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All Posts Tagged With: "Half Disme"

Through the Numismatic Glass: The 1792 Half Disme

By Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald – The California Numismatist Spring 2010

The need of a national system for the coinage of the United States was dealt with by the Congress. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton favored the adoption of the decimal system for the young nation’s monetary system. These leaders adopted ideas from Europe. The French referred to this system as “La Disme.” It was from these European roots that the concept of “tenths” or “La Disme,” anglicized later to “dime,” came to our coinage.

A Congressional resolution on July 6, 1785 adopted the dollar as the monetary unit of the United States. Subsequent resolutions, in 1786 and 1787, specified each of the coins that were authorized by the Congress. The adoption of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787 reserved the authority to coin money and regulate its value to the Congress.

The United States in 1791

In 1791, Vermont had joined the original 13 states. The army, consisting of about 5,000 men, was fully engaged fighting the Indians in the Northwest Territory. However, there was no navy and an annual tribute was paid to the Barbary Pirates. The nation’s settlers had begun their migration westward. There was an obvious need to establish the financial system that had been authorized by the Congressional Acts of 1786 and 1787.

The Mint Act of April 2, 1792

Apparently Washington, for international reasons, wanted silver coinage struck as soon as possible; he believed this would establish the authority of the new nation among the nations of the world.

The 1792 Mint Act, that had specified the details of the nation’s monetary system, was followed by President Washington’s actions to establish the mint. On April 14, 1792, he appointed David Rittenhouse of Philadelphia, the most renowned scientist in America, director of the Mint.

On June 1st, clock maker Henry Voight was appointed acting chief coiner. A little over a month later, on July 9, 1792, President Washington authorized the coinage of half dismes. Just four days later, on July 13, 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson recorded the following in his household account book: “rec’d from the mint 1500 half dismes of the new coinage.” It should be noted that the “new mint” did not begin to strike U.S. coins for circulation until 1793.

The Dies Are Prepared For The Half Disme

British medalist William Russell Birch designed and engraved a single set of dies. He probably used letter punches supplied by Jacob Bay, a Germantown, Pennsylvania, maker of printing types. The obverse of the 1792 half disme portrays the head of “Liberty” facing left, with the date 1792 below. The motto LIB.PAR. OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY (Liberty parent of science and industry) around the border. The reverse bears an eagle flying left with the denomination HALF DISME in two lines, with a five-pointed star in the exergue below. The legend UNI. STATES OF AMERICA encircles the eagle.

The coinage machinery was in the cellar of saw-maker John Harper while the new mint was being prepared. It was here, at the corner of Cherry and Fifth Streets, where these pieces were struck. They used a private coin press owned by John Harper.

In 1844 John McAllister interviewed Adam Eckfeldt about the minting of these coins. Eckfeldt was the only surviving member of the mint who was presented when these coins were struck. He stated:

“These coins were struck expressly for Gen. Washington, in the extent of One Hundred Dollars, which sum he deposited in bullion or coin, for the purpose Mr. E. things that Gen. W. distributed them as presents. Some were sent to Europe but the greater number, he believes, were given to friends of Gen. W. in Virginia. No more of them were coined. They were never designated as currency. The Mint was not, at the time, fully ready to being put into operation.”

The striking of these coins was noted by President Washington in his fourth annual address on November 6th, 1792. He stated, “There has been a small beginning of the coinage of the half dismes: the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them.”

Although Washington used the coins as presentation pieces, most, if not all, surviving pieces bear evidence they were circulated. (more…)