Early Silver Half Dimes

Posted by on January 10, 2012

Coin Weight (g) Composition Silver Melt Value Full Melt Value
First (1792) 1.35 89% silver, 10% copper
Draped (1796, 1797, 1800-1803, 1805) 1.35 89% silver, 10% copper
1792 Half Disme

1792 Half Disme

Before the Nickel was called a nickel (being made of nickel)there were these Early Silver Half Dimes.  “Dime” is the English for Disme which is related to the decimal system conceived by Simon Stevin van Brugghe (1548-1620) as a system to reconcile the Spanish and English monetary system.  The 1585 pamphlet was translated into French in 1608 by Robert Norton under the title “La Disme” (the art of tens).  Wanting the United States of America to stand apart from England; Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton made strong arguments to Congress to adopt the decimal system for the young nation’s currency.

On July, 1785 the Congress decided on the dollar as the monetary unit and with the ratification of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787 reserved the right to coin money and see to its regulation to the Congress of the United States.  The Mint Act passed on April 2, 1792 “…that the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths…”  On July 9, 1792 President Washington authorized the first coin, the half dismes and on July 13, 1792 Thomas Jefferson, being Secretary of State recorded the receiving of 1,500 half dismes.

These half dismes are considered by many to be the first coins minted by the United States although there are some that disagree.  The obverse has a Liberty head facing left (some speculate the First Lady Martha Washington was the model), “1792” is directly underneath and “LIB. PAR. OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY.” encircles the coin.  The reverse has a flying eagle with “HALF DIMSE *” layered underneath and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” encircling the top portion of these Early Silver Half Dimes.

1794 Flowing hair half dime

1794 Flowing hair half dime

The United States’ Mint was still under construction and the coins designed by William Russell Birch, were probably struck in the cellar of John Harper, a saw maker, where the coining machinery was being stored.  There may have been as many as 3,500 struck, but only 300 to 400 are estimated to have survived.

The Philadelphia Mint was completed in 1793 and started striking In 1794 (7,765) and 1795 (78,660) Robert Scot’s, the Chief Engraver, design ‘Flowing Hair’ half dime was used.  On the Obverse Liberty (with flowing hair) head is facing right with “LIBERTY” encircling the top and fifteen stars (two states had joined the original thirteen) split on the left and right, with the date on the bottom.

The reverse has a ‘small’ eagle with wings spread on a cloud surrounded by a wreath and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” encircling (there is no denomination indicated on these).  It has a reeded edge and weighs 1.35 grams, is 16.5mm in diameter and composed of 89.24% silver and 10.76% copper.

1796 Draped bust half dime small eagle

1796 Draped bust half dime small eagle

In 1796 these Early Silver Half Dimes design were changed slightly, adapting a sketch of Liberty by Gilbert Stuart with Liberty having a bow around her head and a ‘Draped Bust’ on the obverse, and in the middle of the 1797 striking a state had been added to the United States and so a sixteenth star was added to some of the 1797 mintage.  On the reverse the eagle, cloud, and wreath were slightly modified.  Still having no denomination, 54,757 were minted total.

Early Silver Half Dimes weren’t minted for a couple of years and in 1800 the minting began again. The obverse remaining the same, thirteen stars was decided on instead of adding for each state.  The reverse was changed to a ‘Heraldic Eagle’ with the ‘National Shield’ clutching arrows in the left talon and an olive branch in the right, with a ribbon in its beak inscribed “E PLUBERUS UNIM” and thirteen stars above the eagle and  “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” encircling.  These were struck 1800 to 1803 and again in 1805.  These mintages never exceeded 40,000 and still no denomination indicated.

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