Benjamin Franklin Dollar


Michael Benton, Contributor

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benjamin franklin dollarAs many of us know today, Benjamin Franklin is one of only two non-Presidents to appear on modern U.S. dollar bills (Alexander Hamilton, 10 dollar bill; Ben Franklin, 100 dollar bill). What some people don't know is that Benjamin Franklin half dollar coins were produced and circulated from 1948 to 1963. They were designed to portray Franklin's profile on one side and the Liberty Bell with a small eagle beside it on the reverse. The eagle was a requirement of the policy to include the national bird on any half dollar coin. The Benjamin Franklin half dollars replaced the previous half dollar coins depicting Lady Liberty which had been minted since 1916 and was up for revision. Other options for revision included the penny and the dime; Lincoln was still widely popular and after Roosevelt died he was honored with the dime as he had often advocated for the March of Dimes. John R. Sinnock was the designing artist of the Benjamin Franklin half dollar and his initials were included below Franklin's shoulder; critics charged that the JRS stood for 'Joseph Stalin' but the mint ignored their claims. After 1963, Benjamin Franklin half dollar coins were replaced by John F. Kennedy half dollar coins in honor of the assassinated president.

The Benjamin Franklin coins are still considered legal tender, but with the demand of collectors and the purity of the silver, Benjamin Franklin half dollar value can be considerably more than fifty cents today. The Benjamin Franklin coin was produced in 90 percent silver and this intrinsic value leads some people to melting it for the precious metal. Over 465 million Benjamin Franklin half dollars were produced for circulation with another 16 million struck in proof. Despite this massive number available, collectors still pay upwards of ten dollars for one and the intrinsic value of the silver is about the same. One must remember that adjusting for inflation means fifty cents in the 1950's is somewhat more today.

Benjamin Franklin was honored in this way because of his great contributions to the birth of the United States. Franklin was a genius inventor and diplomat before the War of Independence who got in trouble for his patriotic views on liberty. He had served as Postmaster of Philadelphia and used his invention called an odometer to help find the fastest, most efficient routes of delivery. Scandal erupted when he admitted to opening the letters of Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts who had written to the British government asking for more troops to put down the rebels around Boston; Franklin had shared this sensitive information with the Sons of Liberty and John Adams put it in the news. In 1776, Franklin joined Adams in advising Thomas Jefferson on the writing of the Declaration of Independence. During the war, he was instrumental in the diplomatic effort to secure France's support. Today, Ben Franklin currency includes the Ben Franklin bill and technically the coin as it is still legal tender. At the time of the minting, Franklin was the only non-president to appear on a coin; this only changed in 1979 with the introduction of the Susan B. Anthony silver dollar.