This is the last of three articles about the 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-Dollar Silver Coin. The first article presented a photo overview of the coin and the second described its laser and polishing treatments. This article, a collaborative effort from brothers Mike and Darrin Unser, includes 30 photos and 7 videos showing how the coins are produced at the San Francisco Mint.
Excitement is building with just hours remaining until 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-Dollar Silver Coin Collections become available. The four-coin set from the United States Mint launches on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 at noon EDT for $99.95.
Its four 90% silver Kennedy half-dollars are in four different finishes with each struck at a different U.S. Mint facility. Our interest in the set has grown because we saw two of the four coins produced. As a quick primer, the collection of coins includes:
- one 2014-D Uncirculated Kennedy Half-Dollar from the U.S. Mint at Denver
- one 2014-P Proof Kennedy Half-Dollar from the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia
- one 2014-W Reverse Proof Kennedy Half-Dollar from the U.S. Mint at West Point
- one 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half Dollar from the U.S. Mint at San Francisco
In July, we watched reverse proofs getting struck during our visit to West Point and then in September we saw how enhanced uncirculated halves are produced at San Francisco. We published enhanced uncirculated coin photos last month, but we wanted to talk about how they’re made. Fortunately, we have more photos to aid in describing the process.
Before getting into production details, here are very high-resolution photos of two 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half Dollar dies. When clicking on the photos, you can actually see the polish and frosting enhancements.
The enhancements are unique with heavy frosting on the obverse portrait, lettering, and border. The border and lettering on the reverse also show heavy frosting with moderate frosting for artistic detail seen on the eagle. In addition, the stars on the dies underwent a laser polish technique to further accentuate them from the field behind.
Now, let’s get into how the coins are produced…
Adding Designs and Finish to Dies
It starts with the designs. Kennedy half-dollars debuted in 1964 with designs that include an obverse portrait of President John F. Kennedy by Gilroy Roberts and a reverse based on the Presidential Seal by Frank Gasparro. The reverse has stayed the same over the years but Kennedy’s portrait was modified significantly in the 1990s. Adding to the distinction of all 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy coinage, they feature a restored 1964 Kennedy portrait. The idea came from San Francisco Mint employee Michael Levin, which we plan to discuss in a later article.
When designs are completed, they must be transferred to dies and then treated with manual and automated methods to produce the different collectible finishes. As a quick backdrop, dies are metal stamping tools that are placed inside coining presses. They hold the negative image of a coin’s design and are pressed against planchets to create coins.
Below are two photos of obverse and reverse dies for 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half-Dollars. The first photo offers a close-up of a pair while the second photo shows two fitted within collars so they can be installed inside a coining press (more about that later).
For enhanced uncirculated dies, they receive unique treatments to include varying intensities of laser frosting and polishing applications.
These next series of 5 photos and 2 videos show die equipment demonstrations and some of the people we talked to while visiting the die department of the San Francisco Mint.
With designs imparted and finish applied, dies are placed within a Physical Vapor Deposition Chamber for chroming treatment. Dies are impacted with tons of pressure in coining presses. That takes a toll over time. To survive longer in that environment, dies are chrome-plated using the PVD process.
For additional background on the methods described above, last year we published a detailed article about how the San Francisco Mint prepares dies.
Making Planchets for 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half-Dollars
Planchets must be created for dies to be of any use. Planchets are the nearly featureless metal discs that become coins when they’re struck by dies in coining presses.
First, the U.S. Mint at San Francisco gets silver blanks cut to the size of a coin. These are produced and purchased from outside vendors. The Mint then turns blanks into planchets by running them through annealing and upsetting machines.
The annealing process heats and cools blanks to strengthen them. The upsetting process pinches blanks to add outer rims, making them planchets. We walked through these two stages quickly, and frankly didn’t snap photos. For reference, we included two that were taken during our last visit to the San Francisco Mint.
Planchets are automatically burnished, giving them a sharp shine. Burnishing machines at the San Francisco Mint, like the one shown in the video below, polish planchets to a sharp shine. Planchets are mixed with pellets and cleaning and anti-tarnishing solutions, spun in a bowl for several minutes, tipped out when ready, separated, automatically dried, and then manually racked.
In going the extra mile and unique to the Mint, planchets are then manually washed, dried, buffed and re-racked. They’re now ready for coining.
Here’s a short video showing the buffing process.
Once again, for additional background on the methods described above, last year we described in much more detail how the San Francisco Mint prepares coin blanks.
Producing 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half-Dollars
One step closer to an actual coin, planchets are automatically fed into coining presses that force the obverse and reverse dies together. In between the dies, which act like a hammer and anvil, the planchet is struck and becomes a 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Silver Half-Dollar.
In the next photo and video, we see Die Setter William Tan. The video shows Tan assembling the die tooling for the obverse of the 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half-Dollar.
And in the next photo and video, we see Die Setter Stanley Mayfield. The video shows Mayfield assembling the die tooling for the reverse of the 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half-Dollar.
These next two photos show the inside working area of a coining press.
And this video shows how quickly the coining presses strike the half-dollars.
As an interesting sidebar, U.S. Mint production facilities keep the first and last collectible coin struck by a die.
Finally, 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Half Dollars are encapsulated at San Francisco, but they’re not packaged there. That’s a job tasked to the Denver Mint.
When released at noon EDT on Oct. 28, the 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-Dollar Silver Coin Collection may be ordered from this United States Mint online product page.