At the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the founding fathers considered a monetary system for the new nation. Unfortunately, the war had left the country deep in debt, making progress difficult. Ratification of the Constitution in 1789 gave the federal government the exclusive right to produce coinage and provided for the establishment of the United States Mint.
1792 was a busy year for American numismatics — Congress established the United States Mint in Philadelphia, approved a Mint Director, purchased a plot of land, erected a building, hired employees and began experimenting with coin designs. Operations began with the experimental issue of the disme and half disme. On July 13, 1792, the first coins were struck for distribution at the request of President George Washington in a basement close to the site for the new Mint. Legend has it they were struck from Martha Washington’s silverware, but recent research has shown that Thomas Jefferson provided the $75 of silver (in Spanish milled dollars) required to make 1500 half dismes. The coins were distributed by Jefferson to foreign dignitaries, members of the government and others —a numismatic announcement of the new American Republic.
New evidence suggests that there was a subsequent striking of several hundred more several months later. There are approximately 250 – 300 surviving examples. The ANA is fortunate to display two examples of this rare and historic coin, including the finest known example that once belonged to David Rittenhouse, first Director of the Mint.
The coins feature a bust of Liberty facing left with “1792” below the bust and the legend “LIB(erty) . PAR(ent) . OF . SCIENCE . & . INDUSTRY .” around. This obverse legend is attributed to Benjamin Franklin and suggests the connection between liberty, knowledge and hard work. The reverse has an eagle with outstretched wings with “HALF / DISME” and a five-pointed star below and the legend “UNI(ted) . STATES OF AMERICA” around.
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