1971 Kennedy Half Dollar: A Composition Change Results In A New Error

Kennedy Half Dollar Overview

Designed to commemorate beloved President John F. Kennedy after his tragic death just a year earlier, the Kennedy Half Dollar has seen a long and interesting production life. Changes to its composition and design were frequent during the first 13 years of its production. Even with theses changes, the Kennedy Half Dollar has only grown in popularity with collectors and non-collectors alike.

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One month after Kennedy’s death, Congress authorized the creation of a new design for the Half Dollar to commemorate Kennedy’s life. Mint sculptors Gilroy Roberts and Frank Gasparro were chosen to create the design for the new Half Dollar. Production started quickly, with the first pieces being struck in 1964.

The obverse design is President Kennedy’s bust facing left. The words “LIBERTY” are centered directly above the bust and follow the rim. “IN GOD WE TRUST” is split on each side near the bottom of Kennedy’s neck. The date and mint mark can be found centered at the bottom of the obverse, under the bust of Kennedy.

Made from elements found on other coins, the reverse of the Kennedy Half Dollar features an American eagle with spread wings and the president's coat of arms on its chest. Arrows and an olive branch are found in the eagle’s talons. “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” is centered above the design and “HALF DOLLAR” is found below. On a ribbon just above the eagle is the famous motto, “E PLURIBUS UNUM”.

History of the 1971 Kennedy Half Dollar

1971 was a very important year in the Kennedy Half Dollar Series. It was this year that the US Mint removed all silver from the Half Dollar. Prior to this year, Kennedy Half Dollars were made of 90% silver in 1964 and 40% silver from 1965 til 1970. Removing silver from the 1971 Kennedy Half Dollar also marked the end of any coin in circulation containing silver.

With the removal of its silver content, the Kennedy Half Dollar became cheaper to produce. This allowed the US Mint at Philadelphia to produce 155,164,000 examples and the US Mint at Denver to produce 302,097,424 examples in 1971. Kennedy Half Dollars were also beginning to be used in commerce much more often than in previous years.

After the removal of silver, the weight of the Kennedy Half Dollar dropped from 11.50 grams to 11.34 grams. The removal of silver also resulted in a new composition of 75% copper, 25% nickel. The diameter remained unchanged from previous half dollars at 30.6mm. Reeding can be found on the edge of the coin.

1971 half dollar

Image Source Flickr user Matthias Shapiro

Rare 1971-D Kennedy Half Dollar Planchet Error

Even though silver was supposed to be removed in 1971, some planchets that were made from the previous 40% silver composition slipped through and were struck with dates bearing 1971. This is a major mint error as all 1971 Kennedy Half Dollars were to be made with 75% copper and 25% nickel planchets.

This error most likely happened when some older 40% silver planchets got stuck in the bins used to move raw planchets to the striking machines. When emptied, these silver planchets ended up in the hopper and were later struck.

Recently a 1971 Kennedy Half Dollar minted at the Denver mint was found to be a genuine specimen with a 40% silver planchet and bearing the 1971 date. This coin was graded AU-50 by ANACS.

The amount that may still be outside of collections is probably very small. Only a couple silver planchets could have been stuck in a bin, and the possibility of them all being found is even lower. This means that 20 or fewer examples may still be in existence.

Value of 1971 Kennedy Half Dollar

Due to their modern mintage date and the large amount minted, the 1971 Kennedy Half Dollars have little to no premium in grades under Uncirculated condition.

Even in MS-60 condition, the retail price is only $1. Jumps in grade do make a small difference, with MS-63 being valued at $2.

Higher grade examples like those in MS-65 see a large increase in price to $40 due to their low survival rate. Less than 200 examples are estimated to still be in MS-66 grade, which is why the current value is at $225.

The rare 1971-D Planchet Error does have a much higher price tag than regular examples. At auction, an example in AU-55 brought just over $6,000. Prices for these unique errors continue to rise as the possibility of any more new examples surviving lowers.

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