Sunday, May 10, 2020

JR Newsletter: 10 May 2020 (497)

  • In response to Bob Conrad, Pete Smith wrote:

    In the JR Newsletter last week, Bob Conrad wrote, “One thing has always bothered me. Jefferson dropped off $75 in silver July 11, 1792 and went back and got 1500 half dimes on the 13th, then off to Virginia. How could the mint, in a temporary basement, process this and cut planchets and make this happen so quickly?”

    In my earlier article on “Two Weeks in July,” I commented on the remarkable accomplishments in such a short period of time. Now I will offer some suggestion how this may have happened.
    Rittenhouse wrote to President Washington on July 9, 1792, and included this comment, “I have likewise engaged Mr Voight to act as Coiner, and he has several workmen now employed in making the necessary Engines, and preparing the dies.” Rittenhouse was not just asking for approval to strike coins but also for approval of actions already taken. Thus it is clear that dies were prepared in anticipation of that approval.

    Eric Newman corresponded with Joel Orosz for his article published in 2004, ‘George Washington and America’s ‘Small Beginning in Coinage: The Fabled 1792 Half Disme.” In a message dated January 30, 2004, Newman wrote to Orosz, “A silversmith would have been a maximum of a couple of blocks away from Harper’s shop in Philadelphia in 1792. A silversmith had to have a roller for making flat sheets of silver of various thickness as he needed such a roller for trays, containers. Tableware, boxes, etc. Why would a temporary Mint project do it elsewhere? Cutting out shaped pieces like silver buttons, cufflinks, etc. would be standard work for a silversmith and half disme planchets would be very simple to make because the sheet would be so thin. The possibility that $100 is silver was turned over to the silversmith to make the planchets is reasonable because there would be leftovers from scissile, etc. and the silversmith would have the material for his labor.”

    Newman’s message covers a couple of important concepts. It is foolish to assume that the $75 in silver that Jefferson delivered, probably in the form of Spanish silver coins, was then converted into a form used to strike half dismes. It would be more practical for a silversmith to make up planchets in anticipation of Jefferson’s deposit and the approval to strike coins.
    It is also foolish, as frequently stated, to believe that the Mint was operating exclusively in Harper’s cellar. We don’t know where Voight had workers in his employment. There are several options including the Seventh Street building that was purchased for Mint use on July 18. As Jefferson’s Memorandum Book states that he took $75 “to the Mint.” He was probably referring to the Seventh Street building.

    Stewart list warrants written in 1792. Entry #2 was written on July 30 for Henry Voight to pay workmen in the amount of $170.21. This could have paid a half dozen workers for the month of July, whatever they were doing.

    Warrant #7, dated August 29, was to John Harper “for cutting, presses, castings” in the amount of $217.85. Thus whatever he did was worth more than Mint workers could produce in a month.

    Harper had a coin press. Rittenhouse had little silver disks. Somehow they got together in Harper’s cellar to strike the coins. The payment suggests that Harper also provided other services.

    The Smith / Orosz / Augsburger book on 1792: Birth of a Nation’s Coinage, covers the story of “Mint Activities July 1-18, 1792” in more detail on pages 95-98. This story, published in 2017, evolved from the Orosz / Herkowitz article published in 2004. When the story is told again, it may have evolved again. The authors hope that some of the old foolishness may be abandoned by then.

    Pete Smith