Half Dimes and Five Cents

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An Overview of Half Dimes

The First U.S. Silver Coin

The first coin in this series, the 1792 half disme (later the 's" was dropped), was most certainly made as a circulating issue. Harold P. Newlin, in his limited-edition monograph (just 100 copies were printed) A Classification of the Early Half Dimes of the United States, published in 1883, singled out two favorite issues for detailed treatment. The first was the 1792 half disme, and the second was the 1802 half dime. Concerning the 1792 issue Newlin wrote this:

"It is, I believe, generally conceded by numismatists, that the first regular coinage of the United States Mint was in 1793 -consisting of the copper cent and half cent.

This belief would seem to exclude the 1792 half dime, known as the Martha Washington half disme, from the regular series, and for the reason that it is considered a pattern piece, not intended for general circulation and struck before the regular series commenced. Without desiring to place myself in direct opposition to this accepted opinion, I would simply say that having studied the history of the half dime with some degree of care, I can find in it nothing to indicate that it was intended simply for a trial piece.

Washington, in his annual address, November 6, 1792, having said inter alia, 'there has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them,' and it would certainly seem reasonable to accept the words of this gentleman, whose general reputation for veracity is, I believe, conceded to be good, and consider the 1792 half dime the small beginning in the said series. Mr. Snowden, in his book [Description of the Coins in the Cabinet of the United States Mint] expresses his opinion thus: 'We consider that the piece was intended for general circulation."

It is believed that the 1792 half dimes were struck in the cellar of one John Harper, a saw maker, who was located at 6th and Cherry streets, Philadelphia.

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An Overview of Five Cents

Introduction and Commentary

On June 30, 1865, James Pollock, director of the Mint, proposed that a coin made of nickel alloy in the denomination of five cents would be a good substitute for the five-cent fractional currency notes then in circulation. Although half dimes were being produced, they, like other silver denominations, did not circulate. In the same year a number of patterns for the new coin were made.

After early July 1862, silver coins were withdrawn from circulation, and the Treasury no longer paid them out. The public, not knowing whether the Confederacy would win the Civil War or if the Union would be the victor, hoarded hard money of all kinds, from Indian cents upward to $20 pieces. The Treasury Department continued to produce gold and silver coins, but did not pay them out in commercial transactions until the 1870s.

On May 16, 1866 the nickel five-cent piece was officially adopted. Composition was specified as 75% copper and 25% nickel. It was hoped that the coin would circulate widely. In contrast to what happened to the contemporary two-cent and nickel three-cent pieces, the nickel five-cent pieces, commonly called nickels, proved to be popular. The denomination is still in use today.

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