This issue carries one of the greatest histories of any coin from the Mint of the United States. It is now accepted to be the first coinage issue from the United States. A meager 1,500 pieces were struck from 75 Spanish silver dollars deposited by Thomas Jefferson on July 11, 1792. From Jefferson's own notebook he wrote: "Delivd. 75 D at the mint to be coined". Two days later, on July 13, he wrote: "Recd. From the mint 1500 half-dimes of the new coinage." Following this transaction Jefferson left Philadelphia for Monticello. On this journey, Jefferson made many purchases that were denominated in half dimes. Prior to this journey, his transactions were noted in odd amounts, typically pounds, shillings and pence.
In 1792 the smallest silver coin that would have typically been seen was the half-real, or 1/16 of a dollar. Imagine this well-known traveler stopping at your boardinghouse and paying you with these small 1/20 dollar coins. Your initial pleasure of having the current Secretary of State and author of the Declaration of Independence sixteen years earlier gracing your home is now filled with surprise as he pays you with these new coins that say, for the first time "United States of America." They are smaller than the competing half-real and are of a decimal fraction of a dollar. This is the first decimal coinage used in the New World. Only the Russian Kopeck/Rouble decimal system came earlier in all the world.
Until recently, this was considered a pattern coinage – Judd-7. No longer. The pattern designation was bestowed due to a comment made by Adam Eckfeld some 40 years after their issuance. As these were struck in quantity and distributed as currency, there is no academic reason to call the 1792 half-dime a pattern coinage. The Mint Act of 1792 was passed by Congress on April 2, 1792. David Rittenhouse was nominated by President Washington to the post of Mint Director the following day. By July the conversion of a former distillery on 27-29 North Seventh street in Philadelphia into a workable mint was sufficiently advanced that a small coinage could be produced. Jefferson's notebook specifically notes that he deposited the silver and received the coins from the mint, not a temporary makeshift coining room in a basement.
President Washington, in his 1792 State of the Union address, given on November 6, 1792, he told of the new coinage:
"In execution of the authority given by the Legislature measures have been taken for engaging some artists from abroad to aid in the establishment of our mint. Others have been employed at home. Provision has been made of the requisite buildings, and these are now putting into proper condition for the purposes of the establishment. There has also been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes, the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them."
About 400 examples survive, mostly in low grade. Slightly over 100 examples are certified by PCGS and NGC. A few spectacular examples survive, these being gifts to the President, Director of the Mint and other dignitaries who showed interest. The examples that were spent circulated extensively. As many as 90% of the surviving issue are struck on planchets that have roller marks. These lines, which look like adjustment marks, are from the crude rolling out of the silver bars. The present example is one of the few examples missing these marks. This issue is also normally found with one die off-center. The present example is an exception as well.
The present example ranks as the 20th finest known example. The present piece is a beautiful wholesome example which shows only light circulation wear. A light violet tone enhances the surfaces. A few light hairlines are present. A few light scratches are visible - from the A in HALF to N in UNITED and from the eagle's tail to the I in AMERICA. A few old stains are also visible. Altogether an attractive example for the grade. The last appearance was in Kagin's 3/17:1143 where it garnered $138,000. Earlier it was in Superior 2/06:21 where it realized $126,500.