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Benjamin Franklin's Journey to the Half Dollar
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Benjamin Franklin's Journey to the Half Dollar

Seventy-three years ago, Benjamin Franklin became the first non-presidential figure to be portrayed on a circulating piece of American coinage. Considering Benjamin Franklin’s immense contributions to American society, it is no surprise that he was chosen to be depicted on an American coin. Afterall, he played a large role in writing the Declaration of Independence and negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which ultimately ended the Revolutionary War.

Throughout the 1940s, Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross had hoped to honor our founding father, Benjamin Franklin on an American coin. The first opportunity that Ross saw was in 1941, when the Mercury Dime’s 25-year mandate was up. Although the dies for this coin were already being prepared, complications from World War II delayed the redesign. Plans to display Franklin on the Dime changed due to the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945. Beginning in 1946, Roosevelt was chosen to be depicted on the Dime due to his association with the March of Dimes organization.

With the production of the Roosevelt Dime already in place, only two denominations were eligible for a new design: the Half Dollar and the Cent. Speculation arose that Franklin would be placed on the Cent due to his famous adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Ross, however, felt that Abraham Lincoln’s legacy in our country was far too great for his likeness to be replaced on the Cent. This left the Half Dollar as the only option to display Benjamin Franklin. 

In 1947, Eighth Chief Engraver of the US Mint John R. Sinnock began preparing Franklin Half Dollar dies. Having already created a portrait of Benjamin Franklin for the 1933 Franklin Medal and a Liberty Bell rendition for the 1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence, Sinnock was the perfect designer for the Franklin Half Dollar. Based on a famous bust of Franklin created by 18th-century sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, Sinnock’s obverse design was well-received. The reverse of this coin, however, was the source of quite a bit of controversy due to the crack in the Liberty Bell and the size of the eagle.

Initially, the reverse design of the Franklin Half Dollar was submitted with only a Liberty Bell and no eagle. Due to the Coinage Act of 1873, which required an eagle to appear on the reverse of all US coin denominations higher than a dime, a small eagle was added on the right side of the coin.

Both the small eagle and the crack in the Liberty Bell were opposed by the Commission of Fine Arts, who reviewed all coins before their official release. The commission replied to the design with this statement: “The eagle shown on the model is so small as to be insignificant and hardly discernible when the model is reduced to the size of a coin. The Commission hesitate[s] to approve the Liberty Bell as shown with the crack in the bell visible; to show this might lead to puns and to statements derogatory to United States coinage. The Commission disapprove[s] the designs.” Despite negative comments from the Commission, the Treasury Department approved the designs without any changes required, and the Franklin Half Dollar was released on April 30, 1948.

Due to the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, Congress voted to end the Franklin Half Dollar series prematurely in 1963. The very next year, the Franklin Half Dollar was replaced by the Kennedy Half Dollar to honor our fallen president. Although the Franklin Half Dollar series ended after only fifteen years of mintage, it is still fondly remembered as one of the greatest Half Dollars to ever be struck. To honor Benjamin Franklin’s contributions to the United States of America, Rare Collectibles TV offers a wide selection of We The People Franklin Half Dollars recognized by Rick Tomaska to be the among finest of their date and grade.