The Numismatic Bibliomania Society


The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 42, October 16, 2022, Article 13


ANA and ANS life member Rob Luton passed along this lot from an upcoming Bonham's New York sale. Thanks! It generated some additional investigation into the coin framed alongside the document. -Editor

  Ordinance for the Establishment of a Mint frame

HAMILTON AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE U.S. MINT. CONTINENTAL CONGRESS BOARD OF TREASURY. An Ordinance for the Establishment of the Mint of the United States of America; and for Regulating the Value and Alloy of Coin. [New York: 1786.]

Printed broadside, bifolium leaf, 324 x 190 mm. Framed with small coin.

Ordinance for the Establishment of a Mint broadside Rare broadside announcing the establishment of the United States Mint. The act, dated October 16, 1786, declares that establishes the offices of Assay Master to certify value, Master Coiner "to execute the business of coinage," and Paymaster "who shall be the Treasurer of the United States for the time being."

The Articles of Confederation granted states the right to mint their own coinage, which undermined the new nation's financial abilities. Alexander Hamilton's vision to rescue the young country's finances included establishing public credit and a national bank—and establishing a national mint. In the fall of 1786 the Board of Treasury submitted the present ordinance to Congress, where it was immediately approved. However, Hamilton could not complete the project until 1792, during his term as Secretary of the Treasury, when Congress passed the Coinage Act—establishing both the mint and the U.S. Dollar.

Most bibliographers assume this broadside was printed in New York during the brief period (1785-1790) when the U.S. Capitol was located there, though there is some question whether it might not have been printed at John Dunlap's press in Philadelphia. Evans 20074; Sabin 57509; Streeter Sale 1042.

Rob adds:

"In the lot description it only includes "Framed with small coin." in reference to the framed coin that accompanies the famous document. Upon initial inspection it appears to be none other than a relatively rare 1792 half disme. While it can't be confirmed without closer inspection, it would seem that the value of the small coin may be equal to that of its neighboring artifact."

Important document, and great for any numismatic library. As for the coin, since everything is in a frame, Bonham's only photographed the displayed side of the coin. Here's an enlargement. -Editor

  Ordinance for the Establishment of a Mint coin obverse

I reached out to Pete Smith, co-author of the book 1792: Birth of a Nation's Coinage, the definitive study of the regular issue and pattern coinage of 1792. I also contacted Bonhams, asking for a photo of the reverse and the weight of the coin, to help determine whether it's a known reproduction. -Editor

Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts Junior Specialist Tim Tezer writes:

"The coin, as it turned out, is a 1792 half-disme slabbed and graded VF 35 by NGC. Because it was mounted in the frame, there is adhesive on the back that partially obscures the view of the reverse, so getting a photo may not be possible."

Tim initially provided these photos of the front of the slab. The certification number is 551258-001. -Editor

  1792 Half Disme NGC slab 1792 Half Disme NGC slab closeup

Tim added:

"The adhesive has not been kind to the plastic on the back of the slab. I fear the buyer may have to consider having it re-slabbed. I am attaching fresh photos of the obverse and reverse (what we book geeks like to call the recto and verso)."

  1792 Half Disme NGC slab obverse 1792 Half Disme NGC slab reverse

I cropped the slab images to get closer looks at both sides of the coin. -Editor

  1792 Half Disme NGC slab obverse 1792 Half Disme NGC slab reverse

Bonhams revised the lot description thusly. -Editor

Saleroom notices
The coin included with this lot is a 1792 half disme, the first coin issued as United States coinage in 1792. It is slabbed and graded by NGC as VF 35 condition. The estimate for this lot should read $20,000 to $30,000.

Here are Pete Smith's comments on the coin. -Editor

Wayne alerted me to this item on Monday, October 10. My quick reaction was that it was a replica and didn't look right. I compared this to the known fakes illustrated in 1792: Birth of a Nation's Coinage. It did not match any known fake or any genuine coin in the census.

On Tuesday morning I sent Wayne my reaction for publication in The E-Sylum. I declared that it was a copy and that the lettering was too thick. Later in the day Wayne informed me that it was in an NGC holder as a VF-35. That made my original opinion look very foolish. I asked Wayne if he could get the certification number.

On Wednesday, I got the number, 551258-001. That is a valid number verified by NGC. I also got a better photo for the obverse. I made a composite of the October 12 photo next to the October 11 photo. I was amazed at the different appearance on two photos of the same coin. The thickness of the letters on the October 12 photo looked right for a legitimate coin.

  Bonham 1792 HD.01 obverse photo comparison

On Thursday, October 13, I got a new set of photos including the back. The image quality was very poor. Again, I tried to match that to a coin in the census. There were coins that were similar but I couldn't find diagnostic marks for a match.

Eventually I realized that I had another resource. We had gotten a list of NGC certification numbers for 1792 half dismes prior to publication. Cert number 551258-001 was issued on July 31, 1998. Thus, it could not be any coin with a different number sold since then. The coin was not previously in the census and brings the number known up to 192. Actually, there are still other pieces known but we have not seen photos to establish unique identifications.

Initially I told Wayne that I thought staff at the auction company would know what the coin was and their brief comment showed that it had no value. A comment on Wednesday indicated that the cataloguer ran out of time to check.

A 1792 half disme in an NGC VF-35 holder realized $92,000 in 2008. [Heritage 9/18/2008, lot 1555] The initial estimate from the auction company for the document was $10,000 to $20,000. They have now raised that to $20,000 to $30,000.

What owner would consign a coin worth $90,000 for an auction with an estimate of $10,000? One possibility is that the consignor is an heir with no understanding of the value. It is a reminder that we should all let our heirs know the value of our holdings.

I will be very interested to see the result of the sale.

Me, too! I shared this article with Pete's co-author Joel Orosz who added these notes about the historical context of the document. -Editor

It reads as if Alexander Hamilton was involved with the Congress of the Confederation's Mint Ordinance of 1786. He was not, and didn't put his ideas on the Mint comprehensively into writing until his famous Report on the Establishment of a Mint some five years later.

The description also says that Hamilton could not complete the project until 1792. The only things wrong with this statement are:

1. Hamilton did not at any time work on the 1786 Mint Ordinance, or its failed implementation.

2. The Mint Act of 1792 was passed by a new Congress, created by the new Constitution, which completely superseded the old 1786 Mint Ordinance.

3. Hamilton did very little to establish the Mint beyond writing his famous report in 1791. Thomas Jefferson took the lead on the Mint's establishment, and Washington formalized the structure in October 1792, in which the Mint Director reported to the Secretary of State.

This is a neat framed collection, but it conflates two very different historical events. The Ordinance headline and broadside belong to the Confederation in 1786. Washington, Jefferson, and the half disme belong to the Constitution in 1792.

Thanks, everyone! Two great pieces of history in one nice frame. -Editor

To read the complete lot description, see:

Kolbe-Fanning E-Sylum ad 2020-05-17

Wayne Homren, Editor

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