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Franklin Set was Achievable Goal
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
May 22, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The set of Franklin half dollars was the first set I was serious about completing. I started collecting Lincoln cents, as most every young collector did, but I knew a complete set was out of my reach. Besides the 1909-S VDB, there was the 1914-D, the 1922 Plain, and a few “S” mint coins that I just couldn’t seem to find.

Franklin half dollars seemed like a much more achievable goal. They were only made for 16 years, and fairly recently, 1948-1963. They weren’t hard to find in Mint State. They were big, substantial, 90 percent silver coins. And while everyone loved the Kennedy half dollar, or the beautiful Walking Liberty half dollar, I wanted something different. No one seemed to care much about Franklin halves, but I liked them.

John R. Sinnock designed the Franklin half dollar. His three initials appeared at Franklin’s bust on the obverse. Sinnock also designed the Roosevelt dime, which debuted in 1946, two years before the Franklin half. Only two initials “JS” appeared on the dime; a silly rumor circulated that the “JS” stood for Joseph Stalin. The reverse shows the Liberty Bell and a rather puny looking eagle. The small eagle added to the charm of the coin, I thought.

This half dollar was the last United States 50-cent piece to actually circulate. I recall seeing half dollars in cash registers. There was even a slot to hold half dollars. When Franklin halves of the late 1940s or early 1950s were found, they showed wear. These large silver coins did the job they were created to do – to be a medium of exchange.

The design wasn’t that elaborate, with the bust of Benjamin Franklin on one side and the Liberty Bell – plus the little eagle – on the other, but some details could be seen on the bell. The name “Pass and Stow,” the company which cast the bell, could be seen, along with the date in Roman numerals. Worn coins did not show this detail, but Mint State coins did, and a choice few showed lines at the bottom of the bell.

Many collectors like first year of issue coins, and I enjoyed saving half dollars dated 1948. Half dollars of this date were minted at Philadelphia and Denver. I accumulated as many of these coins as I could find, and they didn’t have to be Mint State. If these coins showed wear, that was a good sign – that meant they actually circulated.

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Halves were struck at all three mints, San Francisco included, in 1949. The 1949-D is a better date in high grade; perhaps I should have saved 1949-dated halves.

The lowest mintages came in 1955 and 1953. The 1955 half dollar, struck only at Philadelphia, was touted as a scarce coin. The 1953, with its mintage only a bit higher, wasn’t as popular as the 1955; perhaps because 1953 halves were struck at all three mints. It didn’t take long for me to complete a set of Franklin half dollars, with some help from my grandmother and local coin shops. Besides the 1948 coins, I managed to accumulate many 1963-D halves – the last year coin, and the Franklin half with the highest mintage.

Assembling a full set of Franklin half dollars can take some time, especially to a collector who is fussy about condition. A circulated set could be put together from change years ago, while today, a few visits to coins shops and browsing through “junk silver” boxes can produce a complete set. Numismatists who appreciate fully struck coins look for Franklin halves with full bell lines.

Franklin half dollars were struck in proof from 1950-1963. A year set of these coins looks impressive, especially when mounted in a holder to show off their proof surfaces. A very few can be found in cameo proof, with the devices frosted; these coins were once known as “frosted proofs.” These first coins of the die are in demand from proof fans and collectors of modern coins in super grades. They are indeed lovely, and make this simple design look better.

Nowadays cameo proofs can be made by the Mint for all proofs, not just the first coins from a set of dies. When Franklins were struck it was just the first few coins off the dies, making them scarce.

Many old-fashioned silver coins kept in cardboard holders and albums show attractive toning. Collectors seek these out and pay extra, sometimes quite a bit extra, for particularly beautiful pieces. Franklin half dollars toned in shades of blue, green, and pink can make a unique collection, with no two sets exactly alike.

Franklin half dollars may seem to be a just common coin with a plain design. But putting together a set of these coins can be fun. Try to find a circulated set by looking through “junk silver” boxes or family accumulations. Put together a Mint State set, and take your time looking for choice, well-struck pieces. Build a proof set of Franklin halves. Look for pretty toned specimens. No matter what you like to collect, a set or two of Franklin half dollars can be satisfying to build.

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