1974 Kennedy Half Dollar: The Ultimate Collector‘s Guide

As an avid collector and expert on modern U.S. coins, I‘ve always found 1974 Kennedy half dollars to be intriguing. While often overlooked in circulation, these coins offer some fascinating varieties and conditional rarities for astute hobbyists.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive deep into the 1974 half dollar series, covering its history, values, grading, varieties, and more. Whether you‘re just starting to collect these coins or are a veteran looking to fill some holes in your set, this article will equip you with the knowledge to build a high-quality collection.

The Kennedy Half Dollar in 1974

1974 marked the 10th anniversary of the Kennedy half dollar series, which began in 1964 after the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Designed by Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts, the coin‘s obverse features a striking portrait of JFK, while the reverse, by Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro, depicts the presidential seal.

Though the coins were quite popular with the public, by 1974 the half dollar was seeing diminishing usage in commerce. Rising inflation meant the denomination didn‘t stretch as far for purchases. Many coins sat idle in Federal Reserve vaults.

Despite this, the U.S. Mint struck over 270 million Kennedy halves in 1974 across its three facilities in Philadelphia (no mint mark), Denver (D), and San Francisco (S). Notably, Denver coined by far the most at over 201 million, while the other two mints struck around 30-38 million each.

Interestingly, 1974 also marked the final year the Denver Mint produced coins at its original facility, which first opened in 1906. In 1973, construction began on a new state-of-the-art plant in Denver, which would take over coinage operations the following year. So 1974-D half dollars represent the end of an era in some ways.

All 1974 Kennedy halves are copper-nickel clad in composition (inner core of pure copper; outer layers of cupronickel). This was the case for all circulating half dollars from 1971-on after silver was removed. So don‘t expect any silver 1974 halves – they don‘t exist. Even the 1974-S coins, while struck in San Francisco, are clad business strikes, NOT 40% silver.

Here‘s a rundown of the 1974 Kennedy half dollar‘s key specifications:

  • Denomination: 50 cents
  • Composition: 91.67% copper, 8.33% nickel bonded to a pure copper core
  • Weight: 11.34 grams
  • Diameter: 30.61 millimeters
  • Edge: Reeded
  • Mint Marks: P (Philadelphia), D (Denver), S (San Francisco)
  • Mintage: 270,175,380
    • Philadelphia (no mint mark): 30,145,880
    • Denver (D): 201,929,500
    • San Francisco (S): 38,100,000

1974 Half Dollar Values

In terms of value, most circulated 1974 Kennedy halves are worth only face value (50 cents). Even a lot of lower uncirculated examples are worth just $1-3. However, the series offers some valuable coins in high Mint State grades or with significant errors and varieties.

The following chart shows average values for each mint mark in a range of grades. Data is based on recent auction results and dealer price guide figures.

Grade 1974 P 1974 D 1974 S
MS60 $1.50 $1.50 $1.50
MS63 $2.00 $2.00 $2.00
MS65 $8.00 $8.00 $15.00
MS66 $20.00 $20.00 $60.00
MS67 $2,550 $500.00 $230.00

As you can see, there are some significant price jumps, especially in grades MS66-MS67. At those levels, the 1974-P is actually the most valuable in the series by far. One sold for $2,550 in a 2019 auction, a remarkable sum for a clad half dollar!

The record price for any 1974 Kennedy half is $8,000 for an insanely perfect MS68 no mint mark example graded by PCGS. It last sold in 2015. So in top condition, these coins can be amazingly valuable.

The 1974-D struck in Denver is abundant in all grades, limiting its premium. But one key exception is the 1974-D doubled die obverse (DDO) variety, which is highly coveted. We‘ll discuss that in a moment.

San Francisco struck over 38 million half dollars in 1974, all of which are clad business strikes. The 1974-S tends to have a slightly better strike and luster than its P and D counterparts in many cases. This accounts for its premiums in grades like MS65-MS66. But it‘s still quite common.

Grading 1974 Half Dollars

As the chart above shows, grade is king when it comes to 1974 half dollar values. Examples graded MS65 and up by PCGS or NGC are where the money is. But what exactly does that mean?

Mint State (MS) coins are uncirculated – they never entered commerce and remain in roughly the same condition as they left the mint. The numerical grade from 60-70 indicates their level of preservation.

MS60-62 coins will show no wear but numerous heavy marks and blemishes. MS63 pieces are choice uncirculated with strong luster but still have some distracting marks. MS64 examples are very pleasing with only light marks.

In MS65 and above, 1974 halves are gems. They‘ll have full cartwheel luster, exceptional eye appeal, and very minimal marks. MS67 coins are virtually pristine. These are the true prizes of the series.

To maximize value, I recommend only purchasing certified 1974 half dollars graded by PCGS or NGC for an objective assessment. These companies use consistent standards and have built trust in the marketplace. Raw, ungraded coins are riskier and usually sell for less.

When buying 1974 halves, look for nice frosty luster, minimal marks/abrasions, and a strong strike if possible. Avoid dipped or harshly cleaned coins. Attractive original toning is a plus. But the biggest factor is technical grade.

