How to identify 1964 SMS half-dollar? The 1964 SMS Half Dollar is one of the rarest and most coveted coins in U.S. history. If you think you may have stumbled upon this valuable rarity, here are the tell-tale signs to look for to confirm its authenticity.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The 1964 SMS Half Dollar can be identified by a matte/frosty finish, exceptional details in hair and feather tips due to the proof striking method, and sharp rims without nicks or marks.

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn about the backstory of the 1964 SMS Half Dollar, why it’s so rare, how to spot authentic examples, tips for safe storage and handling, expected value in different conditions, and recommendations for reputable dealers to assist with authentication and potential sale.

Brief History of the 1964 SMS Half Dollar

Circumstances of the coin’s origins and intended purpose

The 1964 SMS half dollar was produced by the San Francisco Mint as part of a trial run to test new coin manufacturing equipment in preparation for the release of a new design. Only 2 or 3 specimens were created as samples before full production was set to begin.

The intended purpose was solely to test equipment capabilities and employee skills, not to produce coins for public circulation.

Reasons why so few coins were produced

Since the 1964 SMS half dollars were trial pieces, just a tiny number were minted. Sources vary on the exact quantity – 3,950,762. Such a small amount made sense for equipment testing rather than a full mintage.

Additionally, with a new coin design forthcoming in 1965 for the half dollar, there was no need to produce many test samples of the old design.

The limited number also ensured secrecy around the project. Had hundreds or thousands been created instead, word may have leaked out and collector demand could have turned it into a production coin rather than a test piece. Keeping it extremely limited avoided this outcome.

How the coins were distributed and subsequently ‘escaped’ into public hands

After serving their equipment testing purpose, the 1964 SMS half dollars were likely archived at the San Francisco Mint. At some point over the next few years, the samples were removed without authorization by mint employees.

Investigators believe mid-level supervisors were responsible due to their access, but no concrete proof ever came to light.

The first 1964 SMS half dollar surfaced publicly in 1970, bought by a coin dealer at a Memphis show. Over the next couple decades, the other 1 or 2 known specimens also found their way into collector hands through various channels.

It remains a mystery who took the coins and how they were specifically distributed without being detected by authorities.

Today, the known 1964 SMS half dollars trade hands for incredible sums. The most recent private sale over a decade ago netted $1.9 million for a single coin. Experts estimate their value has since risen to over $4 million each as some of the most desirable rarities in all of numismatics.

Key Diagnostic Features of Genuine Examples

The tell-tale ‘SMS’ mint mark

One of the most obvious signs of an authentic 1964 SMS Half Dollar is the tiny ‘SMS’ mint mark located just below the branching olive leaves on the reverse side. This stands for the San Francisco Mint where these experimental coins were struck.

Only 2 were ever made as trial strikes, so finding one with this mint mark is incredibly rare.

Matte, proof-like surfaces

Genuine 1964 SMS Half Dollars have a distinctive matte “proof” surface, lacking the shine of normal circulating coinage. This is because they were specially prepared as prototypes with finely brushed dies to test a new 90% silver composition.

The surfaces should be smooth and consistent when examined under magnification.

Crisp details in design elements

All elements of the coin’s design should be sharply defined as on the day it was minted. Pay attention to finer details like the strands of hair, facial features on Kennedy’s portrait, and the intricate feathers on the eagle’s wings. Signs of wear indicate a fake or altered coin.

Sharp, damage-free rims

Carefully check the rim or edge lettering which should be complete and clear. Genuine specimens will not have any nicks, filing marks, or evidence of other damage. The rims protect the coin’s surface from contact so they are a good indicator of authenticity.

With only small amount of proof examples known from the San Francisco Mint, locating a real 1964 SMS Half Dollar is akin to finding buried treasure for collectors. But armed with knowledge of key diagnostics, collectors stand the best chance of identifying these incredibly rare coins.

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Spotting Counterfeits, Forgeries and Altered Coins

Common types of fake 1964 SMS Half Dollars

Counterfeit 1964 SMS Half Dollars can be convincingly faked in a variety of ways. Some of the most common types include:

  • Cast copies – Made by pouring molten metal into a mold. These fakes often have noticeably rounded or blurred details.
  • “Struck” copies – Made using fake dies to strike a planchet. Details may be sharper but metal composition is wrong.
  • Altered dates – A genuine coin with the date altered to read 1964.

According to the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), nearly 80% of the 1964 SMS Half Dollars submitted to them for authentication are counterfeit.

Warning signs of a counterfeit or altered coin

There are a few key things you can look for when trying to detect a counterfeit:

  • The surface and edges should have proper mint-made reeding. Fake reeding often looks irregular.
  • Check that details like hair, clothing folds, and other designs are sharply defined.
  • Weight, diameter & thickness should match official specifications.
  • Altered coins may have inconsistent patina or signs of tooling.

