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Long Beard's Blog

02 Apr 2021

Happy Birthday!

National Coin Week | Long Beard

As collectors, specifically those of United States coinage, the date April 2 should be highly remembered. As much so as July Fourth. Regrettably it is not, even to the author until research for a blog topic shined light on this all important day. As mentioned in the previous weekly blog, a theme had been contemplated in which the date of the topic's posting related to a historical event of the same. So in avoiding any further curiosity as to the title, today is the birthday of The United States Mint. Or at least the passage of legislation for it's creation. As such, this would be the author's submission for National Coin Week and the Money, Big and Bold theme. Enjoy!





The creation and establishment of a national mint was not a new idea in 1792. From the on set of a conflict between the colonists and England, which resulted in a shortage of coin for commerce, the concept and reality became increasing apparent that for the people to succeed and prosper it must have a form of it's own coin and currency without reliance upon another. Understanding of this, on February 20, 1781, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia appointed Robert Morris as the Superintendent of Finance, the precursor to Treasury Secretary. Morris had few equals in the ways of finance. It was his idea of the decimal value used for coinage, whereby all denomination relate to one dollar, divisible in accordance. He also played a large role in creation of the Fugio cent and Nova Constellatio ( the first authorized by the Continental Congress), two important coins prior to a national mint. He was also responsible for much of the federal script, not only for commerce but for payment of an army at war with England for independence. Morris also established the first nationalized bank aimed at funding the government, The Bank of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. These are but several of his many accomplishments relevant in the years leading to the United States Mint.




By 1791 a place from which to coin it's own money had now been but a breath from reality. Although the First Congress, no longer Continental but United States, convened at Federal Hall in New York City, there were much more important matters at hand. Setting the rules and procedures for both houses, outlining the offices of elected officials and the oaths, setting revenue and duties of imports, and so forth. It is clear that coinage was an issue, only not yet a priority. Amatter which the following Congress, meeting for the second time in Philadelphia later in the year, obviously seemed urgent. Once more, Robert Morris, now a Senator from Pennsylvania and head of the Committee of Coinage, was tasked with drafting legislation for creation of a national mint. So certain that it would pass, Morris set out to meet with several engravers, one of whom was Peter Getz of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Getz produced roughly 30-40 silver and 100-150 copper nondenominational prototypes consistent in specifications to the half dollar, currently known as Getz Half Dollar Patterns of 1792. The obverse featured a bust of George Washington with the words "G. Washington. President.1." and the date 1792. The reverse, a modified design of the large and small Washington cents (designed by Birmingham engraver, John Gregory Hancock who failed to get his design passed by the First Congress) bore an eagle with olive branch and arrows in the talons, above a field of fifteen stars and legend "United States of America". Presumably struck in December of 1791, Morris began presenting these to members of Congress and to Washington, a long time friend.




The Session now stretched into 1792. There was obviously still much more to debate, propose and legislate besides coinage and a mint. Although members now had something physical in hand which they would use for legislative purposes as they finally arose, it was George Washington's opposition to his likeness, or any others for that matter, to appear on coinage. In his belief it portrayed a monarch, which goes without saying could not and should not be. Instead, he proposed something more emblematic of the people and a new nation. And so, under these recommendations and revision of Morris draft, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1792 on April 2. The legislation now set the denominations, their respective specifics as to design, composition and weight, the location of a mint.




On July 1, David Rittenhouse, appointed Director of the Mint, receiving permission and encouragement from George Washington on the 9th, set to work on coining much needed cents and small silver per his recommendations. Rittenhouse quickly found himself facing dilemmas in ways similar to those faced by Congress. To begin, there had been no mint from which to operate as the building chosen in Philadelphia was not yet ready. Second, there was not enough metal from which to strike coin in sufficient quantity to meet demand. To remedy the latter, or so in the short term, Washington himself provided one-hundred dollars in silver bullion of his own. The rumor is that some of it consisted of his silverware. With one matter resolved for the moment, the other would come from outside assistance. John Harper owned a small press adequate for producing coin in the cellar of his home at the corners of Sixth and Cherry not far from where the future mint was to be. Using dies presumably created by William Birch and hand stamped lettering punches by Jacob Bay, Adam Eckfeldt, appointed as Chief Engraver, began striking half-dismse under Rittehouse's orders since the small coins would yield the most pieces of limited silver. Approximately 1500-2000 were struck, a large portion of which were returned to Washington who presumably passed them out as presentation pieces. With only a few surviving in mint state grades, clearly all circulated.





By September, the Mint was ready to be occupied, production awaiting arrival of presses from England which came on the 21. Mint records indicate that the first coins to be struck at the new mint in Philadelphia were copper cents with a silver plug designed by Henry Voigt on December 17, 1792. Along with these, a few half dismes, quarter dollars and two Birch cent varieties were struck. The latter two of which are extremely rare, unique, as only two to three of each exist. For all intent and purposes, the 1792 Half-disme was the first coin struck by the United States Mint. So happy birthday, U.S. Mint!





References
nd.edu

The Library of Congress, (loc.gov)

Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution, author Charles Rappleye

The Newman Portal (nnp.wustl.edu)



Image courtesy of PCGS coin facts





Comments

Mal_ANA_YN

Level 4

Thanks for lots of great information. What a start to our money as a country.

Mokie

Level 6

Great Job LB, I learned a lot and I enjoyed the read.

TheNumisMaster

Level 5

Very well put my friend! Indeed, April 2 will be marked in my calendar for forever!

Longstrider

Level 6

Now this is a blog and a half. I learned a lot from you. Thanks.

Kepi

Level 6

Enjoyed your blog very much! Great history. I love that old coinage! ; )

Golfer

Level 5

1792 was an quite the year. Thanks for a great history and coin lesson.

They may not have made some pretty ladies, but the wreaths on these early coins are great.

CoinHunter

Level 5

Beautifully written blog! I enjoyed it very much, thanks! P.S. I had no idea today was the birthday of the U.S. Mint

Mike

Level 7

Another great blog. I can't help but learn from blogs some well like this. All the history we didn't know is here. Thank you for taking time to share this with us!

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