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+.


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