Evolution Of A Denomination Series: Half Dime Part One

While there are still coins circulating today, the United States had its fair share of trial denominations way back when the country was established and the United States Mint was beginning its production. While considered a “trial” denomination, that does not mean those coins did not circulate for a fair amount of time before production would stop and the coins would become obsolete. One of those denominations was the half dime, or the half disme as it would start out as.

Half Disme (1792)

By 1792, the United States had become a country of fourteen states and the migration out West had begun. However, before the country would make these strides, the need for a functional system for United States coinage would grow to become all too important as they were using both Spanish and English monetary systems. This led to confusion for everyone involved. It was not until a Congressional resolution was passed on July 6, 1785, that the dollar was accepted as the monetary unit for the United States. Following resolutions would continue to be passed outlining weights, fineness and the decimal system for each denomination.

The adoption of the United States Constitution would help though in 1787 as it gave them the right to coin money and regulate the value. All of these resolutions and adoptions would pave the way for the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, when “the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths and that all accounts in the public offices and all proceedings in the courts of the United States shall be kept and had in conformity to this regulation.”

Things happened very quickly after the passing of the Mint Act of 1792, including hiring David Rittenhouse to be the Director of the United States Mint just 12 days later who would then appoint Henry Voight as Acting Chief Coiner on June 1st. By July 9, 1792, President George Washington authorized the production of half dismes and on July 13, Secretary of State, Thomas Jeffferson, recorded in his account book that he’d received 1,500 half dimes from the Mint.

The obverse of the half disme features the head of Liberty facing left with the date of 1792 directly below her. “LIB. PAR. OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY” can be seen inscribed around the outer rim of the coin encircling Liberty. The reverse features a flying eagle facing left. “HALF DISME” is featured in bold just below the eagle while “UNI. STATES OF AMERICA” can be seen around the rest of the outer rim of the design. A five pointed star is featured below.

While the entire mintage of the 1792 half dismes were given to Jefferson by Rittenhouse, he passed some on to others, including President Washington as he used them as presentation pieces for visiting dignitaries and important persons. No more of the half dismes were produced and it was estimated that a majority of the coins entered into circulation. The 1792 half dimes are actually considered pattern coins as they were not struck up fully. While the coins did not make it off the block so to speak, they marked the beginning of a very important era of United States coinage and overall historical context.

Flowing Hair (1794-1795)

After the major significance of the half dismes being struck, silver coinage became a symbol and clear act of a progressive United States. Next up on the docket was the Flowing Hair half dimes dated 1794-1795. Designed by the first official Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, Robert Scot, the design ended up being different from the half dismes and the spelling of the coins would eventually evolve into the dime.

The design features the head of Liberty facing right with long flowing hair. Fifteen stars surround the outer edge of the coin with the date below and the word “LIBERTY” inscribed above her. The reverse features an eagle surrounded by an olive branch. Inscribed around it is the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”.

All Flowing Hair half dimes were minted at Philadelphia with a total of 7,756 dated 1794 (actually struck in March of 1795) and 78,660 dated 1795.

Draped Bust, Small Eagle Reverse (1796-1797)

As the production of half dimes went into regular minting in 1795 with Robert Scot’s Flowing Hair design, he was heavily scrutinized for the “scrawny eagle” and Liberty’s “fright wig.” It did not take long for improvement of the design to take hold as Mint Director Henry DeSaussure would go outside the Mint walls to hire Gilbert Stuart, an artist he would have submit a new sketch of Liberty’s head for the coins.

Finally, in 1796, the coin would once again feature a new design on the obverse as the Draped Bust profile would have Liberty facing right with long, flowing hair and a ribbon securing the mane. “LIBERTY” can be seen inscribed above her head while the date is seen at the bottom. The fifteen stars are seen on either side of Liberty, eight on the left and seven on the right representing the fifteen states that were now a part of the United States (although the 1797 coin would only feature 13 stars after realizing they could not keep adding stars). The reverse features a small eagle perched on a cloud. “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” surrounds the wreath surrounding the eagle.

All coined at the Philadelphia Mint once again, there were 54,757 half dimes minted with the Small Eagle Reverse. No half dimes were produced in 1798 or 1799 but it would begin again with the same Draped Bust obverse and another new reverse featuring the heraldic eagle from the Great Seal of the United States.

Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Reverse (1800-1805)

While the new reverse by Robert Scot took effect in 1800 after a two-year production hiatus of the half dimes, the design was first used on the gold quarter eagle in 1796, half eagle in 1797, and on the dollars and dimes dated 1798. The reverse features a large eagle with wings outstretched and the Union Shield on his breast. He is also seen with thirteen arrows and an olive branch in his talons. His beak features a ribbon inscribed with “E PLURIBUS UNUM” with the thirteen stars above him in addition to clouds. “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” is featured around the top outer rim of the design.

From 1800-1805, a total of 124,270 half dimes were produced with the Heraldic Eagle reverse with no coins minted in 1804.