The Franklin Half Dollar was introduced in 1948, replacing the Walking Liberty design which had been in use since 1916. Mint director Nellie Tayloe Ross had long admired Benjamin Franklin—who was the first U.S. Post Master, renowned inventor, noted writer and statesman¬—and was eager to see his image on a coin. She selected chief engraver John R. Sinnock to design the new Half Dollar. Sinnock had previously designed a medal of Franklin’s portrait, and was aptly suited for the job. However, Sinnock died in May 1947 before he was able to finish the reverse of the coin, which was then completed by his successor Gilroy Roberts.
The obverse of the Franklin Half Dollar presents a portrait of Benjamin Franklin. The portrait is a composite of several Franklin portraits, based on the medal the mint issued in 1933. Sinnock’s portrait of Franklin does not include the famed bifocals, instead depicting a gentleman with a high forehead, long hair, and wearing a period suit. The portrait is simple and clean, and shows Franklin in a relaxed manner. Sinnock’s initials are at the base of the portrait. This commission was a significant milestone, because until 1979, Benjamin Franklin was the only real, non-presidential individual to be featured on a circulating coin. The reverse of the coin depicts the Liberty Bell. Sinnock chose this image to complement Franklin, as both have become closely associated with both America’s independence and the city of Philadelphia.
The reverse of the coin depicts the Liberty Bell. Sinnock chose this image to complement Franklin, as both have become closely associated with both America’s independence and the city of Philadelphia. He based the design on the 1926 Commemorative Half Dollar for the Sesquicentennial—the 50th Anniversary of America’s birth. Adhering to the Coinage Act of 1873, the coin also features the image of a miniature eagle to the right of the bell. This was one of the additions made by Gilroy Roberts, after Sinnock’s death.
Composed of 90% silver and made with a reeded edge, the coin features overall low relief. The most famous variety of the Franklin Half is from 1955—a die clash gave Franklin the appearance of buck teeth, earning it the nickname: “Bugs Bunny.”
The Benjamin Franklin Half Dollars were only minted for 16 years, one of the shortest regular issues in modern American coin production. The production of the Franklin Half Dollar ceased nine years before the design would otherwise have been eligible for a change. In 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Congress issued a new Half Dollar honoring the deceased president. The Franklin Half Dollar is a valuable coin with an interesting history, and because of this it’s sought after by numismatists all over the world.