The Coinage Act of 1792, also known as the Mint Act of 1792, was passed by the United States Congress on April 2, 1792. The Act established the United States Mint and regulated the coinage of the United States. The long title of the legislation is An act establishing a mint and regulating the Coins of the United States. The Act established the silver dollar as the unit of money in the United States, declared it to be lawful tender, and created a decimal system for U.S. currency.
According to the Act, the U.S. Mint was to be situated at the seat of government of the United States — Philadelphia, at that time. The five original officers of the U.S. Mint were a Director, an Assayer, a Chief Coiner, an Engraver, and a Treasurer. The Treasurer is a separate office from the Secretary of the Treasury. The Act allowed that one person could perform the functions of Chief Coiner and Engraver. The Assayer, Chief Coiner and Treasurer were required to post a $10,000 bond with the Secretary of the Treasury.
Although some of the provisions in the 1792 Coinage Act were adjusted as time went by, the majority of the rules specified in the Act remained in effect for many decades. Essentially, it provided the basic framework on which all subsequent coinage production was based. While the first draft of the Act stipulated that all coins would employ a portrait of the president on the obverse, the final version called for an image emblematic of liberty as well as the word “Liberty”. The Act also authorized construction of a mint building in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital. This was the first federal building erected under the United States Constitution. Mint director David Rittenhouse laid the building’s cornerstone on July 31.
On May 8, 1792, An Act to Provide for a Copper Coinage was signed into law by President George Washington. This legislation resulted in the birth of the copper cent, from which descends today’s one cent piece. The Act also stipulated that “the director of the mint… be authorized to contract for and purchase a quantity of copper, not exceeding one hundred and fifty tons… to be coined at the mint into cents and half-cents… and be paid into the treasury of the United States, thence to issue into circulation.” Furthermore, “no copper coins or pieces whatsoever except the said cents and half-cents, shall pass current as money, or shall be paid, or offered to be paid or received in payment for any debt, demand, claims, matter or thing whatsoever.”
Section 9 of the Act authorized production of the following coins:
|Eagles||$10||247 4/8 grain (16.0 g) pure or 270 grain (17.5 g) standard gold|
|Half Eagles||$5||123 6/8 grain (8.02 g) pure or 135 grain (8.75 g) standard gold|
|Quarter Eagles||$2.50||61 7/8 grain (4.01 g) pure or 67 4/8 grain (4.37 g) standard gold|
|Dollars or Units||$1||371 4/16 grain (24.1 g) pure or 416 grain (27.0 g) standard silver|
|Half Dollars||$0.50||185 10/16 grain (12.0 g) pure or 208 grain (13.5 g) standard silver|
|Quarter Dollars||$0.25||92 13/16 grain (6.01 g) pure or 104 grains (6.74 g) standard silver|
|Disme||$0.10||37 2/16 grain (2.41 g) pure or 41 3/5 grain (2.70 g) standard silver|
|Half Disme||$0.05||18 9/16 grain (1.20 g) pure or 20 4/5 grain (1.35 g) standard silver|
|Cents||$0.01||11 pennyweights (17.1 g) of copper|
|Half Cents||$0.005||5 1/2 pennyweights (8.55 g) of copper|
Section 10 of the Act requires the coins to have the following markings:
- One side was to have an impression emblematic of liberty, with the inscription “Liberty”, and the year of the coinage.
- The reverse side of each of the gold and silver coins was to have the figure or representation of an eagle with the inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”.
- The reverse of the copper coins was to have an inscription expressing the denomination.
Section 11 of the Act defined the ratio of the value of gold and silver as 1:15, 1 unit of pure gold was equivalent to 15 units of pure silver. “Standard gold” was defined as 11 parts pure gold to one part alloy composed of silver and copper. “Standard silver” was defined as 1485 parts pure silver to 179 parts copper alloy. The Act also specified the dollar as the “money of account” of the United States, and directed that all accounts of the federal government be kept in dollars, dismes, cents, and milles (one-tenth of a cent or one-thousandth of a dollar). The silver content of a dollar under the Act was almost exactly equal to 1/5 of the silver content of the contemporary British pound sterling, or 4 British shillings.
Section 14 of the Act stated that any person could bring gold or silver bullion and have it coined free of charge, or later for a small fee, exchange it immediately for an equivalent value of coin.
