Featured The 1792 half Disme – The First U.S. Coin

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, Mar 14, 2019.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    1792 Half Disme New O.jpg 1792 Half Disme New R.jpg

    After giving a presentation about this piece some time ago, I thought I most post it here since the facts are still fresh on my mind.

    I believe that this was the first U.S. coin that was issued for circulation. It is not a pattern as some have claimed over the years. I’ll defend that position momentarily, but first I’ll put a hole in a couple of myths.

    First, these coins were not made from melting George Washington’s silverware, but the real story is almost as good. Thomas Jefferson provided the silver, and he distributed most of them.

    Second, Martha Washington was not the model for the lady on the obverse. That story got started in the 1850s, more than 50 years after these coins were made.

    On July 10, 1792 Thomas Jefferson withdrew $100 in silver from his personal account at the Bank of the United States in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The bank was located in Carpenters’ Hall at that time because it’s permanent home, which is located near by, had not been built.

    Jefferson took his silver to residence of Mint Director, David Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse gave him a receipt which read, “75D. at mint to be coined. This was service that was open to all U.S. citizens once the first mint opened and certain key personal had posted their bonds so they could handle precious metals. Citizens could deliver the gold and silver to the mint to be converted into coins for little or no charge. Although we don’t know exact form that Jefferson’s silver was in, it would be a good guess that many of them were Spanish Milled Dollars, both the pillar and portrait types.

    Since the government had not yet even purchased the property upon which the first mint was located, Jefferson took his silver to John Harper's saw maker's shop which was two blocks from Rittenhouse's home. Previously Harper had been involved in the production of the New Jersey copper coins at the Rahway Mint. Harper may have had some silver prepared for striking, or he have gone into overtime and transformed Jefferson’s silver into the half dismes in two days. We will probably never know the answer to that question.

    At any rate Jefferson noted in his account book that he received $75 worth of half dismes on July 13. He immediately set out, via coach, for his Virginia home, Monticello, with his daughter Mary “Polly” Jefferson. The total trip was 222 miles, and it took him eight days to complete it. The first night, he stopped at Chester, Pennsylvania, 18 miles from Philadelphia. There he noted that paid 30 cents in tips to servants. This was the first distribution of the half dismes. Jefferson continued to hand out the coins during the rest of his trip.

    Jefferson arrived at Monticello on July 21. He remained there until September 27 when he began his journey back to Philadelphia. During the time he spent at his home, he took in $54.00 and paid out $63.15. The fact that his pay outs ended in “5” indicates that he spent some half dismes during that period. Otherwise his payments would have been in Spanish bits, which were 12 ½ cents.

    During his return trip to Philadelphia, Jefferson stopped at Mont Vernon to meet with George Washington. It is not known if Jefferson gave any half dismes to Washington, but if he did, there is no mention of them in his account book. Upon his return to Philadelphia, the evidence would seem to indicate that he had distributed all 1,500 of his half dismes.

    An addition 200 to 300 half dismes may have been made at the Philadelphia Mint during the fall of 1792. Mint Director James Snowden noted such a coinage in 1860, but Henry Voigt's first account book, which could have confirmed this coinage has been lost. If those coins were minted that would make the total mintage 1,700 to 1,800 pieces. If George Washington did have any involvement with the 1792 half dismes, it would have been at this time. He could not have had any involvement when Jefferson received the first 1,500 pieces in July 1792 because he had left the city for his Mount Vernon home before that date.

    Why do I believe that the 1792 half disme was the first U.S. coin? I have three reasons.
    1. The mintage of 1,500 to 1,800 was too high to call this coin a pattern. Patterns are usually made in small quantities to test a new design.
    2. All but about 20 of the surviving 200 to 300 piece are circulated. Most of them are WELL circulated in low grades. The others were used in circulation and have been lost to time.
    3. In his annual address to Congress on November 6, 1792, (A forerunner to the State of the Union Address) Washington said the following:
    "In execution of the authority given by the legislature, measures have been taken for engaging some artists from abroad to aid in the establishment of our Mint. Others have been employed at home. Provisions have been made for the requisite buildings, and those are putting into proper condition for the purposes of the establishment. There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dismes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them."

