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The History of 40 Percent Silver Coins

Some of the most beloved 40 percent silver coins ever issued by the United States Mint were produced between 1965 and 1970, bearing the profile of President John F. Kennedy. These 40 percent silver half dollars are extremely collectible and highly sought by those who collect coins and invest in silver. Additionally, the 40 percent Silver Eisenhower Dollar is another widely recognized and collected coin. 

Silver’s Changing Historical Role in U.S. Currency 

Following a supply shortage of silver in the early 1960s, silver prices began to climb. As a result, Congress decided to reassess what kind of role silver would play in the country’s future currency. 

By 1965, Congress decided that silver must be phased out of U.S. currency. Quarters and dimes would contain no silver, but half dollars would still be composed of a 40% silver alloy. However, because of a second problematic silver shortage, these 40% silver half dollars were produced for a limited time. 

The 40% silver half dollar coins were officially removed from circulation in 1971, making them especially desirable to collectors today. Many people believe that the waves of silver shortages were the result of the nation’s love—a love that bordered on mania—for one extraordinary man. 

The Kennedy Half Dollar 

On the evening of November 22, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas while traveling in a presidential motorcade, the U.S. Mint Director Eva Adams contacted Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts. She told him to be prepared to depict President Kennedy’s profile on the silver dollar, half dollar, or quarter dollar.

Design of the Half Dollar

The Treasury decided in 1969 that the only appropriate course of action would be to eliminate silver from U.S. currency. Anticipating this change, the Mint struck a few 40% silver coins in 1970. The Kennedy Half Dollars were struck in the same copper and nickel alloy as other silver-colored coinage starting in 1971. This was to end the collector hoarding that strangled the Kennedy Half Dollar and driven up minting costs. 

By that time, so few half dollars were in circulation that the public had grown accustomed to not using them, and new coin-operated machines were no longer configured to accept them. 

The Eisenhower 40% Silver Dollar Coin 

The Eisenhower Dollar, however, marked a new, highly collectible 40% silver coin when it was released in 1970. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a well-respected and beloved president who served as president from 1953 to 1961. 

He died in 1969 when Congress had been toying with the idea of introducing a dollar coin into circulation, so his death prompted them to act. This would be the first dollar coin from the U.S. Mint since the Peace Dollar series ended in 1935. While there was consensus on minting this coin, there was debate over its metal content among Congress members. They eventually settled on the circulating coin consisting of base metal, while the collectible edition would have 40% silver. 

Eisenhower’s vice president and successor, President Richard Nixon, signed off on authorizing the mintage of the new coin in December 1970. Production began shortly after, and the first Eisenhower Dollars were minted the following year. 

The new 40% silver dollar coins depicted President Eisenhower on the obverse and an eagle landing on the moon to honor the Apollo 11 1969 moon landing. Both designs were created by one of the U.S. Mint’s chief engravers, Frank Gasparro. Although the coins were never circulated, the proof and uncirculated silver coins were sought after by collectors. 

To commemorate the United States bicentennial in 1976, Type I and Type II bicentennial designs were struck in 1975 and 1976. This new reverse featured Gasparro’s depiction of the Liberty Bell in the foreground and the moon in the background. 

While these coins were widely popular among collectors and numismatists, they were not favored by the general public because they were too large. The Eisenhower dollar was still not being circulated and was proving to be a drain on resources. After several attempts to keep the Eisenhower dollar, and variations of it, around, the lack of public interest in using the dollar coin eventually killed production in 1980.

The Susan B. Anthoney 40% Silver Dollar Coin

Before the production of this coin was officially ended, a replacement 40% silver dollar coin was minted to see if it could be Eisenhower’s replacement. This coin was a silver dollar to honor suffragette and activist Susan B. Anthony, and it was released to the public in 1979. Unfortunately, American citizens did not take to this coin either because they also did not enjoy its large size and weight. Production for the Anthony Silver Dollar was halted after 1980. 

Therefore, the Eisenhower Silver Dollar was the last regular issue dollar to be minted by the U.S. Mint and the last dollar coin to be minted in its initial size. This silver coin was also the only originally sized dollar coin to be minted in copper and nickel alloy. 

40% Silver Half Dollars & Dollars Rarity

It is unlikely that many people will come across a 40% Silver Kennedy Half Dollar in circulation, but if one ever does, they might want to hang onto it. Kennedy Half Dollars still spend like any other coin with a face value of $0.50. U.S. Mint director Eva Adams could have never, even in her wildest imagination, foreseen the immense popularity of the Kennedy Half Dollar at the time of the president’s death. Nor could she have predicted the silver coin’s far-reaching impact on its production. 

Despite the coin’s relative failure as a properly circulated piece of money, the 40% Silver Kennedy Half Dollar remains a beloved and coveted collector’s item to this day. 

When it comes to collecting Eisenhower Silver Dollars, they are not especially rare. There are, however, many that were poorly struck, particularly between 1971 and 1972, making these coins more collectible to some. The “Friendly Eagle Design” is one to look out for, where the eagle on the reverse is missing its brow line, and there are three variations of the earth’s appearance on the 1972 silver coins that appeal to collectors. 

The Susan B. Anthony Silver Dollars are also not especially sought after. Coins minted in 1981 are rare because they were only available to collectors that year and those minted in 1999 are hard to find because they were released as stand-alone proof strikes. Additionally, the 1999 minted coins were issued at the Philadelphia Mint instead of the San Francisco Mint as per other years, making those Anthony Silver Dollars with the “P” mintmark highly valuable. 

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