1792 half disme
The 1792 half disme (pronounced dime) was an American silver coin with a face value of five cents. Although it is subject to debate as to whether this was intended to be circulating coinage or instead an experimental issue, President George Washington referred to it as "a small beginning" and many of the coins eventually were released into circulation. It is widely (although not universally) considered the first United States coinage struck under authority of the Mint Act of April 1792.
Pronunciation: There have been many disputes as to the proper pronunciation of Disme. It is believed to have been derived from the from the French/Flemish word "dixième." Leading some to believe the original pronunciation was diz-me and then became deem over time. However, a poem in the New York Herald (January 1, 1803) appears to provide the answer:
The Tax direct which you Denounce,
By Northern States paid every ounce,
When lords of proud Virginia’s clime,
Refus’d to pay a single disme,
Stands a rich item to our credit,
While Democrats assume the merit.
When speaking to the House of Representatives in November 1792, President Washington mentioned the "want of small coins in circulation" and stated that he had begun work on establishing a U.S. Mint and that some half dismes had been produced already. At this point, most of the personnel had been hired, but the Mint's buildings and machinery were not yet ready. As a result, the half dismes, which had been struck in or around July 1792, were produced using the private facilities of local craftsman John Harper, although under the auspices of official Mint personnel. In his personal log book, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson recorded the receipt of 1,500 specimens on July 13.
Because of President Washington's connection with these early coins, numismatic folklore holds that the portrait on the obverse is that of First Lady Martha Washington and that some of the coins were struck using melted-down silverware from the Washington household. However, there is no solid evidence for either of these assertions.
Production, rarity, and value
Although the exact number is not known, it is believed that between 2,000 and 3,500 specimens were produced. Approximately 10% of these survive today; one expert estimated between 250 and 400 half dismes exist, and most appear to have been used in circulation for some time. An almost uncirculated (AU55 on the Sheldon coin grading scale) 1792 half disme was auctioned for $138,000 on July 24, 2004. A specimen strike from the Starr collection, graded MS67 by PCGS sold for $1,322,500 on April 26, 2006. The highest numerically graded piece, an NGC MS68, sold for $1,500,000 by private treaty transaction in 2007.
- "1792 Half Disme (Dime)".
- "Half Dimes". Retrieved 31 May 2011.
- "1792 Half Disme SP67 PCGS, sold for $1,322,500". 2006-04-26. Archived from the original on 5 September 2006. Retrieved 21 August 2006.
- Garrett, J. and Guth, R. (2003). 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Atlanta, GA: H.E. Harris & Co. p. 35. ISBN 0-7948-1665-7.
- "1792 half disme. Judd-7, Pollock-7. Rarity-4". Stack's: Rare Coins for Sale: Numismatic Auctions. Stack's, LLC. 2004. Archived from the original on 14 March 2007. Retrieved 22 April 2007. "The legend part of the story has it that George Washington personally donated tableware to be melted for the silver, and in return received these pieces to give as gifts to VIPs. Another bit of folklore is that the image is of Martha Washington, which does not square at all with reality (for example, a contemporary portrait of Martha Washington, an image of which is in our research file, looks nothing at all like the portrait on the half disme)."
- "American Numismatic Rarities, the Oliver Jung Collection, July 24, 2004". 2004-07-24. Retrieved 21 August 2006.
- "Finest Known 1792 Half Disme To Be Displayed".