Q. David Bowers (edited and updated by Mike Sherman): Following the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in November 1963, plans were made to memorialize the popular president on circulating half dollars. Gilroy Roberts, chief engraver of the Mint, designed the obverse. The reverse was the work of Frank Gasparro. The obverse design depicts the head of Kennedy facing left, with LIBERTY above and to the sides, and the date below. IN GOD WE TRUST is in a straight line above the date. The reverse is an adaptation of the Great Seal of the United States and is reminiscent of the Heraldic Eagle style used on gold and silver coinage of the early 19th century.
The Kennedy half dollar captured the public’s imagination, and pieces sold at a premium from the very moment of release. Soon the premiums subsided, but despite mintages of hundreds of millions of coins, few were used in the channels of commerce. Subsequently, the half dollar became an obsolete denomination so far as everyday use is concerned. Still, large quantities were produced, although mintage figures trended downward over a period of time. 1964, the silver content was reduced, thus making 1964 the only year Kennedy half dollar composed of 90% silver were stuck.
Specimens today are readily available in Uncirculated and Proof finishes.
-- Reprinted with permission from "United States Coins by Design Types - An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor" by Q. David Bowers