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50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Half-Dollar


For the United States Mint, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy added a new but sad chapter to the history of the half-dollar. It began in the days and weeks that followed his death, when officials received an outpouring of support for minting a coin in his honor.

Artist sculpts coin in plaster mold.
As part of the design process, Frank Gasparro sculpted different variations of the presidential eagle in plaster.  This painstaking process relied on the dexterity of the artist with traditional hand tools.

But since the Benjamin Franklin design on the 50-cent piece had been in place only 15 years (25 years is still the minimum needed for a change), Congress needed to approve an exception to the law for a new design featuring the fallen president.

Newly installed President Lyndon Johnson quickly submitted a bill to Congress to authorize a re-design, and the House of Representatives took up the bill on December 17, 1963.  The legislation sailed through Congress and was signed on December 30, 1963, as Public Law 88-256

Coin Design Development

In the two months between enactment of the law and minting the first coins, then United States Mint Director Eva Adams, appointed by Kennedy in October 1961, charged Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts and his protégé, Frank Gasparro, with creating the designs for the new half-dollar. 

After the assassination, during the final days of 1963, Roberts joined Adams and former Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon as Jacqueline Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy examined a trial strike of the design concept that had originated in connection with a presidential bronze medal series that Kennedy personally approved before he died.  For the medal design, Roberts had studied photographs to capture the president's personality and character and visited the White House to observe him at work.  Continue Reading

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