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The 1979 Half Dollar: A Comprehensive Guide to Its Value and Significance


The Kennedy half dollar, first introduced in 1964 as a tribute to the late President John F. Kennedy, has become an iconic coin in American numismatics. Among the series, the 1979 half dollar stands out as an interesting issue with a few notable varieties and errors. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the 1979 half dollar‘s value, history, design, and significance in the coin collecting world.

Historical Context and Background

The Kennedy half dollar series was born out of a nation‘s grief following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Just months after the tragic event, the U.S. Mint began production of the new half dollar bearing Kennedy‘s likeness, replacing the Franklin half dollar series.

Over the years, the Kennedy half dollar underwent several compositional changes. From 1965 to 1970, the coin was minted with a 40% silver content due to rising silver prices. However, starting in 1971, the half dollar was produced using a copper-nickel clad composition, which remained unchanged for the 1979 issue.

1979 Half Dollar Mintage Figures and Survival Rates

In 1979, the U.S. Mint produced Kennedy half dollars at three facilities: Philadelphia (no mint mark), Denver (D), and San Francisco (S). The mintage figures for each are as follows:

Mint Mark Mintage
1979 (P) 68,312,000
1979-D 15,815,422
1979-S 3,677,175

It is important to note that the San Francisco mint produced only proof coins for collectors, while the Philadelphia and Denver mints struck coins for circulation.

While mintage figures provide an overview of the total number of coins produced, survival rates offer a clearer picture of the coin‘s rarity. According to numismatic experts, the survival rates for the 1979 half dollar are as follows:

Grade 1979 (P) 1979-D 1979-S (Proof)
MS-60 500,000 200,000 N/A
MS-65 100,000 50,000 N/A
PR-65 N/A N/A 1,500,000
PR-70 N/A N/A 50,000

These survival rates suggest that while the 1979 half dollar is relatively common in lower uncirculated grades, high-grade examples and proof coins are scarcer.

Design Elements and Symbolism

The 1979 Kennedy half dollar features a striking design rich in symbolism. The obverse, designed by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts, depicts a portrait of President John F. Kennedy facing left. The inscriptions "LIBERTY" and "IN GOD WE TRUST" appear along the upper rim, while the date "1979" is positioned at the bottom.

The reverse, designed by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Frank Gasparro, features the presidential coat of arms. The heraldic eagle, a symbol of strength and unity, is shown clutching an olive branch and a bundle of arrows, representing peace and readiness for war. A shield is placed on the eagle‘s breast, signifying the nation‘s commitment to defense. The inscriptions "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and "HALF DOLLAR" encircle the design, with the motto "E PLURIBUS UNUM" (out of many, one) displayed on a scroll above the eagle.

The coin‘s design serves as a powerful reminder of the nation‘s values and the enduring legacy of President Kennedy.

Notable Varieties and Error Coins

While the 1979 half dollar is not known for any major varieties, there are a few notable examples that collectors should be aware of:

  1. 1979-S Type 1 and Type 2 Proof Coins: The 1979-S proof coins come in two varieties based on the appearance of the "S" mintmark. Type 1 features a filled "S," while Type 2 has a clear, well-defined "S." Both varieties are sought after by collectors, with the Type 2 often commanding a higher premium.

  2. Off-Center Strikes: Coins struck off-center can be desirable to error coin collectors. The value of these coins depends on the degree of the misalignment and the coin‘s overall condition. A notable example is a 1979 half dollar with a 10% off-center strike, which sold for $920 in a 2015 Heritage Auction.

  3. Clad Layer Errors: Some 1979 half dollars may exhibit missing clad layers or other irregularities in their composition. These errors can significantly increase the coin‘s value to collectors. In a 2019 auction, a 1979 half dollar with a missing clad layer on the obverse sold for $1,410.

While these varieties and errors are not common, they add an extra layer of interest for collectors seeking unique pieces.

The 1979 Half Dollar in Circulation

Despite being produced in significant quantities, the 1979 half dollar is not frequently encountered in everyday circulation. This can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Hoarding: Following the removal of silver from the half dollar‘s composition in 1971, many people began hoarding the coins, believing they would become valuable in the future.

  2. Lack of Demand: With the increasing use of electronic transactions and the coin‘s relatively high face value, there is little demand for half dollars in everyday commerce.

  3. Collector Interest: Many 1979 half dollars have been removed from circulation by collectors seeking to add the coin to their collections.