Section 18 of the Act established quality control measures. From each separate mass of gold or silver used to produce coins, a minimum of three coins were to be set aside by the treasurer. Each year on the last Monday in July, under the inspection of the Chief Justice, the Secretary and Comptroller of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General, the coins were to be assayed and if the coins did not meet established standards, the officers were disqualified from office. The meetings became formalized as the United States Assay Commission. Beginning in 1797, it met in most years at the Philadelphia Mint. Each year, the President of the United States appointed unpaid members, who would gather in Philadelphia to ensure the weight and fineness of silver and gold coins issued the previous year were to specifications. In 1971, the commission met, but for the first time had no gold or silver to test, with the end of silver coinage in 1970. Beginning in 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed no members of the public to the commission, and in 1980, he signed legislation abolishing it.
Section 19 of the Act established a penalty of death for debasing the gold or silver coins authorized by the Act, or embezzlement of the metals for those coins, by officers or employees of the mint; this section of the Act apparently remains in effect and would, in theory, continue to apply in the case of “any of the gold or silver coins which shall be struck or coined at the said mint.” (At present the only gold or silver coins struck by the US mint are the American Silver Eagle and the American Gold Eagle coins, some Proof coinage at the San Francisco Mint, such as the silver U.S. State Quarters, and much of the Commemorative coinage of the United States.) All other sections of the act have been superseded, as for example the Coinage Act of 1834 changing the gold-to-silver weight ratio. Various acts have subsequently been passed affecting the amount and type of metal in U. S. coins, so that today there is no legal definition of the term “dollar” to be found in U. S. statute.
Current statutes regulating coinage in the United States may be found in Title 31 of the United States Code, Chapter 51 — Coins and Currency.
|ESTABLISHING A NATIONAL MINT||.|
|(Regulating coins of the United States)||.|
|The Mint Act of April 2, 1792.||.|
|An act establishing a mint and regulating the Coins of the United States.||.|
|SEC. 1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, and it is hereby enacted and declared, That a Mint for the purpose of a national coinage be, and the same is established; to be situated and carried on at the seat of the Government of the United States, for the time being: And that for the well conducting of the business of the said Mint, there shall be the following officers and persons, namely, — a Director, an assayer, a chief coiner, an engraver, a treasurer.||Mint established at the
seat of Government.
|SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That the Director of the Mint shall employ as many clerks, workmen, and servants as he shall from time to time find necessary, subject to the approbations of the President of the United States.||Director to employ workmen, &c.|
|SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the respective functions and duties of the officers above mentioned shall be as follow: The Director of the Mint shall have the chief management of the business thereof, and shall superintend all others officers and persons who shall be employed therein. The assayer shall receive and give receipts for all metals which may lawfully be brought to the Mint to be coined; shall assay all such of them as may require it, and shall deliver them to the chief coiner to be coined. The chief coiner shall cause to be coined all metals which shall be received by him for that purpose, according to such regulations as shall be prescribed by this or any future law. The engraver shall sink and prepare the necessary dies for such coinage, with the proper devices and inscriptions, but it shall be lawful for the functions and duties of chief coiner and engraver to be performed by one person. The treasurer shall receive from the chief coiner all the coins which have been struck, and shall pay or deliver them to the persons respectively to whom the same ought to be paid or delivered; he shall morever [more ever] receive and safely keep all monies which shall be for the use, maintenance and support of the Mint, and shall disburse the same upon warrants signed by the Director.||Duty of the officers.
Act of Mar. 3,
|SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That every officer and clerk of the said Mint shall, before he enters upon the execution of his office, take an oath or affirmation before some judge of the United States faithfully and diligently to perform the duties thereof.||To take oath|
|SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That the said assayer, chief coiner and treasurer, previously to entering upon the execution of their respective offices, shall each become bound to the United States of America, with one or more sureties to the satisfaction of the Secretary of the Treasury, in the sum of ten thousand dollars, with condition for the faithful and diligent performance of the duties of his office.||And give bond. Act of March 3
1794, ch. 4, sec. 2
|SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That there shall be allowed and paid as compensations for their respective services—To the said Director, yearly salary of two thousand dollars, to the said assayer, a yearly salary of one thousand five hundred dollars, to the said chief coiner, a yearly salary of one thousand five hundred dollars, to the said engraver, a yearly salary of one thousand two hundred dollars, to the said treasurer, a yearly salary of one thousand two hundred dollars, to each clerk who may be employed, a yearly salary not exceeding five hundred dollars, and to the several subordinate workmen and servants, such wages and allowances as are customary and reasonable, according to their respective stations and occupations.||Salaries.|
|SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That the accounts of the officers and persons employed in and about the said Mint and for services performed in relation thereto, and all other accounts concerning the business and administration thereof, shall be adjusted and settled in the Treasury Department of the United States, and a quarter yearly account of the receipts and disbursements of the said Mint shall rendered at the said Treasury for settlement according to such forms and regulations as shall have been prescribed by that Department; and that once in each year a report of the transactions of the said Mint, accompanied by an abstract of the settlements which shall have been from time to time made, duly certified by the Comptroller of the Treasury, shall be laid before Congress for their information.||Accounts how and where to be settled|
|SEC. 8. And be it further enacted, That in addition to the authority vested in the Presi-dent of the United States by a resolution of the last session, touching the engagement of artists and the procuring of apparatus for the said Mint, the President be authorized, and he is hereby authorized to cause to be provided and put in proper condition such buildings, and such manner shall appear to him requisite for the purpose of carrying on the business of the said Mint; and that as well the expenses which shall have been incurred pursuant to the said resolution as those which may be incurred in providing and preparing the said buildings,, and all other expenses which may hereafter accrue for the maintenance and support of the said Mint, and in carrying on the business thereof, over and above the sums which may be received by reason of the rate per centum for coinage herein after mentioned, shall be defrayed from the Treasury of the United States, out of any monies which from time to time shall be therein, not otherwise appropriated.||President of United States to cause buildings to be provided.
