1981 Half Dollar Value Guide (‘’P‘’, “D”, ‘’S’’ & Error Coins)

Jenson Cambell

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Half Dollar

Since its inception in 1964, the Kennedy Half Dollar has been a subject of widespread hoarding and stockpiling. But how have these practices affected the value of the 1981 Kennedy Half Dollar?

Well, in circulated condition, the 1981 Half Dollar is estimated to be worth 60 cents, regardless of condition or its mint of origin. The Numismatic Guaranty Company estimates the value of About Circulated 1981 Half Dollars at between 60 and 75 cents, regardless of condition.

In mint condition, 1981-D and 1981-P Half Dollars are more valuable than similarly graded proof 1981-S Half Dollars. NGC places their value between $1 and $2,400, depending on their condition.

As for proof coins, those came in two variations: Type 1 and Type 2 Half Dollars. The Type 2 variety is more valuable, with NGC estimating their worth between $8.50 and $1,550. Type 2 Half Dollars are worth between $1.15 and $120, depending on their condition.

A lot of numbers to track? I know. Perhaps the table below will put these figures into perspective.

1981 Half Dollar Valuation Chart

Coin Condition Estimated Value
1981-P Half Dollar 1981-D Half Dollar 1981-S Proof Half Dollar
Type 1 Type 2
Circulated

(G4 – XF40)

$0.60 $0.60
About Uncirculated (AU50 – AU58+) $0.60 – $0.75 $0.60 – $0.75
Uncirculated

(MS60 – MS64+)

$1.00 – $12.50 $1.00 – $12.50 $1.15 – 5.00 $8.50 – $15.00
Brilliant Uncirculated (MS65 or higher) $20 – $3,750 $20 – $2,400 $4 – $120 $14.50 – $1,550

1981 Half Dollar: Historical Background

1981 Half Dollar history

The 1981 Half Dollar is the 18th iteration of the Kennedy Dollar, a coin series in production since 1964. Following the release of the 1976 Bicentennial Kennedy Half Dollar, the U.S. Mint tried to reduce the mintage of the Kennedy Half Dollar in the subsequent years.

By the time the 1980s rolled by, production of Kennedy Half Dollars had shrunk from 540 million coins in 1976 to just 61.4 million coins in 1981.

This reduction in mintage didn’t increase the quality of the coins they struck. 1981 Kennedy Half dollars that were struck in the Philadelphia and Denver facilities emerged with weak detail on JFK’s hair. And while 1981-S Kennedy Half Dollar offered more detail, it failed to recreate the heavily accented hairlines of the 1964-P Proof Half Dollars.

Another compromise in quality that occurred in 1981 was the use of two different “S” mint marks in the entire production line. This practice led to the rise of two 1981-S Proof Half Dollar varieties: Type 1 and Type 2.

The Type 2 variety had a clear “S” mint mark with bulbous ends, while the Type 1 “S” had a filled “S” with uniform thickness. If you still find this distinction confusing, perhaps the image below will offer a better explanation.

1981-S Proof Half Dollar Type 1 vs type 2

1981 Half Dollar: Physical Features

In the aftermath of the Coinage Act of 1965, the 1981 Kennedy Half Dollar had to adopt a new composition often informally referred to as the “Johnson Sandwich,” which pertains to post-1965 planchets. These planchets consisted of a copper-nickel cladding over a pure copper core. When all was said and done, the 1981 Half Dollar had the following physical features:

1981 Half Dollar: Physical Characteristics

Physical Feature Notes
Color Silver
Metallic Composition 91.67% Copper

8.33% Nickel

Weight 11.34 grams
Diameter 30.61 mm
Edge Reeded

Obverse Design and Features

1981 Half Dollar OBVERSE FEATURE

The design you see above was the handiwork of Gilroy Roberts, a U.S. Mint sculptor and former Chief Engraver. He included the following elements in his obverse for the Kennedy Half Dollar:

  • The left-facing portrait of President Kennedy
  • The legend “LIBERTY
  • The inscription “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
  • The date “1981
  • The mint mark (P, D, or S)
  • His initials “GR

Reverse Design and Features

1981 Half Dollar reverse feature

The reverse of the Kennedy Half Dollar was designed by another former Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, Frank Gasparro. His design included the following characters:

  • The Presidential Seal of the United States
  • The country of issue “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
  • The denomination “HALF DOLLAR
  • The designer’s initials “FG” (for Frank Gasparo)

1981 Half Dollar: Varieties and Valuation

In 1981, all the major mints took part in producing the Kennedy Half Dollar. Their participation gave us three main varieties: 1981-P, 1981-D, and 1981-S Kennedy Half Dollars. Below is a breakdown of what they are worth today.

1981-P Half Dollar Value

1981-P Half Dollar Value
1981-P 50C (Regular Strike) Kennedy Half Dollar
  • U.S. Mint: Philadelphia
  • Mintage: 29,544,000
  • Mint Mark: P

According to NGC’s value estimates, a 1981-P Half Dollar in circulated condition is worth 60 cents, regardless of condition.

In about circulated condition, the 1981-P Half Dollar is worth between 60 and 75 cents, as per NGC’s estimates. This lack of value can be attributed to a lack of demand for low-graded coins. It certainly doesn’t help that there are many pristine examples with far superior eye appeal.

Speaking of pristine examples, mint condition 1981-P Half Dollars are worth between $1 and $3,750.

Why the wide range? Again, it’s the availability of these coins. According to the NGC registry, they have graded 546 1981-P Half Dollars. Among those coins, 306 earned the grade MS66, therefore diluting the value of MS66 examples to only $70.

But at the top of the value pyramid are only a few coins. Judging by the same registry, NGC has only granted the MS68 grade to three coins. MS68 is the highest grade they’ve ever bestowed upon a 1981-P Kennedy Half Dollar, and these three coins are valued at $3,750 apiece.

Below is a summary of these figures:

Coin Condition Estimated Value
Good (G4) $0.60
Very Good (VG8) $0.60
Fine (F12) $0.60
Very Fine (VF20) $0.60
Extremely Fine (XF40) $0.60
About Uncirculated (AU50) $0.60
About Uncirculated (AU58) $0.65
Uncirculated (MS60) $1
Brilliant Uncirculated (MS65) $20
Brilliant Uncirculated (MS68) $3,750

As much as some of the values above are disappointing, it’s important to note that in an auction a coin can sell for way above its estimated value. It can also sell for much less.

One notable sale was the auction of a 1981-P with a grade of MS67. The coin is in pristine condition, worthy of its grade. It sold for $660 on Heritage Auctions.

Other notable auctions involving 1981-P Half Dollars include:

Variety Grade Sales Price Auction Firm
1989-P Half Dollar MS68 $2,530 Heritage Auctions
1989-P Half Dollar MS68 $2,990 Heritage Auctions
1989-P Half Dollar MS68 $2,990 Heritage Auctions
1989-P Half Dollar MS67 $540.50 Heritage Auctions

1981-D Half Dollar Value

1981-D Half Dollar Value
1981-D 50C (Regular Strike) Kennedy Half Dollar
  • U.S. Mint: Denver
  • Mintage: 27,839,533
  • Mint Mark: D

There was not much difference in mintage between the Philadelphia and Denver Mints, and it shows in the value of their coins. Circulated 1981-D Half Dollars are also worth 60 cents, regardless of condition. Uncirculated 1981-D Half Dollars are estimated to be worth between 60 and 70 cents depending on their condition.

Uncirculated 1981-D Half Dollars have values that range between $1 and $1,500, depending on their condition.