The 1974-D Doubled Die Obverse

By far the most popular variety in the 1974 half dollar series is the 1974-D doubled die obverse. This unique error features dramatic doubling in the lettering and date, especially in "IN GOD WE TRUST", "LIBERTY" and the "4" in "1974".

[insert image of 1974-D DDO with doubling highlighted]

Caused by a misaligned obverse die, this variety is rare and highly sought-after by error collectors. PCGS estimates just 3,500 exist in all grades. Examples easily sell for $100-200 in circulated condition. In MS64 and up, prices cross the $1,000 threshold quickly.

Some key diagnostics of the 1974-D DDO include:

  • Spread/flattened doubling on "IN GOD WE TRUST", especially the "T" in "TRUST"
  • Bold doubling on "LIBERTY" and the date
  • Notched doubling on Kennedy‘s eyelid
  • Thicker lettering and overall softness due to the die erosion

One of the finest known 1974-D DDOs graded MS65 by PCGS sold for $4,200 in a 2021 auction. The coin was amazingly sharp for the variety. An MS63 brought a still hefty $800 earlier this year. So if you come across this variety, know that you‘ve found a special coin.

Other more minor 1974 Kennedy half dollar varieties include the 1974 no FG (initials missing from reverse), various die chips and cracks, cuds, and struck-through errors. But these are less dramatic and not as valuable as the coveted DDO. If you enjoy varieties, I suggest focusing your energy there.

Frequently Asked Questions About 1974 Half Dollars

As I‘ve collected 1974 Kennedy halves over the years, I‘ve received numerous questions about them. Here are some of the most common with my expert answers:

Q: Are any 1974 half dollars silver?

A: No, there are no regular issue 1974 half dollars in silver. All coins from all three mints are copper-nickel clad with no silver content.

Q: Where is the mint mark on 1974 Kennedy halves?

A: The mint mark can be found on the obverse (front) of the coin, right above the date and below Kennedy‘s neck. "D" denotes Denver, "S" is San Francisco, and Philadelphia coins have no mint mark.

Q: How can I tell if my 1974 half dollar is the valuable doubled die variety?

A: You‘ll need to look for clear doubling in the obverse lettering, especially "IN GOD WE TRUST", "LIBERTY" and the "4" in the date. If it‘s not obvious, it‘s probably just machine doubling, a much more common and less valuable defect.

Q: Weren‘t any 1974 half dollars struck in 40% silver?

A: No, the U.S. Mint did not produce any 1974-dated Kennedy half dollars in 40% silver. From 1965-1970, special mint sets contained 40% silver Kennedy halves, but that ended before 1974.

Q: What does the "S" mint mark mean on a 1974 Kennedy half?

A: The "S" indicates your coin was struck at the San Francisco Mint. In 1974, San Francisco produced over 38 million clad business strike halves for circulation. Many have strong strikes and luster, making them popular for collecting.

Q: Aside from the DDO, are there any other valuable 1974 half dollar varieties?

A: There are a few minor die varieties like the 1974 No FG described earlier, but these are relatively obscure and don‘t sell for large premiums in most cases. If you enjoy studying die varieties, check out some of the Cherrypicker‘s Guide books for a deeper dive.

Q: Is it easy to find high grade 1974 Kennedy halves?

A: With a total mintage surpassing 270 million coins, gem uncirculated examples of 1974 half dollars are obtainable for a price. MS65 pieces are fairly available; MS66s and MS67s get much scarcer and pricier.

Tips for Collecting 1974 Half Dollars

If you want to build a collection of 1974 Kennedy halves after reading this guide, here are some of my top tips:

  • Focus on certified coins. For a date like 1974, stick with PCGS and NGC graded examples, especially in higher mint state grades. This will help protect your investment and ensure quality.
  • Aim for eye appealing coins. Look for nice luster, minimal abrasions, and attractive toning. Avoid spotted, hazy, or dull looking pieces if possible.
  • Understand the difference between the mint marks. 1974-D halves are generally the least scarce, followed by 1974-P and 1974-S. But all are common in lower grades.
  • Be patient in your search for the 1974-D DDO. These don‘t surface often, especially in higher grades, so you may need to wait for the right coin at the right price. Don‘t settle for an inferior example.
  • Consider multiple grades to show the range of the issue. A nice 1974 P, D, and S set in MS66 would be very impressive and still affordable compared to some other modern series.
  • Study the entire Kennedy series. 1974 half dollars are most meaningful in the context of the whole collection from 1964 to the present. As you learn more about Kennedys in general, the 1974 pieces will come into sharper focus.

Whether you‘re collecting for fun or as an investment, I believe that 1974 Kennedy half dollars offer a lot of opportunities. From the common circulation strikes to the rare and valuable DDO, there‘s something here for every collector and budget.

By using the information and advice in this guide, you‘ll be well on your way to building a top-notch set of 1974 half dollars. Enjoy the hunt!

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