Some coins are directly related to important events in American history. A prime example could be the 1943 Steel Cent, introduced after copper had become scarce, a direct result of the involvement of the United States in World War II. Another important example is the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar, first year of issue for this design, which replaced the Franklin Half Dollar which had been in production since 1948. The historical event which led to the introduction of this design, as most coin collectors will know, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
Soon after the assassination, it was decided that the former President would be commemorated on the circulating half dollar coin. The first choice appeared to have been the quarter dollar, which had been circulating with a design of George Washington, since 1932. However, Jacqueline Kennedy, the wife of the late President Kennedy, requested that the image of George Washington should not be replaced with the image of her late husband. In accordance with her wishes, the half dollar was selected as the denomination.
A change in design for the half dollar required a change legislation to be passed since by law circulating coin designs had to be used for at least 25 years, before being replaced. As this was being done, Gilroy Roberts (obverse) and Frank Gasparro (reverse) started work on the new Kennedy half dollar. Less than a month later, the design was ready and approved, and production of Proof coinage would commence in early 1964. The first circulation strikes were delivered in March, with a quantity of roughly 26 million pieces the first Kennedy Half Dollars to reach the public.
The obverse design for the coin featured a portrait of President Kennedy based on a presidential medal created shortly before his death. This design had actually been approved by President Kennedy himself. For its use on the half dollar, Jacqueline Kennedy suggested subtle changes to the details in the hair, which gave rise to the accented hair variety found on some proof coins. Inscriptions on the obverse include “LIBERTY” in widely spaced letters above, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” across the neckline, and the date below.
The reverse design, which was based on the Presidential Seal, featured the heraldic eagle with a shield at its chest and an olive branch and bundle of arrows in its talons. A ribbon in the eagle’s beak includes the motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and fifty stars are placed around the image representing the number of states. The reverse inscriptions include “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” above and “HALF DOLLAR” below.