Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Curious Case of the Franklin Half Dollar

The year is 1948, the great war is over, America is recovering and proceding into its next Golden Age, but there is a subtle tension that’s building on the horizon. Across the ocean, the Iron Curtain has risen, and this peace and prosperity has a dark underbelly of tension between the world’s two modern super powers and the start of the “Cold War.”

This year was also a huge change for US coins as well. In 1948 the Franklin Half Dollar would make its debut. With it, it would complete the change in US coinage from featuring images from American mythos and philosophy to featuring portraits of famous Americans.

Franklin Half Dollar Obverse

Rise of the Franklin Half Dollar

Mint Director Nellie Ross had wanted to mint a coin featuring Benjamin Franklin ever since he saw an honorary medal made in Franklin’s Honor by John Sinnock, the Mint’s chief sculptor and engraver. There are even supporting documents that suggest that Ross began making these changes in the early 1940′s but was postponed due to the escalating production demands of World War II.

When it was announced that Franklin would be featured on the half dollar, Ross’ contemporaries had urged her to reconsider and use his portrait for the penny, due to him being so closely related to the adage, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Sinnock’s portrait of Franklin was based off of an 18th century bust by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Franklin Half Dollar Reverse









Interestingly, the tiny eagle featured on the reverse of the coin was mandated by law, as any coin over the worth of a dime must feature an eagle. The tiny eagle was added by Gilroy Roberts, who took over the design of the coin after Sinnock’s death in 1947. Also, the commission of fine arts who oversaw the designs of the coins, commented that the crack in the liberty bell and the small eagle might lead some to make, “derogatory [comments about] United States coinage.” Although a redesign was recommended, they proceeded with Sinnock’s model without any changes made. This coin would run for 16 years until the assassination of JFK which would lead to the Kennedy half dollar memorializing the young president.

Even though production of the Franklin half dollar mintages are considered modest by modern day standards, the series doesn’t contain any particular rare years. Additionally, because they are so plentiful, Franklin half dollars in circulated condition are pretty much valued at the silver bullion value. However, the higher mint-state grades of a few years are somewhat elusive, especially ones featuring clear bell lines near the bottom of the Liberty Bell on the reverse of the coin. Some of the rarities come from the cameo contrast proofs that were struck in the set. These proofs feature a mirrored-like surface in the fields which contrasts with the frosted surface on the devices. These cameo coins can bring in a much higher premium due to their rarity.

Curious about adding this historical coin to your collection? Great American Coin carries several different years and grades of the Franklin Half Dollar. Check out how we can expand your collection today!

Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.


Top 5 Most Valuable US Banknotes

While we’ve talked about some of the most valuable coins and some of the most sought after pennies, one thing that hasn’t crossed our blog yet, is what are the top 5 most valuable US bank notes. These are the MVPs of collectible bank notes, and some versions of them are even sitting in museums. Curious? Read on…

No. 5 – 1918 Alexander Hamilton $1000 Banknote

The first banknote on our list made it’s acting debut on an episode of Pawn Stars. Valued at a cool $7,000 on the episode, the reason why this rarity was valued so low is because there are so many of them known to still exist in comparison to the others on this list. 150 copies of this bill are known to still exist. However, depending on serial number and date issued, they can go for almost ten times the face value of the bill!

No.4 – 1928 $50 Gold Certificate

This gold certificate holds almost the same mythical collecting status as the Saint Gauden’s Double Eagle. Only a dozen of the $50 gold certificates survived in collector’s hands after FDR’s famous gold recall in 1933. The most recent one that came up for auction sold for over $120,000. Not too bad of a return for a bill that was technically illegal to own until the 1970s.

No.3 – 1882 $500 Gold Certificate

This banknote was one of the first banknotes printed in the US and was part of one of the craziest discoveries of old banknotes that I’ve heard of. The note was discovered after the execution of a turn of the century banker’s will which lead to the discovery of the near mint collection of bank notes, with notes (including this one) dating back to the civil war. Crazy how these bills survived 130 years in mint condition stuffed at the back of a cash drawer. After going to auction, this certificate sold for $2.7 million. Not surprising since the only other known to exist is in the Federal Reserve exhibit in the Smithsonian.

No.2 – 1891 Red Seal $1000 Banknote

This banknote, like the gold certificate listed above is another one of the lottery level rarities in banknote collecting since only two are known to exist and the last time one came up for auction was in 1944. This banknote previously held the record of highest value sold at auction when it was sold at $2.5 million. The only other banknote to sell higher than this is the one listed at No. 1 on our list.

No.1 – 1890 Grand Watermelon Bill

Now, I know, how can you take a banknote known as the grand watermelon seriously. But don’t mistake the funny name for something that isn’t a serious collector’s item. The name of the bill comes from the design and denomination of the bill. It’s actually a $1,000 bill. The watermelon nickname came from the design on the bill showing green and white striping on the denomination along with the curvature of the numbers make them look like watermelons. The last time this went up for auction back in 2013, it sold for an easy $3.2 million.

Well, there you have it, as you can see, US currency is a very popular collectors item and while these might be some of the most valuable collector’s items, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other great collectibles to gain. If you’re curious, check out some of the great collectible banknotes, foreign and domestic, that we have in stock!