The first part of this series on CAC approved coins that cost less than $150 each was about classic U.S. copper coins. The second focused on Buffalo nickels. The third concerned Barber Dimes. Washington quarters were the topic of the fourth. The present discussion is about building a set of regular issue, Franklin half dollars, with emphasis on CAC approved coins.
In my view, collectors should focus on buying attractive, fairly graded Franklin halves without obsessing about ‘bell lines’ or one-increment differentials in certified grades. Even on coins where the bell lines are as full as they can be, the bell lines are not particularly noticeable and are not central to the design of a Franklin half dollar.
Franklin half dollars were minted from 1948 to 1963. With an unlimited budget, there would be no challenge to completing a set; it would be too easy. A Franklin half set is challenging, however, if a $150 per coin limit is self-imposed and all of the representatives of better dates have CAC stickers. Better dates are relatively scarcer than the most common dates, and tend to cost more than the common dates.
Curiously, there is not a clear dividing line between better dates and very common dates in the series of Franklin half dollars. Moreover, a date can be relatively scarce in circulated grades and relatively common in mint state grades or vice versa. It is productive to think about the dates in the set in chronological order. Most of the earlier dates are better dates. It is realistic to expect to be able to acquire CAC approved better date Franklin halves for less than $150 each.
On Sept. 26, 2021, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved, NGC certified MS65 Full Bell Lines (FBL) 1948 half for $89.74. It is not difficult to find a 1948-D for a modest price. On Dec. 14, 2021, Stack’s Bowers sold a CAC approved, PCGS certified MS65FBL 1948-D for $120. If a CAC approved MS65 grade 1948-D without a FBL designation has been in the same sale, it probably would have realized less than $120.
On Jan. 30, 2022, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved PCGS certified MS65FBL 1949 half for $141.75. A CAC approved MS65 grade 1949 without an FBL designation would cost significantly less.
On May 29, 2019, Stack’s Bowers sold a CAC approved, NGC certified MS64FBL 1949-D for $70. This coin is very colorful. Orange-russet tones frequently develop on Franklin half dollars. Touches of blue are often seen, too.
The 1949-S is a famous better date, mostly because it is relatively scarce in circulated grades. It is not hard to find a MS63 to MS65 grade 1949-S. On May 8, 2022, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved, NGC graded MS64 1949-S for $118.14.
Either a CAC approved MS65 grade or CAC approved MS64FBL 1950 should cost well under $150. On Feb. 20, 2022, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved PCGS certified MS64FBL 1950 for $104.62. On June 13, 2021, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved PCGS certified MS63FBL 1950 half for $33.60, which was likely to have been an excellent value. Collectors with tight budgets and patience can practically acquire some CAC approved Franklin halves for small amounts of money.
A CAC approved PCGS certified MS63FBL 1950-D was sold for just $46.53 by GreatCollections on Sept. 19, 2021. The 1950-D is a better date. Certainly, building a set of Franklins is dramatically less costly than building a set of Walking Liberty halves or Barber half dollars in the same respective grade range.
There is no 1950-S. The 1951 is not one of the most common dates, though is not really a better date either. On Oct. 27, 2021, Stack’s Bowers sold a CAC approved, NGC graded MS66 1951 for $144. A CAC approved MS64 or MS65 grade 1951 would be likely to sell for considerably less than $144, if offered publicly in 2022.
The 1951-D is a better date, and a CAC rarity in MS65 and higher grades. On March 19, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC approved PCGS certified MS65FBL 1951-D for $132. In 2021, GreatCollections sold two CAC approved PCGS certified MS64FBL 1951-D halves, for $105.47 on June 13 and for $69.75 on May 23.
It is important to be aware that some auction results will be retail prices and others will be closer to wholesale values. Still other auction results will be above retail or lesser wholesale prices. For each auction, even by the same auction firm, and for various lots in the same auction, there will often be a different group of bidders with varying objectives and differing interpretations of the same coins.
Many buyers of Franklin halves place too much emphasis upon FBL designations. The CPG®-CAC medium retail price estimate for a MS65 1951-S is $71, yet the CPG®-CAC estimate for a certified MS65FBL 1951-S is $562, nearly eight times as much!
The 1952 is a common date. The 1952-D is less common. On Jan. 11, 2022, Heritage sold a CAC approved, NGC certified MS65FBL 1952-D for $129.
I recommend against purchasing a 1952-S with an FBL designation. The
premiums are gigantic. The CPG®-CAC medium retail price estimate
for an MS65 grade 1952-S is $133, and the CPG®-CAC estimate for
a certified MS65FBL 1952-S is $1,880, more than fourteen times as much!
A 1953 without an FBL designation should not be very expensive. On March 16, 2021, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS65 grade 1953 for $84. With or without an FBL designation, a 1953-D is relatively inexpensive. On May 19, 2021, Stack’s Bowers sold a CAC approved, NGC graded MS65 1953-D for $75.
The largest premiums for FBL designations are for 1953-S halves. Indeed, these premiums are astonishing.
On May 5, 2022, Heritage auctioned a PCGS certified MS65FBL 1953-S Franklin for $31,200, seriously. On Jan. 23, 2022, DLRC sold a CAC approved PCGS graded MS65 1953-S for $75!
