The Creation of the Kennedy Half Dollar
Within days of the assassination, Congressional and Mint officials developed consensus on the design of the new half dollar coin, which would feature a portrait of Kennedy, as well as the Presidential seal. Both of these concepts were adapted from the 1961 U.S. Mint medal commemorating Kennedy’s inauguration. The inauguration medal is thus an important precursor, from a design standpoint, of the Kennedy half dollar. In parallel, Congress was working to enact the legislation necessary for the design change. The law mandated that coinage designs be unchanged for 25 years, and, as the Benjamin Franklin half dollar had been introduced in 1948, congressional action was required to authorize the use of the Kennedy portrait. Some thought was given to using the Washington quarter dollar instead (introduced in 1932), but Mrs. Kennedy opposed the replacement of Washington with Kennedy. Eva Adams, Mint Director, within days of the assassination, alerted Mint engravers that a new coin was under consideration, and this early action indicates she was closely in touch with Congressional officials regarding the matter.
On December 10, President Johnson issued a press release announcing plans to create the new coin. Trial strikes were shown to Mrs. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy on December 17. Mrs. Kennedy recommended changes to Kennedy’s hairstyle and in addition requested a full-length figure. The latter was request was impractical, but a second trial with accented hair was produced. The Treasury Secretary inspected and approved this trial on December 22. The Congressional act authorizing the coin was passed on Dec. 30, and only three days later the first coinage dies were delivered within the Mint.
The entire process from conception to production, lasting only a few weeks, is an anomaly in American numismatics and demonstrates the public impact of the death of Kennedy and the corresponding call to develop a national tribute through the form the nation’s coinage.