An extraordinarily rare 1792 half dime that was ordered by U.S. Founding Father George Washington and minted from the silverware belonging to First Lady, Martha, was sold at auction last Thursday for $1.41 million.
Dallas-based Heritage Auctions said the half disme (an early spelling of "dime" that's pronounced "deem") is one of the very first American coins struck in December 1792 after the Mint Act was passed. The Lady Liberty on the coin is said to resemble Martha Washington herself.
For a nation in its infancy, the coining of these half dimes was of enormous political significance. It was a bold expression of national sovereignty that would be recognized around the world.
Legend has it that George Washington was so excited by the prospect of minting a coin for the U.S. that he offered his wife's silverware to provide the raw materials for the first batch. The first coins were actually struck in the cellar of Philadelphia saw maker John Harper using the new Mint presses because the official Mint was not set to start production until the following year.
The makeshift mint produced approximately 1,500 silver half dimes in 1792. Of that number, it is believed that only 250 still exist.
Although the half dimes were worth five cents, they were not called nickels until 1866, when the composition of the silver coins was changed to a combination of copper and nickel. People started to call these new coins "nicks" or "nickels."
On the obverse side of the coin we see a likeness of Martha Washington posing as Lady Liberty, the year 1792 and the motto "Lib. Par. of Science and Industry," which is translated to mean "Liberty Parent of Science and Industry.” On the reverse side is an eagle flying, the phrase "Half Disme" and the legend "Uni. States of America."