It is not difficult to acquire appealing 1954, 1954-D and 1954-S Franklins and other common dates, though it might not be practical to focus exclusively on CAC approved coins. Many dealers figure that it is not cost-effective to send very common Franklins in MS63 to MS65 grades to CAC.
Especially in regard to common date Franklins, collectors should be emotionally and financially prepared to occasionally acquire a coin that later is found to be not all that great. Raw (uncertified) coins are sometimes not accurately represented by dealers. Moreover, there are no perfect graders and there never will be a perfect grading service. It is important to not take certified grades too seriously.
Some collectors may wish to buy CAC approved representatives of better date Franklins before accumulating the common dates, as the pursuit of CAC approved coins can be particularly educational. Other collectors may wish to buy common date Franklins first, including some raw coins, with the idea of learning while spending only very small amounts on coins.
In June 2022, for raw MS64 grade Franklins minted after 1953.Greysheet Bid (top wholesale level) was typically less than $27 each, just $20 for most dates. Dealers may charge $25 to $40 each for these. Acquisitions of a few raw Very Choice mint state grade Franklin halves would not involve much risk. Even overgraded or doctored common coins have value, especially if they contain silver or gold.
In my view, it would be a good idea to acquire and study CAC approved representatives of some of the better dates before buying many common dates. Collectors tend to learn while collecting.
On March 27, 2022, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved MS65 grade 1956 for $43.34. All Franklin halves of 1955 and 1956 are very common.
In MS64 to 65 grades, the 1957, 1957-D, 1958, 1958-D, 1961, 1963, and 1963-D are among the most common dates in the whole series. Would it make sense for a collector to seek nice raw “MS64” grade, common date Franklin halves for less than $30 each? The answer to this question really depends upon the knowledge, objectives, budget, personality, and grading skills of the respective collector, and his or her access to Franklin half dollars.
In MS64 to MS66 grades, the 1959 and the 1959-D are better dates. The CPG ®-CAC retail estimate for a MS64 grade 1959 half is $38. CAC reports having approved only fourteen 1959 halves at the MS64 level. It thus may not be practical to acquire one. CAC has approved twenty-three at the MS65 level and the CPG® retail estimate is $68 each for those. The CAC population for the 1959-D is even lower than the CAC pop for the 1959.
On March 27, 2022, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved MS63 grade 1959-D for $56.51. A realistic possibility, though, is that at least two serious bidders for this coin were seeking to crack it out of its first generation PCGS holder and submit it to PCGS with the idea of receiving a higher grade. Also, there are buyers who will pay a substantial premium for a coin in a first generation PCGS holder because the holder itself is a strongly demanded collector’s item even if the coin inside is not all that desirable.
On May 9, 2021, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved MS64FBL 1959-D half for $36.25. This coin was in a relatively new PCGS holder and brought much less than the just mentioned CAC approved, PCGS graded MS63 1959-D, which was in a first generation (1986-88) PCGS holder.
On May 23, 2021, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved, PCGS certified MS64FBL 1960 half for $40. A mainstream coin company in California is currently offering several raw 1960 halves that they grade as “MS64” for $24 each. The same firm is offering 1960-D halves that they grade as “MS63” for $22 each. As I have never seen the coins that this firm is offering, I cannot express an opinion regarding their grading or the appearances of the raw coins that they sell.
In most cases, it makes more sense to buy a CAC approved MS64 grade coin for $40 than to buy a raw “MS64” grade coin of the same type and date for $24. For many dates in the series of Franklin halves, however, there might be a need to wait a long time to purchase a CAC approved MS64 grade coin for a modest price.
In 2021, GreatCollections sold two CAC approved, PCGS certified MS64FBL 1960-D halves for $46.16 and $51.78, respectively. These were both in old PCGS holders. The coin that realized $51.78 was in an older holder, though that might not be the reason why it brought more.
Premiums paid for old holders or especially colorful coins are beside the question of whether to include raw coins in a set that contains many CAC approved Franklin half dollars. There are a large number of MS63 to -65 grade Franklin half dollars that have never been certified. There are plenty of others that have been graded by PCGS or NGC, and never sent to CAC. Submission and shipping costs are relevant.
It is easier to find CAC approved representatives of better date Franklin halves than of common dates. Should a collector submit some Franklin halves to CAC? While such submissions are unlikely to be profitable in a financial sense, the costs involved would, for many collectors, be justified as part of an educational process. A collector may benefit by learning about mainstream grading practices. Additionally, collectors may encourage dealers to send more Franklin halves to CAC.
Some collectors, however, just enjoy buying CAC approved coins and not thinking much about grading practices. Please see my explanation regarding the meaning and role of CAC in the premier issue of the CAC Rare Coin Market Review (https://tinyurl.com/ReducingRisk).
There is more than one way to sensibly and enjoyably assemble a set of Franklin half dollars, without spending much on any one coin. It is not unusual for collectors to modify or change their objectives while having fun collecting.
Copyright ©2022 Greg Reynolds
Images are copyrighted by the respective auction firms: Heritage, Stack’s Bowers, and GreatCollections.