Despite the fact that it has been traditionally listed in pattern references, it is believed that the 1792 Half Disme is the first regular issue coin struck according to the Mint act of 1792. However, there is some dispute regarding this statement, and some numismatic researchers still consider the 1792 Half Dismes to have been patterns for a later coinage. There are some facts that do not appear to fit in this context and they were made by George Washington himself. There have also been stories, perhaps correctly classified as numismatic folklore, that go along with the 1792 Half Dismes.
First of all, for a pattern issue there was a relatively high mintage, believed to have been around 1500 to 2000 pieces in total. While one of the most famous pattern issues (the 1856 Flying Eagle cent) is sometimes incorrectly classified as a regular issue due to its high mintage, the late 18th century was a different time, and interests were different as well. Many of the 1856 Flying Eagle cents that are known to exist are believed to have been restrikes while no restrikes are believed to have been made of the 1792 Half Dismes.
Another point that can be made in favor of the “circulation-issue” stand point is that a relative high number of survivors (approximately 10% of the mintage) is found in lower grades such as Good or Fine. If they were only given out as presentation pieces (as some have suggested) it seems unlikely that such an extraordinary amount of coins ended up in circulation. A few would have been possible, but not on such a large scale, and perhaps we would have known even more survivors if they had not been meant for circulation. The other 1792 issues (all considered patterns) are known in various grades, but were struck in extremely limited quantities, and almost certainly were not meant for circulation. The most conclusive fact, however, is a comment made by President George Washington in an address to congress of late (November) 1792:
“There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of a small coin in circulation calling the first attention to them.”
There are also two stories that have commonly been linked to the 1792 Half Dismes, although neither of the two appears to be correct, as per modern research. First of all, it is said that the silver that was used to strike the 1792 Half Dismes was personally provided by George Washington, who, according to the story supplied part of his own tableware to have a supply of silver to start the coinage in the basement of a Philadelphia saw maker. Modern research has revealed that this story very likely is incorrect, and that the U.S. Government supplied the silver, in the form of bullion. Secondly, it is also said that the inspiration for Lady Liberty on the obverse of the coin came from Washington’s wife, Martha Washington. When comparing the few contemporary images that are known of her with the design of the 1792 Half Disme this also appears incorrect, as the images do not share any similarities.