The 1792 Half Disme (pronounced "deem" or "dime" according to various sources) is an American silver coin with a face value of five cents which was minted for only a short period during 1792. Although it is subject to debate as to whether this was intended to be circulating coinage or instead an experimental issue, President George Washington referred to it as "a small beginning" and many of the coins eventually were released into circulation. It is widely (although not universally) considered the first United States coinage struck under authority of the Coinage Act of 1792.
When speaking to the House of Representatives in November 1792, President Washington mentioned the "want of small coins in circulation" and stated that he had begun work on establishing a U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and that some half dismes had been produced already. At this point, most of the personnel had been hired, but the Mint's buildings and machinery were not yet ready. As a result, the half dismes, which had been struck in or around July 1792, were produced using the private facilities of local craftsman John Harper, although under the auspices of official Mint personnel. In his personal log book, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson recorded the receipt of 1,500 specimens on July 13.
"Disme" is a French word derived from the Latin word "decimus" (or tenth). The word only appears on this coin and the patterns for it (copper and silver) but never on another U.S. coin, and the word "Dime" did not appear until 1837 on the Half Dimes and Dimes.
Because of President Washington's connection with these early coins, numismatic folklore holds that the portrait on the obverse is that of First Lady Martha Washington and that some of the coins were struck using melted-down silverware from the Washington household. However, there is no solid evidence for either of these assertions.
The composition is 89.2% silver and 10.8% copper. Although the exact number is not known, it is believed that between 2,000 and 3,500 specimens were produced. Approximately 10% of these survive today, and most appear to have been used in circulation for some time.