I Found the Last of its Kind in my First Car

When I inherited my first car from my grandmother (an ’89 Chrysler New Yorker) I never expected to find a 1963 Franklin half dollar wedged into the ash tray.  Of course I was 16 at the time and had no idea what kind of story this unfamiliar coin had to tell.  I knew from my high school American History classes that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, but beyond that, this coin had no particular value to me. 

Because of JFK’s assassination, 1963 proved to be the swift death of the Franklin half dollar.  This was an unexpected move since at its inception in 1948, production was intended to follow for 25 years.  But the United States ceased production of the Franklin coin so in 1964 production of the Kennedy half dollar, a tribute to one of America’s most-loved presidents, could begin.

The Franklin half dollar has its own story to tell, of course.  Benjamin Franklin was a founding father, who instilled future generations of Americans with the ideas of freedom and liberty. He was an innovator in politics and education, considered one of the revolutionaries in the American Enlightenment period, and an inventor.  Because of his vast achievements across the political and scientific realms, he has been commemorated time and again on everything from the names of warships to his profile on coins.  More than two hundred years after his death, his name still carries huge cultural significance, as I can only imagine John F. Kennedy’s will as well in the next two hundred years.

The 1963 Franklin half dollar is such a collectible treasure because unlike the ceased production of many other coins, this coin was not expected to lose steam any time soon.  At the time of JFK’s assassination, the Franklin half dollar was still estimated to have another 10 years of production.  Many of these coins were not saved because no one realized that they would be the last of their kind.

These Franklin half dollars are slowly but surely disappearing from sight. They are such interesting and unique coins and yet their quick demise 50 years ago means that they’ll only get harder to find.

When I brought my new-found treasure to my mother, she instantly remembered the famous events from that year.  She was fourteen when the assassination happened, but she recalls it like yesterday. She recollects hearing about the shooting after she got out of school, her devout Republican mother crying when she came home.  She recounted the events as her mother told her them – two shots, one to the head and one to the neck.  He was dead.

JFK was a beacon for the Catholic-American people, as the first non-Protestant, Irish-Catholic president.  He was the youngest man to be elected to the presidency at only 43 years old.  He was a veteran, a senator and a writer which also garnered him the Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles in Courage in 1957.  He was a loved president and his assassination is still considered one of many defining events in American history.

As we move into the holiday season, I know I’m looking for gifts with stories to tell.  I’m not looking for mass-produced products that have no sentimental value.  When I look at the 1963 Franklin half-dollar, I don’t just remember that as the year of Kennedy’s death: I think about what JFK did for this country.  I think about what Benjamin Franklin did for this country.  And I think, most importantly, about what I can do to preserve the history and the legacy that this country bears, and why that instillation and preservation was also equally as important to Franklin and JFK.

Amanda Paulger-Foran, for ICCoin.com

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