[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, Rick Tomaska. This information was originally published in 2002 in The Complete Guide to Franklin Half Dollars]
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Current Availability & Values
PROOF 60-64: The quality of proof coinage coming from the Philadelphia mint improved dramatically in 1954. Almost all 1954 Franklins are at least Proof 64 in grade, most grade higher. Most 1954 Franklins are hairlined, but not to the degree of the earlier proof Franklins. Part of the improvement in quality can be attributed to a change in packaging midway through production. Up until mid-1954, proof coins were individually housed in cellophane envelopes. These envelopes were quite brittle and could easily hairline a delicate proof coin. Additionally, over several years’ time the cellophane would dry and crack, often allowing the coin to fall out of its cocoon.
PROOF 65-68: Most 1954 Franklins grade in the Proof 65-66 range. This date is considerably more scarce in Proof 67, and is extremely scarce in Proof 68. Look for examples with minimal toning, or coins with attractive color.The 1954 has been graded in Proof 69. It is extremely rare in this grade.
Value: $55 for proof 65 examples, while near-flawless 67’s can currently be acquired for a bit more – generally trading between $100-$150. Proof 68’s are a real bargain, considering their scarcity. They can be acquired for as little as $200-$500. Higher priced examples will be deeply mirrored, possibly with some attractive cameo contrast. These coins were selling for almost $2,000 in the late 1980’s. The few Proof 69 examples have traded between $1,000 and $2,000.
PROOF 64-66 CAMEO: While scarce in gem cameo, the 1954 is not as elusive as the 1953 in this condition. More cameos were struck and these coins are generally not as hairlined as the Franklins of the 1950-1953 period. This slow, evolutionary improvement in quality would continue on through the life of the series – interrupted by a brief retreat during the late 1950’s. While the 1954 is not as rare as the previous years in cameo, all cameo Franklins are far more elusive now than 4-5 years ago.
Value: The 1954 in cameo offers tremendous value at current values – Proof 64-65 gems can be acquired for as little as $100-$150. A solid Proof 66 is usually $25-$50 more. Exceptional borderline DCAM/ULTRA coins may sell for double these levels.
PROOF 67-68 CAMEO: The 1954 is very scarce in high grade proof 67-68 cameo, but these examples can be located. Proof 68 cameos are especially elusive – few have the hairline-free, spot-free surfaces a proof generally needs to attain this lofty grade. The 1954 is much rarer in PCGS PR68CAM than in NGC PF 68 CAMEO – due in part to the distinct differences in the “CAMEO” standards between the two services. The 1954 is the first Franklin to be graded in Proof 69 CAMEO. To date, two examples have been graded by NGC.
Value: The 1954 in Proof 67 Cameo has recently been trading between $250 and $500. The higher valued coins should have much heavier cameo contrast. The 1954 has sold for as little as $500 in NGC PF 68 CAMEO. These are very moderate contrasted coins. PCGS graded examples in Proof 68 CAMEO sell for considerably more. The most recent examples have sold between $2,000 and $3,000. The two Proof 69 examples sold for over $5,000.
PROOF 65-66 PCGS DCAM/NGC ULTRA CAM: The 1954 is a transition year for the mint. While this date is not quite as rare as the 1953 in DCAM/ULTRA, it is 10-20 times rarer than the 1956 Franklin, even though the total mintage of the 1956 Franklin is only about three times higher than the 1954. This date is in high demand in PR65-66 DCAM/ULTRA, but is not quite as “red hot” in this grade as the previous 1950-1953 years. Why? Because there is a realistic chance that a collector can acquire an even higher grade example!
Value: On the infrequent occasions they surface, NGC PF 65-66 ULTRA CAMEO 1954 Franklins have generally been trading between $500 and $1500. PCGS graded examples are about double that figure.
PROOF 67-68 PCGS DCAM/NGC ULTRA CAM: RARE. As with every date in the proof Franklin series, this last category – the high grade DCAM’s, is where the 1954 is HOT!!! While rare in NGC/PCGS Proof 67 ULTRA/CAM, the 1954 is not as rare as the 1953 in this grade. The 1954 is extremely rare in Proof 68 ULTRA/DCAM! This is easy to comprehend reviewing the general quality of proof Franklins from this era. While there were a few 1954 proof dies that struck a small handful of DCAM quality half dollars, the poor packaging of the era (those horrible soft-plastic “baggies”) relegated many of them to near-junk status. The heavy, dark toning that etched its way into the surface of these delicate proof coins simply destroyed their eye-appeal. Hairlines were another major problem – particularly on the deepest mirror coins, with the most delicate surfaces. While a few dozen proof 1954 Franklins may have been originally struck from the top dies in Proof 68-69 DCAM condition, nearly all were reduced in quality over the decades’ due to the above factors.
Value: While NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo 1954 proof Franklins can sometimes be acquired for as little as $2000-$4000, PCGS graded examples often trade in the $4000-$7000 range! The few examples graded in Proof 68 ULTRA/DCAM have sold for multiples of those figures. The last PCGS 1954 on the market in PR68DCAM sold for nearly $20,000.
As with every date in the proof Franklin series, the 1954 is in greatest demand, and has experienced the greatest appreciation in value, in the higher grades of DEEP/ULTRA cameo. 1954 proof Franklins in their ultimate Proof 67-68 DEEP/ULTRA cameo condition are quite rare – especially in Proof 68. This is the first year where the finest cameo examples struck from original proof dies can favorably be compared to the finer later-date DEEP/ULTRA CAMEO Franklins in cameo contrast and eyeappeal.