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    The Getz "Half Dollar" Pattern of 1792: Introduction

    On the 31st of October 1791, Robert Morris, head of the Senate committee on coinage and former Superintendent of Finance during the Confederation, was appointed to draft legislation that would provide for the establishment of a federal mint, including specifics on the size and design of the coins. Anticipating passage of his version of the legislation, Morris hired engravers to make sample coins to his specifications. Among the engravers he employed was Peter Getz of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Getz created a coin using John Gregory Hancock's Large and Small Eagle Washington Cents as models. Hancock had produced his coins earlier in 1791 in the unfulfilled hope that the U.S. government would award his Birmingham employer a contract to mint coins. With the establishment of a U.S. mint Morris and Getz felt they could freely use and adapt the designs previously submitted by English firms. Getz's provisional nondenominational sample prototypes were struck in both copper and silver in Philadelphia, probably in late 1791, so they could be handed out to government officials before Morris's legislation was introduced on December 21, 1791. It is thought about thirty to forty silver samples were made for distribution to the twenty-six senators, and about 100 to 150 copper samples were struck to be distributed to the sixty-six congressmen and other dignitaries.

    The obverse of the coin displayed Washington's bust with the legend "G. WASHINGTON. PRESIDENT. I." and the date 1792. The reverse portrayed the raised wing American eagle clutching an olive branch and arrows in his talons, above was a field of fifteen stars and the legend ".UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." At about this time Washington rejected the idea of having his portrait on a coin as overly monarchical. When Washington's wishes became known to the congress, an amended coinage bill was passed on April 2, 1792, replacing the wording that required a presidential portrait on the coin with "a device emblematic of liberty." This effectively killed any chances for the acceptance of the Getz provisional issue as a model for U.S. coinage. Although the Getz prototype has no denomination, it is often called a half dollar because it conforms to the half dollar design and weight specifications as enumerated in the Morris draft legislation.

    Apparently Getz kept his dies and struck some additional pieces at a later date; an example is known that is overstruck on a 1794 or 1795 large cent and another is overstruck on a large cent of an undetermined date. Breen suggests the later examples were made with a rusted die that deformed the letter A in the word America. Possibly examples of the Getz prototype that exhibit signs of with this die state date to the mid 1790's.

    Sometime between 1858 and 1860 William Idler, a Philadelphia coin dealer, commissioned John S. Warren to strike copies of Getz's coin in silver, white metal and copper. In his 1860 price list, Idler refers to the Getz coin as a cent. Many of the idler coins have the word "COPY" on the reverse at the base of the eagle's tail on the left. However Rulau states this was removed from the die and several examples exist without that word, as the example in this section. For examples without the word 'copy" the Idler copies can be distinguished from the originals in the following ways: the ending of the 2 in 1792 in the copy points upward while the original points downward, the uppermost star on the reverse points to the E in States while in the original the star points between the T and the E, the weights of the copper coins differ with the copies weighing 13.65 grams while the originals are heavier, weighing 14.25-17.7 grams (the silver and white medal copies weigh from 12.35 to 15.57 grams, thus may weight about the same as some originals). At about the same time Idler also produced storecards using either the Getz obverse or reverse with his advertisement on the other size. These storecards were minted in silver, copper, brass and white metal.


    See the revision of W.S. Baker's 1885 catalog by Russell Rulau and George Fuld, Medallic Portraits of Washington ,  Iola, WI: Krause, 1985, pp. 36-37; Breen, pp. 154-155, Alexander, p. 89; Russell Rulau, Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900,  Iola, WI: Krause, 1994, pp. 253-254 and George Fuld, "Coinage Featuring George Washington,"in Coinage of the Confederation Period,  ed. by Philip L. Mossman, Coinage of the Americas Conference, Proceedings No. 11, held at the American Numismatic Society, October 28, 1995, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1996, pp. 165-259 whith the originals discussed on pp. 183-190 and the Idler copy on p. 243.

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