    That statement seals it for me. If the President of the United States called these coins “a small beginning in the coinage of half dismes,” that enough for me. It is the first coin.
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  3. Randy Abercrombie

    Randy Abercrombie Supporter! Supporter

    I so enjoy your posts.
    -jeffB, JPeace$ and CoinBlazer like this.
  4. furham

    furham Good Ole Boy Supporter

    Me too.
  5. Paddy54

    Paddy54 Variety Collector

    Nice read for sure since I am a h 10 collector.....of course 1829-1837 1837/1873.
    I would love to be able to obtain an early half dime. What I like best not many collectors .....thus I get more chances to find all my missing specimens.
    My 1829-37 CB are complete date wise working on varieties and marriages.
    Seated about 30 coins needed to complete, I've been able over the years to obtain quite a few varieties and thats the iceng on the cake.
    But an early specimen would be the gem of my h 10 collection.
  6. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    I love the early early half dimes too. I have dabbled with the Capped Bust (1829 - 1837) and have less interest in the Seated pieces.

    Not to make you jealous, but I've been working on this set for over 40 years. I'd love to get an 1802, but it's just never worked out. Here's the link.

    Vince11229, Ima Dragon, NSP and 3 others like this.
  7. Paddy54

    Paddy54 Variety Collector

    Thank you I truly appreciate seeing those....Im not jealous just happy to see such specimens and know they are being preserved for the future.
    Well perhasp...a tad wee bit jealous.....:stop:
    J/K of course....I've collected over the last 50+/- years off and on....on for at least the last 15 years....college years were.....:hilarious:
    Present trying to complete the seated and high R in the capped bust.
    I must confess and it maybe because of where I am in life...collecting as otherwise...this will be my last crusade to finish the seated.
    I've just purchased several nice coins 1 37 CB , 48 O, 63 S, 68 S, 39 O, and looking to snatch another S from the late 60's.
    Vince11229 and thomas mozzillo like this.
  8. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Derp, derp, derp!

    Cool write up. What explains the anemic chicken on the reverse?
    Numiser, TIF and johnmilton like this.
  9. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Skinny eagles were the norm on early U.S. coinage. This one appeared on the 1794-5 half dimes, half dollars and silver dollars.

    1795HalfDimeR.JPG 1795HalfDimeO.JPG

    A small eagle appeared on the next generation of early silver too. Some people think that this one was a young eagle, emerging from the next, like the new nation.

    1797 16 star LM-3 R.jpg 1797 16 star LM-3 O.jpg
  10. Paddy54

    Paddy54 Variety Collector

    1829 Bust Half Dime_nolabel.jpg Not an early specimen but one of my favorites.
  11. Santinidollar

    Santinidollar Supporter! Supporter

    A well-researched article. Thanks!
    Vince11229 and Randy Abercrombie like this.
  12. JPeace$

    JPeace$ Coinaholic

  13. Paddy54

    Paddy54 Variety Collector

    Sweet 33
    JPeace$ likes this.
  14. JPeace$

    JPeace$ Coinaholic

    Thank you for your kind remark. I really appreciate your opinion on it because of your knowledge of the series.
  15. Paddy54

    Paddy54 Variety Collector

    Have you done the attribution?
    Give her a go...... you may be bitten....:wideyed:
    JPeace$ likes this.
  16. Paddy54

    Paddy54 Variety Collector

    johnmilton likes this.
  17. Mainebill

    Mainebill Wild Bill

    32F83116-A0FE-4A28-B858-477372631750.jpeg 4BC13A4F-E0E9-4F4E-8DCF-963723723833.jpeg Was mine in my collection. Another coin I had to sell a couple years ago
  18. old49er

    old49er Well-Known Member

    Good stuff! Not a pattern In my opinion. Very Historical coin and I think the most important in the History of US coins. The raw look of the engraving really has me wondering though.Is this really the work of a master engraver?
  19. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    Would that honor not go to the Fugio Cents. They were authorized by the Continental Congress and not struck by an individual state. Most of them are circulated and the mintage numbers were relatively huge compared to the 1792 half disme.

    Now, they are the first US coins produced under the current Constitution, but I don’t believe they are the first coins produced by the United States.

    He just said “beginning in the coinage of half dismes” not “coinage” in general. He could have been referring to just the denomination.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2019
    Paul M. likes this.
  20. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    The Continental Congress stepped away from the Fugio Cents after they noted that the pieces were underweight and therefore could only be traded as "coppers" not cents. They were not issued as cents, but were sold to a speculator, Royal Flint, on credit. Flint found that he could not issue them in the over saturated copper coin market of the time at a profit and was left holding the bag. When he could not pay his debt to the government, he was carted off the debtors' prison.

    The Fugio Cent was never an official government issue. The Continental Congress authorized it, but never issued it as an official U.S. Government coin.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2019
  21. Randy Abercrombie

    Randy Abercrombie Supporter! Supporter

    Was just looking at a specimen currently bidding at Great Collections. The piece is graded "fine-details" and the bust is almost unrecognizable. Yours is truly a spectacular example.
    johnmilton likes this.
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