“Washington Half Dollars”

Tom P. writes: Hi, I have been trying to find some information on a coin I have a 1792 washington half dollar and I can’t find out anything about it, that is, its worth and its history. So I was wondering if you could help me out. Tom

There are no official coins dated 1792 with a portrait of Washington (The mint didn’t open until 1793 and the first half dollar wasn’t struck until 1794). The first instance of a official coin with the portrait of George Washington was the quarter dated 1932.

However, there are many Washington pieces, thousands of them, struck over the years as commemoratives or patterns for purposed coinage. Pieces, later called “Washington Half Dollars”, are dated 1792 and are essentially private presidential commemoratives. There are least a dozen Washington pieces that are called by this name.

The general design of these pieces feature the bust of Washington, facing left, surrounded by the legend “(G.) Washington President”. The date, 1792 is below. The reverse features an Eagle with open wings, a shield at center and 13 stars above the eagle’s head. These were struck in silver, 31.5 mm (about 5 known), gold (unique), and copper (31 mm) (several varieties) only a few know with some varieties being unique.

Another piece, minted essentially as a test of the Mint’s first coinage press, were struck at Harper’s coachhouse in Philadelphia on 6th street probably in late September or early October of 1792. This was the same location where the 1,500 or so 1792 half-dismes were purportedly struck from Martha Washington’s silverware. The only known specimen of this “Washington Half Dollar” (no stars on reverse) has a pedigree going back to 1831 and has resided in the Lorin G. Parmelee, Garrett and John Hopkins University collections. It brought $16,500 in the 1981 Garrett sale. Other varieties exist with values from $3,000 – $40,000.

Struck copies of “Washington Half Dollars” in silver and brass were made by the coin dealer, William Idler, beginning in about 1858. Most have the word “COPY’ at left of the eagle’s tail (values from about $50 -$400). Some pieces have had the word tooled off the coin for nefarious purposes. Muled dies of the Idler copies are also found as “store cards”, that is, tokens used as emergency money during the coin shortage caused by the Civil War (1861-65).

Electrotypes, and die struck counterfeits of these pieces are common. Pieces in a similar style were privately minted for the centennial celebrations in 1876 as souvenirs. Others are worthless fakes. If you believe you have an example of the original 1792 Washington “half dollar”, you will need to have the piece authenticated. You can contact the American Numismatic Association, NGC or PCGS. See their links on the CoinSite Links Page.