Below is a highlight of the value of 1981-D Half Dollars of various grades:

Coin Condition Estimated Value
Good (G4) $60
Very Good (VG8) $60
Fine (F12) $60
Very Fine (VF20) $60
Extremely Fine (XF40) $60
About Uncirculated (AU50) $60
About Uncirculated (AU58) $0.65
Uncirculated (MS60) $1
Brilliant Uncirculated (MS65) $20
Brilliant Uncirculated (MS67) $1,500

One 1981-D Half Dollar that refused to be pigeonholed by its estimated value was sold on Heritage Auctions for a record-breaking $1,880. This coin is graded MS67 by PCGS, and no 1981-D Half Dollar has sold for more.

Other notable internet auctions involving the 1981-D Half Dollar include:

Variety Grade Sales Price Auction Firm
1989-D Half Dollar MS67 $1,200 Heritage Auction
1989-D Half Dollar MS67 $875 David Lawrence RC
1989-D Half Dollar MS67 $1,586 Heritage Auctions
1989-D Half Dollar MS67 $881 Heritage Auctions
1989-D Half Dollar MS67 $403 Heritage Auctions

1981-S Proof Half Dollar Value

1981-S Proof Half Dollar Value
1981-S 50C Type 1, DCAM (Proof)
  • U.S. Mint: San Francisco
  • Mintage: 4,063,083
  • Mint Mark: S

The San Francisco Mint only struck proof Kennedy Half Dollars in 1981. Despite having the lowest mintage in 1981, these proof coins are not as valuable a similarly-graded 1981-P and 1981-D Kennedy Half Dollars.

But before we can talk about their value, I need to remind you that there were two varieties of the 1981-S Proof Half Dollar based on the type of “S” mint mark the San Francisco Mint used.

1981-S Proof Half Dollar, Type 1 Value

1981-S Proof Half Dollar, Type 1 Value
1981-S 50C Type 1, DCAM (Proof)

These proof coins had the filled “S” mint mark. We don’t know how many 1981-S Proof Half Dollars were struck with the Type 1 “S” mint mark, but we know something about how much they are valued.

NGC estimates that Type 1 1981-S Proof Half Dollars are worth between $1.25 and $120, depending on their condition. Why are their values so low? There are way too many of these coins in the open market. NGC has graded over 4,837 Type 1 examples. About 520 of those 1981-S Proof coins earned the perfect grade of PR70.

Most of the NGC-graded Half Dollars earned the grade PR69. Judging by these figures, the supply has overwhelmed the demand for these 1981 Kennedy Half Dollars.

Below is a comparative look at the value of Type 1 1981-S Proof Half Dollars in Proof, Cameo, and Deep Cameo varieties:

Coin Condition Estimated Value
Proof Cameo Deep Cameo
Uncirculated (PR60) $1.15 $1.25 $1.50
Uncirculated (PR61) $1.50 $1.75 $2
Uncirculated (PR62) $2 $2.25 $2.50
Uncirculated (PR63) $2.50 $2.75 $3
Uncirculated (PR64) $3 $3.50 $4
Uncirculated (PR65) $4 $5 $7.50
Uncirculated (PR66) $6.50 $7.50 $10
Uncirculated (PR67) $9 $10 $15
Uncirculated (PR68) $12.50 $15 $20
Uncirculated (PR69) $22.50 $25 $27.50
Uncirculated (PR70) $30 $60 $120

1981-S Proof Half Dollar, Type 2 Value

1981-S Proof Half Dollar, Type 2 Value
1981-S 50C Type 2, DCAM (Proof)

The Type 2 mint mark had a clear “S” with bulbous ends. This variety is slightly more valuable than similarly graded Type 1 1981-S Proof Half Dollars. NGC estimates that Type 2 1981-S Proof Half Dollars have values that range from $8.50 to $1,550, depending on their condition.

1981-S Proof Half Dollar Type 1 vs type 2

Below is a comparison between the value of Proof, Cameo, and Deep Cameo varieties of this Half Dollar.