1794, ch. 4, sec. 2Expenses, how to be defrayed.
|SEC.9. And be it further enacted,, That there shall be from time to time struck and coined at the said mint, coins of gold, silver, and copper, of the following denominations, values and descriptions, viz. Eagles—each to be of the value of ten dollars or units, and to contain two hundred fort-seven grains and four eighths of a grain of pure, or two hundred and seventy grains of standard gold. Half eagles—each to be of the value of five dollars, and to contain one hundred and twenty three grains and six eights of a grain of pure, or one hundred and thirty five grains of standard gold. Quarter Eagles—each to be of the value of two dollars and a half dollar, and to contain sixty one grains and seven eights of a grain of pure, or sixty seven grains and four eights of a grain of standard gold. Dollars or the same is now current, and to contain three hundred and seventy-one grains and four sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or four hundred and sixteen grains of standard silver, Half Dollars—each to be of half the value of the dollar or unit, and to contain one hundred and eighty-five grains and ten sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or two hundred and eights of a grain of standard silver. Quarter Dollars—each to be of one fourth the value of the dollar or unit, and to contain ninety-two grains and thirteen sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or one hundred and four grains of standard silver. Dismes—each to be of the value of one tenth of a dollar or unit, and to contain thirty seven grains and two sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or forty one grains and three fifth parts of a grain of standard silver. Half Dismes—each to be of the value of one twentieth of a dollar, and to contain eighteen grains and nine sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or twenty grains and four fifth parts of a grain of standard silver. Cents—each to be of the value of the one hundredth part of a dollar, and to contain eleven penny-weights of copper. Half Cents—each to be of the value of half a cent, and to contain five penny-weights and half a penny-weight of copper.||Metals and denomination of the coins to be struck.
See act of February 12, 1873.Eagles.
See act of June 28, 1834, s. 1.
Act of January 18, 1837.Half eagles,
Dollars or units.
Act February 12, 1873.
|SEC. 10. And be it further enacted, That, upon the said coins respectively, there shall be the following devices and legends, namely: Upon one side of each of the said coins there shall be an impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word Liberty, and the year of the coinage; and upon the reverse of each of the gold and silver coins there shall be the figure or representation of an eagle, with this inscription, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” and upon the reverse of each of the copper coins, there shall be an inscription which shall express the denomination of the piece, namely, cent or half-cent, as the ease may require.||Of what devices.|
|SEC. 11. And be it further enacted, That the proportional value of gold to silver in all coins which shall by law be current as money within the United States, shall be as fifteen to one, according to quantity in weight, of pure gold or pure silver; that is to say, every fifteen pounds weight of pure silver shall be of equal value in all payments, with one pound weight of pure gold, and so in proportion as to any greater or less quantities of the respective medals.||Ratio of gold to silver.|
|SEC. 12. And be it further enacted, That the standard for all gold coins of the United States shall be eleven parts fine to one part alloy; and accordingly that eleven parts in twelve of the entire weight of each of the said coins shall consist of pure gold, and the remaining one twelfth part of alloy; and the said alloy shall be composed of silver and copper, in such proportions not exceeding one half silver as shall be found convenient; to be regulated by the director of the mint, the United States, until further provision shall be made by law. And to the end that the necessary information may be had in order to the making of such further provision, it shall be the duty of the director of the mint at the expiration of a year after commencing the operations of the said mint, to report to Congress the practice thereof during the said year, touching the composition of the alloy of the said gold coins, the reasons for such practice, and the experiment and observation which shall have been concerning the effects of different proportions of silver and copper in the said alloy.||Standard for gold coin and alloy, how to be regulated.|
|SEC. 13. And be it further enacted, That the standard of all silver coins of the United States shall be one thousand four hundred and eighty-five parts fine to one hundred and seventy-nine parts alloy; and accordingly that one thousand four hundred and eighty-five parts in one thousand six hundred and sixty four parts of the entire weight of each of the said coins shall consist of pure silver, and the remaining one hundred and seventy-nine parts of alloy; which alloy shall be wholly of copper.||Director to report the practice of the mint touching the alloy of gold coins.