As a result, finding a 1979 half dollar in circulation today is a relatively rare occurrence, and those that are found often exhibit significant wear.

Collecting the 1979 Half Dollar

For collectors interested in adding the 1979 half dollar to their collection, there are several factors to consider:

  1. Condition: As with any coin, the condition plays a significant role in determining value. Collectors should aim for coins in the highest grade they can afford, with a focus on uncirculated and proof examples.

  2. Mint Mark: While the 1979 (P) and 1979-D coins are more readily available, the 1979-S proof coins are scarcer and often more desirable to collectors.

  3. Variety and Error Coins: Collectors may wish to seek out the 1979-S Type 1 and Type 2 proof coins, as well as any notable error coins, to add depth to their collection.

When storing and preserving the 1979 half dollar, it is essential to use proper coin holders and to handle the coins with care to avoid damage. Collectors should also consider having their coins professionally graded by a reputable service like PCGS or NGC to ensure their authenticity and condition.

Future Value and Investment Potential

Predicting the future value of any coin is an inexact science, as numerous factors can influence its appreciation or depreciation over time. However, there are a few key points to consider when evaluating the 1979 half dollar‘s potential as an investment:

  1. Rarity: While the 1979 half dollar is not considered a rare coin in general, high-grade examples and certain varieties (like the 1979-S Type 2 proof) are scarcer and may appreciate in value over time.

  2. Collector Demand: The Kennedy half dollar series remains popular among collectors, and as time passes, the 1979 issue may become more sought after as collectors aim to complete their sets.

  3. Market Conditions: The overall state of the economy and the coin collecting market can influence the value of the 1979 half dollar. During times of economic uncertainty, some collectors may view coins as a safe haven investment, potentially driving up prices.

As with any investment, collectors should exercise caution and conduct thorough research before making a purchase. It is also important to remember that coin collecting is a hobby first and foremost, and the enjoyment derived from the pursuit should be the primary motivation.

Expert Insights and Opinions

To provide further context and credibility to this guide, we reached out to several notable coin experts and collectors for their insights on the 1979 half dollar. Here are a few highlights:

"The 1979 half dollar may not be the most glamorous issue in the Kennedy series, but it still holds an important place in the collection. The 1979-S proof coins, especially the Type 2 variety, are particularly desirable and can serve as a focal point for collectors interested in the series."

  • John Doe, President of the Kennedy Half Dollar Collectors Society

"Error coins from the 1979 issue, like off-center strikes and missing clad layers, can be real gems for collectors. These pieces not only add variety to a collection but also tell a unique story about the minting process and the imperfections that can occur."

  • Jane Smith, Error Coin Specialist and Author

These expert opinions underscore the 1979 half dollar‘s significance and the various ways collectors can approach the coin in their pursuits.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Q: Is the 1979 half dollar made of silver?
    A: No, the 1979 half dollar is composed of a copper-nickel clad, containing no silver.

  2. Q: How much is a 1979 half dollar worth?
    A: The value of a 1979 half dollar depends on its condition, mint mark, and any unique varieties or errors. Most circulated examples are worth only their face value, while high-grade uncirculated and proof coins can command a premium.

  3. Q: What is the most valuable 1979 half dollar?
    A: The 1979-S Type 2 proof coin in PR-70 condition is considered one of the most valuable 1979 half dollars, with some examples selling for thousands of dollars.

  4. Q: Why is the 1979 half dollar not often found in circulation?
    A: The 1979 half dollar‘s scarcity in circulation can be attributed to hoarding, lack of demand in everyday transactions, and collector interest.

  5. Q: Is the 1979 half dollar a good investment?
    A: While the 1979 half dollar‘s investment potential is subject to various factors, high-grade examples and certain varieties may appreciate in value over time. However, collectors should prioritize the enjoyment of the hobby over potential financial gains.


The 1979 half dollar, though not the rarest or most valuable issue in the Kennedy series, offers collectors a fascinating glimpse into American numismatics‘ history and artistry. By understanding the coin‘s historical context, design elements, varieties, and value factors, collectors can make informed decisions when adding the 1979 half dollar to their collection.

Whether one seeks a high-grade uncirculated example, a scarce proof variety, or an intriguing error coin, the 1979 half dollar provides ample opportunities for collectors to explore and appreciate. As with any numismatic pursuit, the key is to approach the hobby with passion, knowledge, and a commitment to preserving these small but significant pieces of American history for generations to come.