Small numbers of half dimes were made in 1792, a tangible result of the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton to move the United States to a decimal coinage system. The 1792 coins are often collected as contract issues or patterns, though wear on the coins indicates that they did circulate. Robert Scot modified the design of the first half dime, using a Liberty portrait similar to the one appearing on 1794 copper half cents and cents but without the liberty cap and pole. The new design appears not only on the half dimes but also on half dollar and dollar silver coins, reflecting a Mint policy of the time that all silver coins share a common design. Because these early circulating coins were valued by weight no denomination appears on the coin, though HALF DISME appears on a unique copper pattern created by Scot. Commentators disagree on the pronunciation of the word DISME, some presenting a case that it should be “deem” while others believe the current phrasing more likely. Though today Flowing Hair coins are appreciated for their historic as well as artistic merit, criticism at the time of issue of the less than aristocratic appearance of Liberty apparently lead to a revised portrait in 1796. The eagle was also slightly modified but that basic design remained until replaced by the Heraldic Eagle design in 1800.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
On the obverse a youthful Liberty faces right, head held high and long hair flowing unfettered down the back of her neck. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top inside a dentilled rim, with the date centered at the bottom. Fifteen six-point stars split eight to the left, seven to the right along the rim between the top and bottom text. The reverse display UNITED STATES OF AMERICA along the edge of the coin inside a dentilled rim. Just inside the legend is an encircling pair of olive branches, crossed and tied at the bottom but slightly apart at the top. In the center a right-facing eagle with outstretched wings rests on a surface, perhaps a cloud or a rock. The left wing (viewers right) is in front of the olive branch wreath, the right behind it. No denomination or mintmark appears on the coins; all were minted in Philadelphia.
Just a few hundred Flowing Hair half dimes have been certified, the greater number dated 1795. Though not extremely expensive at grades of Good to Fine prices climb steadily above that, soaring as Mint State and finer. More attention is perhaps paid to the previous 1792 issue, but as a two-year series the Flowing Hair half dime is an eagerly sought representative of the relatively few 18th century federal coins available to collectors today.
Designer: Robert Scot
Circulation Mintage: high 78,660 (1795), low 7,765 (1794). Some references list a slightly different combined total for both dates of 86,416.
Proof Mintage: none known, though some high end pieces are graded as Specimen or Presentation pieces
Denomintion: $0.05 Five cents (05/100)
Diameter: ±16.5 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±1.35 grams
Varieties:About fifteen varieties are known showing minor variations in the placement and design of device elements, most represented by just a handful of listings in census/population reports, and are generally collected only by a few specialists.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Federal Half Dimes. Russell J. Logan, John W. McCloskey. John Reich Collectors Society.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.