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[ Coins ] [ Early Half Dimes ] 1792 H10C Half Disme
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[ Coins ] [ Early Half Dimes ] 1792 H10C Half Disme, Judd-7, Pollock- 7, R.4, MS63 NGC. In July of 1792 high-ranking members of the United States government began to leave Philadelphia and its stifling summer heat. On July 11, President George Washington left the temporary capital at Philadelphia and began the journey to Mount Vernon, his estate on the Potomac River. Two days later, Thomas Jefferson left Philadelphia for Monticello. During that spring the two men were instrumental in the production of the first documented coins of the United States Mint: Washington as depositor of the metal, and Jefferson through his post as Secretary of State, the department that was eventually charged with Mint oversight. The day before the president's departure Jefferson noted in his personal memoranda book that he delivered ?75D? to the Mint to be coined. Two days later, in the notation directly preceding his own departure for Virginia, Jefferson took delivery of ?1,500 half dismes of the new coinage.? Perhaps the small bag of coins was presented to the president on October 1, 1792 when Jefferson stopped at Mount Vernon on his return trip to Philadelphia. "The Washington pedigree of these small coins has been the subject of a significant amount of numismatic debate, much of it of the ?George Washington slept here? variety. In a 2004 article in the American Journal of Numismatics authors Joel J. Orosz and Carl R. Herkowitz established a chronological framework for this issue. Most importantly, they confirm the main points of the 1844- dated John McAllister memoranda on the subject, the source of the Washington pedigree. "On April 5, 1844 John McAllister--prominent Philadelphia businessman, numismatist and antiquarian--strode past the visitor logbook at the United States Mint in Philadelphia. He was accompanied by Adam Eckfeldt, and neither signed the book. Eckfeldt had first been hired as a Mint employee in 1792 and retired as its Chief Coiner in 1839. Five years after his retirement Eckfeldt still came to work each day and the Mint provided him an office from which to volunteer. McAllister and Eckfeldt sat in that office, and discussed history: "In conversation with Mr. Adam Eckfeldt (Apr 5, 1844) at the mint, he informed me that the Half Dismes... were struck, expressly for Gen. Washington, to the extent of $100, which sum he deposited in Bullion or Coin, for the purpose...No more of them were ever coined. "McAllister's account went through two drafts according to a June 1996 The Numismatist article by Herkowitz, and recent scholarship demonstrates that the memorandum holds up to historical scrutiny. Eckfeldt's claim that Washington deposited $100, and Jefferson's claim that he delivered ?75D? to the mint, is within reason given the amount of silver that might have reasonably been left over in making planchets. Close scrutiny of the major points of Eckfeldt's testimony in McAllister's memorandum show that the main goal was accuracy, not hype. "On April 2, 1792 Congress passed the Mint Act establishing the protocols and specifications for the new currency. Washington and Jefferson wasted little time in getting operations started. Washington persuaded David Rittenhouse--the noted 18th intellectual, astronomer, and instrument maker--to accept the Mint directorship by the end April. Though Rittenhouse was initially reluctant to take the job, he quickly applied his curious and scientific mind to the task at hand. By July he purchased a city lot and workmen began to busily lay bricks and hew beams. He found the necessary machinery and had it installed in the coach house and cellar of the saw maker John Harper, a man who also dabbled in private minting. Finally, Rittenhouse hired Henry Voigt, a Philadelphia clock maker, to act as Chief Coiner. All the Mint needed was bullion. "The Mint Act made provision for deposit and coining of precious metal, but in 1792 only one person was forthcoming. According to the research of Orosz and Herkowitz, at some time during the final days of spring 1792 $100 in ?Bullion or Coin? arrived at the temporary Mint in the Cellar of Cherry and 6th Street. It belonged to His Excellency, George Washington. "Orosz and Herkowitz suggest that the silver came in the form of various circulating foreign silver coins. They cite specific gravity tests of two coins that gave an average fineness of .815, and go on to note that: ?There were... a number of foreign coins in circulation in the new republic during the early 1790s which, if presented in a miscellaneous lot, could average out to approximately . 815 fine.? Popular legend has long held that various Washington silver objects--one mid-19th century account suggests Martha Washington's table knives--were melted to provide silver for the half dismes. A bag of worn silver coins is certainly less romantic than Washington's own tableware. And it can easily be contended that the correct mixture of non-sterling silverware, the most common type, could also produce a fineness of .815. Remember that McAllister, a credible reporter, cites Eckfeldt, a credible witness, as to the deposit of ?Bullion or Coin.? If there was doubt, McAllister could have used the catchall ?bullion.? The Oxford English Dictionary lists three numismatic uses of the word ?coin? that all have to do with stamped metal disks of an established value; bullion has five numismatic meanings, and these refer to a wide range of metallic forms. "Like other 18th century Virginians, George Washington's wealth was in the land, and his income was derived from the products of that land. He sold many of his products in foreign markets. Rather than take the income in cash, Washington, like his contemporaries, used the bank balances to buy English, French, and other European products that satisfied the high tastes of a Virginia country squire. The vast majority of silver at Mount Vernon was in decorative, not coin form. Lest the reader be concerned, Martha was not eating off of wooden bowls so George could have his new coins. As 18th century silversmith ledgers attest, unused, unwanted, or out-of- style pieces were often reworked. And it is certainly possible that a portion of the silver in the 1792 half dismes came from such pieces. One thing is certain: given that the statutory requirement for silver coins was .8924 fine, the 1792 Mint's ability to assay was not very good. "One man could easily have carried the silver--a little under six pounds--the short distance from the president's residence on High Street to the Harper Cellar at Cherry and 6th. Orosz and Herkowitz estimate that $75 of the silver was processed into blanks, leaving $25 as scissel. (Scissel is the metal left over after planchets are cut from a sheet). But Rittenhouse and Voigt had no authority to mint coins. Voigt had yet to post his $10,000 bond and Rittenhouse would not sign his oath of office until July 1. And yet it appears that they had 1,500 planchets that were(#11020) (Registry values: P9)
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