 50 cents.

However, condition is crucial so it’s time to talk about grading Franklin half dollars.

Different coin grading systems exist, but the general grade meanings are:

  1. Uncirculated: Struck for circulation but never circulated; Looks like it did the day it was minted

  2. Mint State (MS): Like Uncirculated but with sub-grades from 60 to 70 for many visible marks to flawless, respectively

  3. Proof (PR): Struck as a proof coin; Sub-grades from 60 to 70 just like Mint State; Subtypes CAM & DCAM/UCAM as discussed earlier

  4. Prooflike (PL): Coins struck and handled for circulation but with a similar brilliant shine to proof coins

  5. About Uncirculated (AU): Very minor wear on high points of design from circulation, well-preserved surfaces, near-complete mint luster; Sub-grades from 50 to 58

  6. Extremely Fine (XF or EF): Probably never used; Close to Uncirculated but with minor flaws usually not visible to the naked eye; Sub-grades 40 & 45

  7. Very Fine-20 (VF-20): Minor to moderate wear on highest points of design (beginning to flatten), still attractive condition; Sub-grades 20 to 35

  8. Fine: Circulated briefly but still in good condition; Some flaws visible to the naked eye but design isn’t damaged much; Sub-grades 12 &15

  9. Very Good (VG): Well worn, major design elements flat but defined; Sub-grades 8 &10

  10. Good: Circulated heavily but in decent condition; Many flaws visible to the naked eye but design isn’t worn away; Sub-grades 4 & 6

  11. About Good (AG-3): Heavily worn, inscriptions not easily readable, partial rim blending, dates possibly worn away

If a coin has an FBL designation, you’ll often see an “FBL” instead of “MS” grade. One 1949-S coin worth $3,100 has a very rare “FBL PL” (full bell lines and prooflike) grade.

High grades are easier to find in certain years than others.

The first 1948 and 1949 coins were generally struck better than 1950 to 1959 issues, which were struck with progressively worn-out dies.

The dies were reworked to strike the 1960 issues but they were still less detailed. Additionally, San Francisco coins suffered from weak strikes, making FBL grades nearly impossible for these issues.

Although Franklin halves weren’t seen as very elegant when first released, they’ve gained significant popularity in modern times among collectors.

rare 1949-d franklin half dollarPictured above: Obverse and reverse of rare 1949-D issue of Franklin half dollar | Image credit: PCGS TrueView, Free use

Honor This American Legend & Enhance Your Collection with Franklin Half Dollars!

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t on a coin for as long as other founding fathers, but the lasting legacy he left on American culture is reflected in the continued popularity of Franklin half dollars among collectors.

Franklin’s influence extends beyond the states from his numerous inventions — like bifocals and the lightning rod — to fields of study like meteorology to his many oft-quoted sayings.

We’ll leave you with one of our favorites: “Wish not so much to live long as to live well.”

Find the perfect Franklin half dollar and other US half dollar coins for you!

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