In rarified realm of the coin, JFK half-dollar goes for $1,240

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the U.S. Mint on Independence Mall Tuesday in Philadelphia to plunk down $1,240 for a half-dollar coin.

“It’s shiny. It’s new out of the box, and they are never going to make this coin again,” said Noah Scarano, 9, one of the first in line to buy the 50th anniversary reissue of the John F. Kennedy half-dollar struck in pure gold.

Having inherited a family collection of hundreds of coins, Noah is a coin enthusiast. The boy still has a hard time distinguishing the coin likeness of JFK from FDR, but he was very excited about being part of an important moment in numismatics.

“It’s awesome!” said Noah, who will not be able to keep the coin. He and his mother, Grace, are vacationing in Philadelphia from Maryland. They joined a pack of hundreds hired by coin dealers to stand in line outside the U.S. Mint to buy one coin each. They will be paid about $400 for a morning’s work.

Just hours after Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, talk began about replacing Benjamin Franklin’s profile on the half-dollar with that of JFK . Within months, a mock-up coin design was shown to Jacqueline Kennedy, who suggested changes to the way her late husand’s hair was depicted.

“Mrs. Kennedy liked this the best,” said Tim Grant a spokesman for the U.S. Mint of Philadelphia. “The coin came out only four months after the president’s death. The mint worked closely with the White House to come up with the design.”

When the coin was originally struck at the Mints in Philadelphia and Denver, it was an immediate favorite. Although not in wide circulation, it is highly collectible. Over the years, it has been reissued with slight variations to the Kennedy profile. This anniversary reissue — in gold, silver, and nickel-clad copper — returns to the original design.

But that is not why hundreds queued up at the mint Tuesday — some camping out overnight — on the first day of the reissue.

“That word — ‘money’ — like Thurston Howell III,” said George Schneider, coin dealer and, apparently, a “Gilligan’s Island” fan. “Most guys are paying $400 over coin. If you have the money to get them slabbed with the first-day sticker … they are going to be getting $4,000 for a $1,240 coin.”

Schneider had 11 people stationed outside the Mint to get one of the 500 tickets enabling them to buy a coin on the first day. Only three successfully made the transaction. Inside of 20 minutes, Schneider had sold the three coins for $2,000 each.

There is no limit to the number of coins the U.S. Mint will produce until the end of 2014, but only first-day coins have the first-day sticker, and that makes all the difference.

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