The Franklin Half Dollar

The Franklin Half Dollar

By the year 1948, the American public faced a new era.  World War II had
ended and was replaced by a level of international tension never before
experienced.  President Harry Truman was at the helm of the United States,
and the nation mourned the loss of a national icon, Babe Ruth.  An
important change in US coinage took place that year as well.  The Walking
Liberty Half Dollar that saw the nation through World War I, the Great
Depression and World War II was replaced by the Franklin Half Dollar.

It was Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross who made the change.  Reports
tell us that Ross may have wanted to change the half dollar as early as 1940 after
seeing a US Mint Medal made to honor Benjamin Franklin by the Mint's chief
engraver, John R. Sinnock, in 1933.  Mint Director Ross ordered Sinnock to
complete a design.  Under United States law, she couldn't affect any
changes to the Walking Liberty half dollar until after July of 1941, because the
statutory minimum of 25 years wouldn't be met until that time.  The demands
for increased production of coinage due to World War II also delayed Ross'
project for the new coin.  It would just have to wait for a more suitable
time.  Ross calculated that little opposition would be met for the Franklin
half dollar, after all, Franklin was a founding father, played a pivotal roll in
molding the young nation, and was lauded for his inventions, science and
published writings.  Little did she know that the opposition would be over the
design itself.

The Franklin half dollar would be Sinnock's last work before his death in
1947.  He based the portrait of Franklin, depicted on the obverse, on the
bust of the 18th century sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.  It was a bold new
design.  The portrait faces right with the legends Liberty appearing
above, and In God We Trust below with the date displayed to the right of
the bust.  Sinnock's initials JRS are imprinted below Franklin's
shoulder on the coin.  The full three initials were used instead of just
the first and last due to Senator McCarthy's commission.  After all, no one
wanted McCarthy's commission to think JS stood for Joseph Stalin.

The cracked Liberty Bell appears on the reverse of the coin.  Since
Benjamin Franklin resided in Philadelphia, and that city is regarded as the
birthplace of the United States, it only made sense.  Some numismatic
scholars have said the reason the Liberty Bell was used on the reverse of the
coin instead of the eagle is due to the fact that Benjamin Franklin opposed the
Bald Eagle as the National Symbol of the United States.  He wanted the
turkey because it is a "noble bird."  The legends appearing on the reverse
of the Franklin half dollar are United States of America above the bell,
and Half Dollar below with the motto E Pluribus Unum displayed to
the left.

Before the coin design was submitted to the federal Commission of Fine Arts
(an advisory board), Gilroy Roberts was appointed to complete work on the
Sinnock design of the half dollar.  There was a law passed in 1792, and
that law was again reemphasized in the Coinage act of 1873, which states that it
is mandatory that an eagle appear on every United States silver coin larger then
a dime.  Gilroy Roberts needed to add an eagle to the coin.  A small
eagle was added, appearing to the right of the Liberty Bell on the reverse of
the coin.  Many have called it a "puny-looking" eagle, including the
federal Commission of Fine Arts.

There was not very much the federal Commission of Fine Arts like about the
Franklin half dollar.  They disapproved of the eagle; they disapproved of
the crack appearing on the Liberty Bell; they disapproved of the appearance of
one of the legends; and, they disapproved of being by-passed in holding a
national design competition for the half dollar.  Politics being politics,
the Treasury Department ignored the recommendations of the Commission of Fine
Arts, and Sinnock's Franklin half dollar was approved for production.

There seems to be a little scandal also involved with the Franklin Half
Dollar.  Years after Sinnock's death, it came to light that he
inappropriately utilized (stole) the design for the Liberty Bell from a sketch
created by the artist John Frederick Lewis.  Many reference books now
credit Lewis for his work.

The Franklin Half Dollar was produced from 1948 to 1963.  There are not
any of the issue dates or mintmarks that are particularly rare.  They were
produced at the Philadelphia (no mintmark), San Francisco (S) and the Denver (D)
mints.  The mintmark can be found above the Liberty Bell on the reverse of
the coin.  Although it is not especially challenging to collect a complete
set in circulated grades, it does become more difficult in the higher mint-state
conditions.  Some of the key date coins in the higher grades are: 1949-D,
1950-D, 1960-D, 1961, 1961-D, 1962 and the 1962-D.

Franklin Half dollars were in production for 16 years, when the series was
cut short in order to memorialize President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated
in 1963.

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This content was written by Raymond F. Hanisco. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Gary Eggleston for details.