Coin Condition Estimated Value
Proof Cameo Deep Cameo
Uncirculated (PR60) $8.50
Uncirculated (PR61) $10
Uncirculated (PR62) $11
Uncirculated (PR63) $12
Uncirculated (PR64) $13.50 $15 $15
Uncirculated (PR65) $14.50 $17 $20
Uncirculated (PR66) $15.50 $20 $27
Uncirculated (PR67) $17 $25 $32
Uncirculated (PR68) $23 $30 $38
Uncirculated (PR69) $27 $40 $45
Uncirculated (PR70) $55 $225 $1,550

Both Type 1  and Type 2 1981-S Proof Half Dollars have sold some pretty high-profile coins. Below is a list of their most notable sales:

Variety Grade Sales Price Auction Firm
Type 2 PR70DCAM $4,025 Heritage Auctions
Type 2 PR70DCAM $3,738 Heritage Auctions
Type 1 PR70DCAM $633 Heritage Auctions
Type 1 PR70DCAM $805 Heritage Auction

1981 Half Dollar: Valuable Error Coins

Besides the many varieties discussed above, the 1981 Half Dollar yielded some interesting error coins. Below are five valuable examples we found on the internet:

1. 1981-P Kennedy Half Dollar with Huge Broadstrike Error Plus a 90% Indent: Sold for $1,410

1981-P Kennedy Half Dollar with Huge Broadstrike Error Plus a 90% Inden

This 1981-P Half Dollar has a combination of multiple errors. For starters, it is broadstruck, with a flattened profile and a vastly increased diameter. This deformity occurs when a coin is struck without a collar.

Another visible error is the 90% indent on the obverse, which blocked out all the details except the date, “1981.” The coin is also clipped on the right edge. This 1981 Kennedy Half Dollar sold for $1,410.

2. 1981-S Kennedy Half Dollar with Broad-Struck Error: Selling for $699

1981-S Kennedy Half Dollar with Broad-Struck Error

This next coin was also broadstruck, with visible flattening appearing along the left edge. The Half Dollar is graded by PCGS, who confirmed the error and granted it a PR64DCAM grading. Other than the error, the coin is in pristine condition.

3. 1981-S Proof Half Dollar with Rainbow Tonning: Selling for $14

1981-S Proof Half Dollar with Rainbow Tonning

This coin is nothing short of spectacular. It has some Cameo with a striking contrast between the field and the relief. But without an official grading, it’s hard to tell whether the rainbow toning on the coin is natural or artificial.

4. 1981-P Kennedy Half Dollar with Double Die Reverse (DDR) Error: Selling for $4.50

1981-P Kennedy Half Dollar with Double Die Reverse (DDR) Error

Our next coin is a 1981-P Half Dollar with a double die on its reverse. This coin has a visible doubling on the country of issue, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” Almost all the letters are affected. Overall, the coin seems to be in excellent shape. It’s not graded, though, so it’s hard to pinpoint its condition.

5. 1981-P Half Dollar With Double Die Obverse and Double Die Reverse Errors: Selling for $2.50

1981-P Half Dollar With Double Die Obverse and Double Die Reverse Errors

This next coin has double die errors on both its obverse and reverse faces. On the obverse, there’s a visible doubling around the word “TRUST.” On the reverse, some letters on the words “UNITED,” “STATES,” “HALF,” and “DOLLAR” are affected. The seller has not yet made any efforts to grade it, so it’s hard to verify the coin’s condition with the photos provided on the listing.

1981 Half Dollar: Is it Worth Collecting

Since its inception, the Kennedy Dollar has been a subject of hoarding. And the U.S. Mint kept feeding this unquenchable thirst. It was so bad that the U.S. Mint started scaling back production after the 1976 Kennedy Bicentennial Half Dollar, eventually halting production (except for proof coins) in 2002.

There are way too many Kennedy Half Dollars, and there’s not much interest in the coin series. Unless you’re looking to fill up a coin album, there isn’t much reward in collecting the 1981 Half Dollar. You can hunt for bargains online, but unless you find the most pristine examples, there’s just no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.

1981 Half Dollar Value chart

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