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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

1793 Washington Ship Halfpenny

This is Plinky with a mystery.  In honor of General George Washington crossing the Delaware River in December to score a victory in the Revolutionary War, I've picked a Washington coin for December.

Now, you may know about the first coins made by the new United States Mint, which was created in 1792.  Some of our leaders wanted to put our first president, George Washington, on our coins, but he said no.  Kings and caesars through history had their pictures on coins, and President Washington didn't want to be like a king!  So the law that created the Mint said that there should be a picture of something that stands for liberty on our coins...and Lady Liberty was born.

Now, here's the mystery:  this month's coin is from 1793, a year after the Mint was created, and yet there's George Washington's portrait right there on the front!  Washington didn't want his picture on coins in 1792, but here's a coin with his picture in 1793.  The first time I saw this coin, I was confused.  But then I turned it over and found a clue.

See?  Across the top, it says "halfpenny."  The coin isn't an American half cent but a British halfpenny.

It turns out that a token-making company in England made the coins and sent them to important people in the United States, hoping that Congress would hire the British company to make American coins.  But President Washington wanted us to start our own mint and make our own coins.

It was after Washington saw coins like these that he decided he didn't want his picture on our change.  I guess seeing these coins actually helped him make up his mind!  Anyway, that's how George Washington's picture got on a 1793 coin.

Plinky, the Mint Pig

Teacher Feature

Obverse: 1793 Washington Ship Halfpenny
Obverse:  Washington's portrait was based on a drawing by a French artist and sculpted by the young but talented John Gregory Hancock in England.

Reverse: 1793 Washington Ship Halfpenny
Reverse:  The ship on the back is made to look like the ship on another British halfpenny used in Liverpool, England.

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