Background and History

The 1792 Half Disme (pronounced deem, which later evolved into the modern pronunciation of dime as we know it) has the honor of being the very first coin officially struck by the United States government. While coins had been struck on American soil since the mid 17th century, and continued to be struck after the British colonies declared independence in 1776, no coins had been officially been struck and released by the newly founded country. A small coinage of half dismes, along with various pattern denominations were struck in 1792, marked the beginning of coinage by the United States Mint.

However, in 1792, there was no Mint, and in fact, no building had been designated as a Mint at the time. This, and the first coinage of the young country, would come after the coinage act of 1792 had been authorized. This coinage act, the first which still has its influence over two centuries later, not only authorized coins ranging in value from half a cent to ten dollars, it also authorized the Mint to construct its first building. The cornerstone was laid in Philadelphia on July 31 of the same year, little over two months after President George Washington signed the law into effect.

The half disme denomination (being five cents) was the only denomination which would be struck in a reasonable number the year the Coinage act was signed into law. Other denominations, such as the disme (ten cents) were only produced in extremely limited numbers, and are considered to be patterns. Production of copper coinage, being half cents and cents, would not commence until the next year. The other silver denominations were not introduced until 1794 (including half dimes with a different design) while gold coins were first struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1795.

The design of the 1792 Half Disme is believed to have originated from the so-called Birch cent, one of the pattern issues of 1792. The name appears on a very limited of survivors of that issue, one of the very first patterns for a proposed coinage, although it is unknown who he was. According to the Judd reference on United States patterns, it could either be William Birch or Robert Birch, both citizens of Philadelphia at the time, although this is unconfirmed. The obverse featured a head of Liberty, as the Birch cents, while the reverse shows an eagle in flight (much different from later versions used on United States coinage). The most prominent lettering is on the obverse, being “LIB. PAR. OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY” (Liberty Parent of Science and Industry), which appears to have originated from Benjamin Franklin.