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    1792 Columbian Centinel Announcing the Establishment of the Mint

    1792 Columbian Centinel--April 21,1792.

    The news story that started it all: a front page contemporary publication of the Coinage Act as passed by the U.S. Congress on April 2, 1792, appearing in the Columbian Centinel (Boston: Benjamin Russell) dated April 21, 1792. "An ACT establishing a MINT, and regulating the Coins of the United States" is the title appearing under the header "LAWS of the UNITED STATES, Published By Authority." This landmark piece of forward-thinking legislation called for a decimal monetary system based on the dollar as the "money of account," a system that we still use today. It also authorized the creation of the Philadelphia Mint in order to manufacture the coins that many of us so actively collect.

    One has to wonder what ran through the minds of the few hundred subscribers reading this for the first time that Saturday so long ago. Our young nation had only recently achieved its independence from Great Britain and had been content to continue to use British currency, as well as a variety of other currencies from other foreign countries such as Spain, Portugal, Germany, and France. Trade was also accomplished via local and state-produced coins and currency, not to mention Indian wampum, crops, and livestock. Even though the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) granted the power to coin money, many were leery of allowing the federal government control over the monetary system. The lack of standardization in this new nation's currency, however, was holding it back in international trade and slowing its economic growth. Founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton led the campaign to set up a national Mint and a standardized monetary system. Jefferson headed the fight on a decimal-based system, quite unlike the then-familiar British "pounds-shillings-pence" standard. He felt that a mint was needed on American soil, both for practical reasons as well as a symbol of our newly won freedom. These efforts led to the passage of this Coinage or Mint Act of 1792, penned by Treasury Secretary Hamilton, at the first session of the Second Congress of the United States.

    Just what did this Act legislate? Let's take a look at some of the important sections:
    Section 1 established the Mint for the purpose of making a national coinage at the seat of government, which was still at Philadelphia in 1792. (Even after the government's move to Washington, D.C., the Mint stayed at Philadelphia, and a law passed in 1828 made that home permanent.) This section also named the officers involved in its operation: a director, an assayer, a chief coiner, an engraver, and a treasurer.
    Section 3 set forth the duties of the officers as follows, in part: "... The director of the mint shall have the chief management of the business thereof ... The assayer shall receive and give receipts for all metals which may lawfully be brought to the mint to be coined ... The chief coiner shall cause to be coined all metals which shall be received by him for that purpose ... The engraver shall sink and prepare the necessary dies for such coinage ... The treasurer shall receive from the chief coiner all the coins which shall have been struck ..."
    Section 8 gave the president the authority to construct the Mint. (This was the first structure sanctioned by the U.S. government, completed in the fall of 1792.) The cost was to be defrayed from the U.S. Treasury.
    Section 9 enacted that the said Mint should strike coins of gold, silver, and copper in denominations of eagles ($10), half eagles ($5), quarter eagles ($2.50), dollars ($1), half dollars ($.50), quarter dollars ($.25), dismes ($.10), half dismes ($.05), cents ($.01) and half cents ($.005). The specific metallic content of each of these denominations was given in grains.
    Section 10 specified the devices that would appear: One side was to have an impression emblematic of Liberty, with the inscription "Liberty," and the year of the coinage; the reverse side of each of the gold and silver coins was to have the figure or representation of an eagle with the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; the reverse of the copper coins was to have an inscription expressing the denomination.
    Section 11 set the proportional value of gold to silver as 15 to one.
    Section 12 legislated the standard for all gold coins to be 11 parts pure gold to one part silver/copper alloy.
    Section 13 set the standard for all silver coins to be 1485 parts pure silver to 179 parts copper alloy.
    Section 16 enacted that the coins issued be made lawful tender in all payments.
    Section 20 specified that the money of account of the United States should be expressed in dollars.

    The Massachusetts Centinel was founded as a Federalist paper in Boston by Benjamin Russell in 1784. Russell was a Boston native (born 1761) and, before serving his time in the Revolutionary Army, was apprenticed to the legendary patriot and Massachusetts Spy publisher, Isaiah Thomas. In 1786, after the death of partner William Warden, Russell took over sole ownership of the paper, changing its name in 1790 to the Columbian Centinel. A journalistic pioneer, he instituted many original ideas at this paper including the "fast" publication of international news obtained directly from the ships as they docked in Boston Harbor and the publication of editorials as open, undisguised opinions of the editor. Russell is also respected for the fact that he offered at the first U.S. Congress to publish, at no charge, the laws and official documents of the new government. The Treasury was almost empty, so the offerwas accepted. Years later, when times were better, George Washington said: "... When Mr. Russell offered to publish the laws without pay, we were poor. It was a generous offer. We are now able to pay our debts. This is a debt of honor, and must be discharged." A check for $7,000 was sent to Benjamin Russell in payment for unselfish service to his country. Russell, who later coined the term "era of good feelings" describing the term of President James Monroe, continued his association with the Centinel until his retirement in 1828. He served in the General Court and the state Senate for many years and died in 1845 in his beloved hometown of Boston.

    This particular issue of the Columbian Centinel consists of four pages (as typical), the first of which is totally taken up with the Coinage Act, ending on page two with a script signature in type "G Washington." The condition is Very Fine, with only a few tiny, insignificant holes on the front page affecting just a few letters of text. The top margin is closely trimmed. The issue is printed on handmade paper that is quite bright for the period. It is 11" x 16.75" in size and has been unbound from a volume with the spine separated. The text is clear and dark and contrast is excellent. The decorative woodcut device in the bold nameplate (masthead) makes it particularly suited for display. The newspaper also includes editorial content; news from America, England, and Europe; legal notices; and advertisements, some of which contain quaint woodcuts of homes or ships.

    This is one of only a handful of copies of this important newspaper issue still extant. The importance of the Act printed on its front page cannot be overstated to all who consider themselves numismatists. Factor in the collectors of early journalism, historians, researchers, and institutions that wish to own this rarity, we feel the biddingwill be fierce. Don't let the opportunity pass by. This may be the last chance to own this important piece of the history of American coinage.
    From The Troy Wiseman Collection.(Registry values: P9) (NGC ID# D93T, PCGS# 11020)


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

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    Auction Dates
    September, 2006
    13th-16th Wednesday-Saturday
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    Numismatic Background and Census of 1802 Half Dimes: A Classic American Rarity
    This 64-page book cites mintage and rarity estimates by prominent numismatists and documents the currently known 1802 half dime appearances. Each of the 32 documented examples includes an enlarged obverse/reverse photograph, the author's assigned grade, the provenance of each coin, auction prices realized or dealer fixed asking price, and a unique serial number for each specimen that will facilitate retrieval for research, cataloging, or price-information purposes. Reserve your copy of this remarkable volume for just $29.95 today.
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