“The Half-Dollar’s Accidental Demise,” by Bob Greene. The Wall Street Journal, 2/29/2016.
Your grandchildren may never have seen a half-dollar coin, may not know there ever was one. The mint stopped making them 13 years ago. We never noticed. It quietly disappeared while under our radar. With inflation, you would think it would be the quarter that would go.
It all started with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. To commemorate this shocking loss, the mint replaced the image of Benjamin Franklin on the coin with a profile of a virile Jack Kennedy. Too virile, as we now know. What could go wrong?
Their popularity is what went wrong. When they were released in 1964, long lines formed at banks to be the first to get them, but not to spend. People were hoarding them, saving them for their grandchildren. I still have about a half-dozen of them, myself.
At first, their popularity was also driven by the high price of silver which was going through the roof. The silver content of each coin was far more valuable than 50 cents. Dealers joined the hoarders, expecting to sell them once the value of the silver topped out. This ended in 1971 when the mint eliminated the silver content, but by then, people had gotten used to their absence. Cash registers no longer had space for them, and they would not work in vending machines. The only ones were stashed away in the back of sock drawers. In 2002, the mint stopped making them for circulation and only sold them as a mounted set of four for $99.95. That assured no one would spend any half-dollars at their local Wawa for the 50 cent face value.
(As I think of it, I probably have even more somewhere. My mother had started collecting the silver Kennedy half-dollars in cardboard folders for her grandchildren, but never could finish them when they disappeared from circulation. I think I have those she did collect. Somewhere. Maybe.)
Some are now suggesting we eliminate the $100 bill as a deterrent to crime. The author suggests a compromise: bring back the half-dollar and we’ll agree to give up the $100 bill.
Wishful thinking. One expert says whatever happens, the half-dollar is not coming back. “It’s a dead issue.” It was killed by becoming too popular. But if I ever meet a presidential candidate, I will ask them what is their position on the half-dollar. The right answer will get my vote. I kid you not.