Historic and Desirable 1792 Half Disme in Mint State1792 H10C Judd-7, Pollock-7, R.4, MS63 NGC. One of the most historical and important coins from the early Philadelphia period ever struck, obtaining a 1792 half disme ranks as a crowning achievement for the numismatist. This particular coin is toned a deep blue-gray with lighter gold luster around the periphery. The strike is satisfying for the issue, with strong definition on Liberty's tiny curls and on the eagle's feathers. As always seen, the central curls over and below Liberty's ear are flat, and the eagle's breast lacks complete feather definition. These tiny planchets didn't have enough silver to fill out the engraving in the dies, especially given the marginal coining equipment used. Well centered on the obverse but a hair off center on the reverse with the dentils weak on the lower right side, with the dentils and rim broad and thick above. No adjustment marks are present, and the surfaces are very pleasing for the grade. We note that both the obverse and reverse show traces of die rust, with an area of roughness located above and behind Liberty's head, the reverse die shows rust both below and above the eagle to the rim. Perhaps the dies were simply not polished up properly after engraving, or were left without a coating of grease for a few days during coining. No doubt the humid and hot Philadelphia spring or summer had a lot to do with the rusty condition of the dies. By any measure or standard, obtaining a mint state example of this issue is quite a challenge for even the most advanced numismatist. The combined NGC and PCGS Population Reports show a mere 24 pieces in various mint state grades for this issue. In fact, between both major services just under 100 of these have been certified in all grades, confirming the rarity of this important issue.
The historical events leading up this coinage have been researched by Joel J. Orosz and Carl R. Herkowitz and their findings were published in the American Journal of Numismatics in 2004. Their research confirmed the recorded observations of 1844 dated John McAllister memoranda on the coinage of the 1792 half dismes, and confirmed the George Washington pedigree. Adam Eckfeldt had been hired as a Mint employee in 1792 and retired as Chief Coiner in 1839. Eckfeldt still came to the Mint after his retirement and maintained on office there. On April 5, 1844 a Philadelphia businessman named John McAllister came to the Mint to discuss history. McAllister recorded his conversation with Eckfeldt that day in his journal. Eckfeldt stated the Half Dismes were struck expressly for General Washington, to the extent of $100, which sum he deposited in Bullion or Coin for that purpose. No more were ever coined.
Jefferson had noted in his journal that he had delivered "75D" in silver on July 10, 1792 to be coined. Two days later, Jefferson picked up the coins which had been struck and left the city of Philadelphia for Monticello. As the summer heat eased Jefferson headed back to Philadelphia, stopping by Mount Vernon to deliver these Half Dismes to Washington on October 1, 1792. The figures of $100 in silver or "75D" match close enough when considering that leftover material could have been returned to Washington after the planchets were drawn and cut from the silver provided. Exactly what silver Washington used is not known, but we do know that these Half Dismes have a reported fineness of .815 based on specific gravity tests run on two different examples. Tradition has held that Washington gathered his silverware to be used for this purpose, which is possible as the remaining silverware in Mount Vernon is Sheffield silver plate. It may have been various silver candle sticks and perhaps foreign coins then in Washington's possession as well, although the tradition of Washington sacrificing his own tableware for this important beginning certainly is more romantic.
For the new nation of America to strike its own silver coins was quite important. Coinage of silver was for centuries was a royal prerogative and understood to be an expression national sovereignty (Breen's Encyclopedia). To have silver coins struck in Philadelphia by Mint employees spoke volumes about the new America and began to break the current habit of ordering copper coins from a Birmingham token factory. America had taken control of its political destiny, and was now coining its own money, something that showed the world that this new independent nation was quite serious about its success.
The Mint Act of April 2, 1972 established to process and specifications for the new currency. Both Washington and Jefferson acted immediately to bring the Mint into operation. Washington convinced David Rittenhouse, the foremost American scientist and intellectual from Philadelphia to accept the Mint Directorship. Rittenhouse considered his options and reluctantly agreed to begin the task on April 14, later accepting the Mint Directorship in a letter to Washington dated July 9. Rittenhouse began the task of finding the machinery and the people necessary to operate a coining facility. In July a lot was purchased on the east side of North Seventh St. ( Nos. 37 and 39), with a contiguous lot at 631 Filbert Street. The existing buildings had been used as a distillery and another was a tenement house. A new building would be erected and considerable alterations would be required to house the proposed minting equipment. Rittenhouse was then sixty years old and in failing health. The new Mint site was purchased on July 18 and work began the following day. The old still house was taken down, and on July 31, Rittenhouse laid the foundation stone for the new Mint. To celebrate this event, Rittenhouse sold off some of the remaining old distillery junk for a dollar, and purchased punch for the workmen. By August 25, the foundation and walls had been completed, and the superstructure was raised. On September 7th the installation of the furnace and bellows began.
While all the preparations for the Mint were being pursued, Jefferson and Washington were eager to begin silver coinage. The dies for the 1792 Half Disme are thought to have been engraved by Robert Birch, who also engraved the 1792 Birch Cent dies, and these are both similar in design. Tradition states that the obverse of both coins depict Martha Washington, which was copied from a painting by John Trumbull. Rittenhouse obtained the necessary coining equipment and temporarily assembled it in the cellar of John Harper, a Philadelphia man who also dabbled in private minting. Henry Voigt was engaged as the Chief Coiner. With Washington's bullion, the coinage of Half Dismes began. The number coined is not known, but it certainly was a "small beginning" as referred to in Washington's annual address to Congress on November 6, 1792. Washington choose the Half Disme denomination as the fledgling economy needed small change. It is thought that Washington passed out these Half Dismes to dignitaries and members of Congress, and many soon found their way into circulation. The early days at the Mint presented many challenges, and this 1792 Half Disme represents one of the great triumphs of our new nation, and helped to establish America as a sovereign nation in the eyes of the world.(Registry values: P9) (NGC ID# 946T, PCGS# 11020)
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