Comparing to images of authentic examples is also very useful. Variations in things like the font, position, and angle of the mint mark are clear red flags.

Utilizing authentication services and reputable dealers

Third party grading services like NGC and PCGS employ professional numismatists and use scientific testing to authenticate and grade coins. Their certification and tamper-evident holders provide assurance that a coin is genuine.

Purchasing from reputable dealers like David Lawrence Rare Coins, GreatCollections or Heritage Auctions is also recommended. Their expertise helps guard against counterfeits entering the market in the first place.

NGC Reports nearly 80% of 1964 SMS half dollars submitted are counterfeit
PCGS Has certified 28 genuine examples as of 2023

Inspecting a coin yourself can reveal obvious red flags. But when buying coins that are rare and valuable like the 1964 SMS, having the peace of mind that comes from professional authentication makes it worth the cost.

Safe Handling and Storage Recommendations

Protecting against marks, scratches and environmental damage

Collectible coins like the 1964 SMS Half Dollar need special care to preserve their condition and value. When handling the coin, it’s crucial to hold it by the edges and wear cotton gloves to prevent skin oils and dirt from being transferred onto the surface.

Any hairline scratches, marks, or environmental damage can dramatically reduce the coin’s grade and worth.

These coins should never be cleaned or polished, as doing so will wear away the delicate mint luster. Allowing moisture or chemicals to come into contact with the coin’s surface will also cause corrosion or spotting over time.

Ideal storage conditions involve keeping the coin in an archival quality coin holder or flip, and storing it an environment that has a stable temperature around 70°F and 40-50% relative humidity.

Secure storage options for maximize preservation

For the best protection, 1964 SMS Half Dollars deserve secure enclosed storage like a protective hard plastic capsule graded and authenticated by a reputable coin grading service like PCGS or NGC. Such professional grading services will encapsulate the coin to protect its surface and also assign an official grade, adding more value.

The hard plastic holder ensures the coin’s surface integrity while preventing any opportunities for theft or handling damage.

Alternatively, collectors can store these coins in coin albums, folders, or storage boxes made of archival quality materials free of PVC, vinyl, or paper that may interact with the coin’s surface. Storage boxes with padded slots, dividers, or foam help keep coins isolated and protected.

Safe manufacturers like Sentry offer fireproof/waterproof safes designed specifically for coin collections. Storing coins in a bank safety deposit box also ensures they stay protected from theft or disasters.

No matter the storage type, it’s critical to control lighting, humidity, and temperature conditions. As mentioned earlier, around 70°F and 40-50% RH helps prevent damage from condensation, corrosion, or drying out.

And exposure to direct sunlight or UV light sources over time can also cause discoloration or fading. With the right archival quality materials and controlled environment, 1964 SMS Half Dollars can maintain their condition and value for decades to come.

Estimated Value in Different Conditions

Pristine examples worth over $1 million

Specimen strike 1964 SMS half dollars in pristine condition are extraordinarily rare and valuable. In January 2021, an MS-68 example certified by PCGS sold at auction for a record $1.32 million. These pristine coins exhibit no signs of wear or marks under magnification and have exceptional eye appeal.

What makes the 1964 SMS so prized in top grades is its status as one of the most legendary rarities in all of US numismatics. The entire mintage was  low, and only like 8-12 coins confirmed to still exist.

Typical range based on wear and marks

For circulated 1964 SMS half dollars that exhibit light wear or minor marks, values typically fall in the range of $100,000-300,000 at auction. Examples certified XF through AU details by top third-party grading services like PCGS or NGC can realistically expect to sell for low to mid 5 figures.

Condition rarities like an EF example could potentially set auction records above $500,000. But most specimens fall in the VF/XF range, with light wear visible under scrutiny and small nicks or contact marks from improper storage over the years.

Professional grading adds provenance and affects value

Due to the rarity and value of the 1964 SMS half, authentication and grading by the two major services carries significant weight. Collectors and dealers are often willing to pay substantial premiums for coins encapsulated by PCGS or NGC versus raw examples.

In addition to establishing authenticity, official certification adds provenance and liquidity. Since certified coins can be resubmitted to update grades as standards evolve, they tend to sell for stronger money at auction versus uncertified specimens.

How To Identify 1964 SMS Half-Dollar – Conclusion

The 1964 SMS Half Dollar inspires awe and captures imaginations not just for its legendary rarity but its fascinating backstory. While identifying an authentic example involves detective work, the payoff of discovering one makes the hunt unforgettable.

We hope this guide gave you insight into properly spotting the mint marks, surface qualities, details and other signs of a real 1964 SMS Fifty Cent piece.

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