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Description

AU Details 1792 Half Disme, Judd-7
First Circulating Coin Struck on
Equipment From the U.S. Mint

1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4 -- Obverse Damage -- NGC Details. AU. The 1792 half disme was the precursor to all later silver coinage in the United States, struck in the basement of sawmaker John Harper, on North Sixth Street in Philadelphia, while the U.S. Mint facilities, which opened for coinage in 1793, were being readied for production, a block away on North Seventh. (Harper had the Mint machinery housed in his basement when the coins were struck, around July 12, 1792.)
The Old French word "disme" refers to one-tenth, in the United States' case that part of a dollar, linguistically related to Latin decima pars, also meaning the tenth part. By the time the Mint struck its first silver half dimes in the newly opened facility, in 1794 -- bureaucratic requirements limited the 1793 coinage to copper cents and half cents -- the "s" in disme had been dropped, in favor of the anglicized "dime." Despite their listing as a pattern in the Judd reference (Judd-7), the 1792 half dismes were coins intended to circulate, and circulate they did. It is difficult to make a firm estimate either of the original number minted -- most numismatists guess 1,500 pieces, based on the surviving evidence -- or the number that survive today. The variance there is wider, but somewhere from 100 to 300 survivors is in the ballpark.
The number of survivors is, at any rate, far less important than the number of collectors who desire to obtain an example of the 1792 half disme, a coin for which a strong case could be made that it is the most important U.S. Mint circulation issue, simply because it was the first -- even if it did predate the actual Mint structure by a few months. (The 1787 Fugio cents or coppers were also a circulating issue, the first struck under the authority of the United States, but they were not struck on U.S. Mint equipment or under Mint auspices, as the Mint itself did not yet exist.)
President Washington referred to the 1792 half disme issue in his November 1792 address to Congress: "There has also been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them."
The 1792 half dismes, as mentioned, were not only a monetary precursor of the silver coinage that followed, they were also stylistic precursors. Just as "disme" became "dime," the legend LIBERTY PARENT OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY, variously abbreviated or not on the 1792 half dismes, silver center cents, Birch cents, and the silver and copper 1792 dismes, became simply on the 1793 and later Mint issues -- LIBERTY. The right- or left-facing female Liberty personification, in many different incarnations and interpretations, would become a standard for all circulating coinage of the 18th and 19th centuries, until the portrayal of "dead presidents" (unfortunately) prevailed.
A collector could spend a lifetime assembling a tiny set of coins representing the first U.S. Mint issues of the various denominations and metals in the finest obtainable (or affordable) condition. A short list of such issues might include:

--1792 half disme, Judd-7 (circulating Mint issue, but not struck in the Mint building)
--1793 Liberty Cap half cent and 1793 Chain AMERI. (Sheldon-1) cent. The latter is considered the first coin struck in the U.S. Mint facility in 1793.
--1794 Flowing Hair half dime (first of the denomination struck in the Mint)
--1794 half dollar and 1794 silver dollar
--1795 half eagle
--1796 dime and 1796 No Stars quarter eagle


It is exciting to consider that the assembling of a collection of nine coins could be a life's work for some history-minded numismatist. The present piece might put such a collector far along the path, as it offers a wealth of detail with one drawback that might make it more affordable. The surfaces are glossy golden-brown and blue-steel overall, showing semiprooflike reflectivity on both sides and only a trace of actual wear. Most of the original detail remains, and a few minor contact marks appear, but the coin has a deep attempted puncture at 10 o'clock on the obverse, as though the coin were being holed for suspension. The attempted puncture does not penetrate to the reverse, but the surfaces are a tad wavy. This coin is still quite attractive and would be an exceptional example if not for the obverse damage. Even in this condition, it is inconceivable that this coin will not attract serious competition from multiple bidders.

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Auction Dates
October, 2012
18th-21st
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 8
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