1792 Half Disme
Lot 1001
1792 Half Disme
US$ 40,000 - 45,000
£24,000 - 27,000
Auction Details
Coins and Medals New York
16 Dec 2011 10:00 EST

Auction 19430
Lot Details
1792 Half Disme
A noticeably cleaned but still impressive example of this tiny silver coin that is loaded with history, legend, and allure. Toned with varying unnatural shades of sunset-gold and russet intermingled on both sides and somewhat deeper over the reverse. The underlying surfaces feature a somewhat subdued appearance resulting from the stated cleaning. Perfectly centered on a nice, round, problem-free planchet, minus the adjustment marks that are sometimes seen on this issue. This is one of the few examples available on the market today and it should be seriously considered by any collector of early Americana.

The 1792 Half Disme is listed as Judd-7 in the Pattern Coins reference, however, the assumptions underlying this attribution may be incorrect. The 1792 Half Disme was a legal issue, authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, struck by government officials using machinery purchased specifically for the new Mint, they were struck in a quantity wholly inappropriate for a Pattern, and they were intended for circulation, not as a test for an intended coinage. The high ratio of known circulated to Uncirculated examples confirms all of the above.

President George Washington referred to the 1792 Half Dismes in his fourth annual address to Congress on November 6, 1792:
"There has been a small beginning in the coinage of Half Dismes; the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them."
The coins Washington referred to had been struck earlier in the year on July 13, 1792, Thomas Jefferson recorded in his personal household diary: "...rec'd from the mint 1500 half dimes of the new coinage." In 1844, Dr. Jonas McClintock related some hearsay evidence from Adam Eckfeldt, long-time employee of the Mint from its inception:

"In conversation with Mr. Adam Eckfeldt today at the Mint, he informed me that the Half Dismes above described were struck at the request of Gen. Washington to the extent of One Hundred Dollars which sum he deposited in Bullion or specie for the purpose - Mr. E. thinks that Gen. W. distributed them as presents - some were sent to Europe but the greater number of them, he believes, were given to acquaintances in Virginia. No more of them were coined except those for Gen. W. - they were never designed as Currency - the Mint was not at the time fully ready for going into operation - the coining Machinery was in the cellar of Mr. Harper's, saw maker at the Corner of Cherry and 6th Street, at which place these pieces were struck."

Thus, while not a Pattern issue, the 1792 Half Dismes were clearly quasi-official.

Regarding the mintage: if Eckfeldt's remembrance was correct, the total mintage of the 1792 Half Dismes is 2,000 (George Washington's $100 deposit divided by the $.05 face value of the Half Dismes). Certainly, Jefferson's diary entry sets a minimum mintage of 1,500 coins, but what happened to the additional 500 coins? It could be that no more than 1,500 were struck, or that 1,500 were given to Jefferson and the remaining pieces were given to Washington to give out as presents (as mentioned above). If Jefferson received the 1,500 coins, was Washington reimbursed for his deposit of silver ($100 was a large sum of money at a time when laborers received only $1 a day)?

Despite the unanswered questions and speculations concerning the 1792 Half Dismes, we have the coins themselves. Today they are among the most famous, historic, and desirable of all U.S. coins. We see and handle many great American rarities, but it is with pride and humility that we offer this remarkable coin to our bidding audience. (PCGS 11020) Good Very Fine, cleaned

Saleroom notices

  • This lot may have been plugged and repaired.
  1. Paul Song
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