1792 Half Disme, MS64
1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4, MS64 PCGS. Ex:
Liberty Collection. The 1792 half disme was the first circulating
American coin struck under authority of the Congressional Act of
April 2, 1792, establishing the U.S. Mint. Although a small number
of Mint State pieces survive, such as the present specimen, the
typical 1792 half disme that is known today shows considerable
signs of wear, consistent with use in commerce.
A Fully Lustrous Survivor
Nearly everything that we know about this issue was told in a terse, single-sheet memorandum dated April 9, 1844, recounting a conversation between John A. McAllister, Jr., and Adam Eckfeldt, the former a respected member of Philadelphia society, the latter a well-known figure at the Mint in the 1790s, who continued working at that establishment throughout the entire course of operation at the first Mint building and for several years at the second Mint, until his retirement in 1839. The memorandum reads:
"Description of Half Dismes coined in 1792
"On one side = a Head = 1792 = Lib. Par. Of Science and Industry
"On the other side = an Eagle Flying = Half Disme = United States of America
"In conversation with Mr. Adam Eckfeldt (Apr 9, 1844) at the Mint, he informed me that the Half Dismes above described, were struck, expressly for Gen. Washington, to the extent of One Hundred Dollars, which sum he deposited in Bullion or Coin, for the purpose. Mr. E. thinks 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 ever coined. They were never designed as Currency. The Mint was not, at the time, fully ready for being put into operation. The Coining Machinery was in the cellar of Mr. Harper, saw maker, at the corner of Cherry and 6th Sts, at which place these pieces were struck.
"John McAllister, Jr.
History of the 1792 Half Disme
In "The Fabled 1792 Half Dismes," an article American Journal of Numismatics, second series, published by The American Numismatic Society in 2004, authors Joel J. Orosz and Carl R. Herkowitz examined the memorandum, which had been quoted on many previous occasions, in conjunction with additional sources, and concluded that the half dismes were struck from silver bullion or recycled silver coins, their high rate of survival being consistent with presentation. Thomas Jefferson, at the time the Secretary of State and the man in charge of Mint operations, personally handled the bullion deposited by Washington and oversaw production of 1,500 coins, recording the transaction in his personal account book.
The entire history of these coins is based on the recollections of Adam Eckfeldt and the accuracy of those recollections as recorded by John A. McAllister, Jr. Orosz and Herkowitz write: "Ultimately, the entire question turns on the integrity of Adam Eckfeldt and the accuracy of John A. McAllister, Jr."
John A. McAllister, Jr.
If so much history of this coin is based on a conversation recorded more than a century and a half ago, how can we know today that the history is reliable? Who was John A. McAllister, Jr., and why should we believe him? McAllister was born in Philadelphia in June 1786 and died there on December 17, 1877. In their 2004 biographical study, Orosz and Herkowitz gave his birth date as June 19, 1786, while his obituary states June 27, 1786. His obituary appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer the day after his death and tells of his integrity and his serious interest in local affairs over a great many years:
"John McAllister, Jr., one of Philadelphia's oldest and most respected citizens, died yesterday at his residence, on Merrick street, above Market, in the ninety-second year of his age. Some two or three years ago he was attacked with partial paralysis, and it was at that time feared that he could not recover, but, with the exception of a loss of eyesight and the general weakness incident to such extreme age, he has enjoyed fair health since until within a few weeks. Mr. McAllister was the oldest living graduate of the University of Pennsylvania at the time of his death, and was among the last survivors of that class of men who, by their business enterprise, purity of life and public usefulness, made themselves conspicuous in the Philadelphia of more than half a century ago.
"Mr. John McAllister, Jr., was educated in Philadelphia, and graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1803. He had been for many years the oldest alumnus of that institution. He took great interest in historical studies, and particularly in local antiquities. He was well known to persons having antiquarian tastes for his accurate and extensive knowledge of Philadelphia history as regarded events, men, changes in business, buildings, and, in fact, in anything relating to the past history of our city, even in the most remote degree.
"He had a very extensive library--literary, historical and miscellaneous, and the largest collection of books, newspapers, pamphlets and publications relating to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania of any person in the State. With these advantages, Mr. McAllister held his knowledge at the service of every one interested. He was applied to constantly for information on all local topics, and was always patient, attentive, obliging and anxious to comply with such requests.
"Thus, full of years and of honors, has passed away one of Philadelphia's most useful citizens, one who, during his long life, made hosts of friends, and but few enemies; preserved through all the changing years of nearly three quarters of a century an unblemished reputation for honor and integrity, and so treated all with whom he came in contact that to them his memory is now a great heritage."
The Present Specimen
Among the finer surviving 1792 half dismes, this Choice Mint State specimen exhibits lovely cerulean-blue toning on both sides with hints of golden-magenta over frosty mint surfaces showing brilliant underlying luster. The central devices carry satin luster and hold a cameolike appearance on the frosted background. The obverse die appears perfect, while the reverse shows light die cracks and flowlines on the lustrous surfaces. The sharp impression is nicely centered on the planchet, and there is no evidence of handling marks nor blemishes of any kind. Population: 6 in 64, 4 finer (12/12).
From The Liberty Collection.(Registry values: P9) (NGC ID# 946T, PCGS# 11020)
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