Type I & II Varieties
There are two reverse design varieties for the Franklin half dollar. The major differences in the two designs are with the eagle, generally classified as type I and type II. This page discusses in great detail the characteristics of these varieties.
Description: Low relief, four indistinct wings (except for the tips) to the left and right of the perch and a curved beak.
Description: High relief, three large distinct wings that are nearly touching to the left and right of the perch. The neck feathers are well defined and the eagle has a flat hooked beak.
Franklin proofs were minted from 1950-1963. The type I reverse was used starting in 1950 on through 1955 and part of 1956. Sometime during 1956 the design was modified which gave the eagle a bolder, more detailed look. The modified eagle design, known as type II, was used on the remainder of 1956 proofs and on through 1963 when the series ended. The only issue that exists with both types is 1956.
1956 Type I (FS-901)
This is the scarcer of the two 1956 proof varieties. Breen estimates these account for 5% of the total mintage, roughly 33,469 coins. These are rare in cameo and extremely rare in deep cameo.
1956 Type II
The majority of 1956 proof sets contain the type II Franklin. According to Breen these make up 95% of the mintage or about 635,914 coins. Cameo and deep cameo pieces are much easier to find for this variety than the type I.
This is the standard design used for circulation strikes throughout the entire series from 1948-1963. The design is the same as that used on type I proofs. The eagle is in low relief with four wings to the left and right of the perch and a curved beak.
There were some minor changes made to the eagle in 1950. On pieces dated 1948 and 1949 (PDS) the eagle's wing tips are thick with little space between each one. Beginning in 1950, the wing tips are thinner with more space between each one. The most plausible theory for the design modification is that the master die was retouched due to the resumption of proof coinage this year. There's no evidence to back this up but it seems the most likely scenario. All circulation strike issues from 1950-63 have the retouched eagle with a few exceptions. There are three transitional varieties known that can be found with either type; 1950, 1951-D and 1951-S. The other exceptions are the 1958 and 1959 type II varieties which are discussed in the next section.
I've sub-categorized the type I varieties as type I-a (1948-1949 PDS) and type I-b (1950-1963 PDS).
Type I-a (1948-1949 PDS)
Type I-b (1950-63 PDS)
There are only two circulation strike issues that can be found with the type II reverse, 1958 and 1959 Philadelphia mint issues. These pieces were struck from proof dies. It isn't known if this was intentional or not. They can be identified with the same characteristics as type II proofs. The eagle is in high relief and has three distinct wings to the left and right of the perch.
The type II variety is relatively scarce for this year. Breen's estimate is 20% of the total mintage but in my experience it seems to be much lower than this, somewhere around 5%. All 1958 mint sets contained the type I which can make finding gems a difficult task. Examples with full bell lines are extremely rare, possibly as much so as the 1953-S. ANACS is currently the only major TPG that will recognize type II circulation strikes and their population report shows that none have been designated FBL.
Type II varieties are very common for this year. Breen estimates they represent 70% of the total mintage. This estimate may be a little high. In my experience they're closer to 50-60% of the mintage. The majority of mint sets contained the type II. Gems and FBL examples can be found with a little searching. Because these were struck from proof dies a few proof-like specimens were produced, however, they are extremely rare. Less than a dozen pieces are known to exist.. A 1959 type II is generally not worth a premium unless it's proof-like.
1959 "Class III" Dbld. Die Rev.
This variety was once thought to be a third eagle type. Through the work and research of Bill Edwards it has since been proven to be a type II/type I class III doubled die reverse. The reverse die was first hubbed with the type I design and then the type II. What resulted was an eagle showing characteristics of both types. There are three wing tips left of the perch like the type II design. However, the wing tips are thin with space between them like the type I. They are quite easy to distinguish once you're familiar with the other two types. The eagle's left wing (viewer's right) shows the strongest doubling. Other areas where doubling can be found are E PLURIBUS UNUM, the right bell handle, and some of the other bell elements. There are two obverse dies that were paired with this DDR.
Type II Sub-Varieties
The information presented in this section is based on a report written by Bill Edwards on Franklin reverse design varieties, titled "Varieties of Franklin Half Dollar Reverse Design." The illustrations below are property of Bill Edwards. Click here to view this report in its entirety.
-PL joined as in II-a-die crack from shoulder of eagle's right wing (viewer's left) to bell bracket above
-die chip between I and B of PLURIBUS (looks like RIIBUS)
-die chip is rounded from the B towards the I-doesn't extend the full length of the B
-small die chip at apex of open area within the left leg of the M of UNUM-die gouge under D of UNITED
-RIIBUS die chip (between IB) but different than II-b
-die chip is shaped similar to adjacent I but doesn't quite extend to bottom of letter
-die chip in M of UNUM-die gouge under D of UNITED
1958 II-d-1, 2, 3
-die chip between upper portion of PL of PLURIBUS
-RIIBUS die chip (between IB)
-die crack from the top of eagle's right wing (viewer's left) to the bell bracket above
-die crack from about the center of the eagle's right wing west to the bell
-II-d-3 has developed a die break in the eagle's right wing about the same size as the eagle's head-die break on eagle's right wing is connected to the die crack that runs west to the bell
-die crack from shoulder of eagle to bell bracket above-RIIBUS die chip (between IB)
-die crack running southwest from the center of the bottom of the eagle's right-most wing feather (viewer's left)-evidence of clashing along the slope and bottom of nose and along the neck