How to Identify Silver Half Dollars

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The U.S. Mint struck silver half dollars from 1794 until 1964, when the value of silver made it too expensive to put the metal into widespread use in coinage. The Kennedy half dollar continued to contain about 20 percent silver from 1964 to 1970—the only widely circulated coin to do so. Silver half dollars are prized by numismatists, especially in high grades.

  • Examine the diameter and weight of the coin. Half dollars feature a diameter of 30 to 32 millimeters and a weight of 12 to 14 grams. This applies to all half dollars ever struck by the U.S. Mint.

  • Know that the half dollar underwent many design changes over the years. The original half dollar featured Liberty with flowing hair and was minted in 1794 and 1795. Next came the draped bust design from 1796 to 1839. The half dollar minted from 1839 to 1891 featured a seated Liberty on the front. The 1892 to 1915 coin is known as the Barber after its designer, Charles E. Barber. It featured a male Liberty with a laurel wreath. The 1916 to 1947 coin is known as Liberty walking, while the half dollar minted from 1948 to 1963 featured Benjamin Franklin on the front. All of these issues are primarily silver in composition.

  • Look at the coin's luster. Silver coins contain a shine unlike other U.S. coins made of nickel. One trick is to take a suspected silver half dollar and hold it in your palm with other coins. The difference will be obvious when you do this.

  • Check the date. Any half dollar minted before 1964 will contain a composite that is mostly silver (older coins also contain a little copper). The Kennedy half dollars from 1964 to 1970 contain about 40 percent silver.

Tips & Warnings

  • Protect your silver half dollars by putting them in snap-together plastic coin holders or using fold-over cardboard sleeves that can be inserted into coin holder pages made for binders.

References

  • Photo Credit kennedy half dollar image by John Sfondilias from Fotolia.com
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