Standard for silver coins; alloy how to be regulated.
|SEC. 14. And be it further enacted, That it shall be lawful for any person or persons to bring to the said mint gold and silver bullion, in order to their being coined; and that the bullion so brought shall be there assayed and coined as speedily as may be after the re-ceipt thereof, and that free of expense to the person or persons by whom the said bullion shall be been coined, the person or persons by whom the same shall have been delivered, shall upon demand receive in lieu thereof coins of the same species of bullion which gold or pure silver therein contained: Provided nevertheless, bringing such bullion, and of the direction of the said mint, to make an immediate exchange of coins for standard bullion with a deduction of one half per cent. from the weight of the pure gold, or pure silver contained in the said bullion, as an indemnification to the mint for the time which will necessarily be required for coining the said bullion, and for the advance which shall have been so made in coins. And it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to furnish the said mint from time to time whenever the state of the Treasury will admit thereof, with such sums as may be necessary for effecting the said exchanges, to be replaced as speedily as may be out of the coins which shall have been made of the bullion for which the monies so furnished shall have been exchanged; and the said deduction of one half per cent shall constitute a fund towards defraying the expenses of the said mint.||Persons may bring gold and silver bullion, to be coined free of expense.
Act of April 24, 1800, chap. 34, how the director may exchange coins therefor deducting half percent.
Duty of Secretary of Treasury
The half per cent. To constitute fund,
|SEC. 15. And be it further enacted, That the bullion which shall be brought as aforesaid to the mint to be coined, shall be coined, and the equivalent thereof in coins rendered, if demanded, in the order in which the said bullion shall have been brought or delivered, giving priority according to priority of delivery only, and without preference to any person or persons; and if any preference shall be given contrary to the direction aforesaid, the officer by whom such undue preference shall be given, shall in each case forfeit and pay one thousand dollar; to be recovered with costs of suit. And to the end that it may be known if such preference shall at any time be given, the assayer or officer to whom the said bullion shall be delivered to be coined, shall give to the person or persons bringing the same, a memorandum in writing under his hand, denoting the weight, fineness and value thereof, together with the day and order of its delivery into the mint.||Order of delivering coins to persons bringing bullion and penalty on giving undue preference, &c.|
|SEC. 16. And be it further enacted, That all the gold and silver coins which have been struck at, and issued from the said mint, shall be a lawful tender in all payments whatsoever, those of full weight according to the respective values herein before declared, and those of less than full weight at values proportional to their respective weights.||Coins made a lawful tender,|
|SEC. 17. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the respective officers of the said mint, carefully and faithfully to use their best endeavors that all the gold and silver coins which shall be struck at the said mint shall be, as nearly as may be, conformable to the several standards and weights aforesaid, and that the copper whereof the cents and half cents aforesaid may be composed, shall be of good quality.||And to be made conformable to the standard weight, &c.|
|SEC. 18. And be it further enacted, And the better to secure a due conformity of the said gold and silver coins to their respective standards, Be it further enacted, That from every separate mass of standard gold or silver, which shall be made into coins at the said Mint, there shall be taken, set apart by the Treasurer and reserved in his custody a certain number of pieces, not less than three, and that once in every year the pieces so set apart and reserved, shall be assayed under the inspection of the Chief Justice of the United States, the Secretary for the Department of State, and the Attorney General of the United States, (who are hereby required to attend for that purpose at the said Mint, on the last Monday in July in each year, or under the inspection of any three of them, in such manner as they or a majority of them shall direct, and in the presence of the Director, assayer and chief coiner of the said Mint; and it shall be found that the gold and silver so assayed, shall not be inferior to their respective standards herein before declared more than one part in one hundred and forty-four parts, the officer or officers of the said Mint whom it may concern shall be held excusable; but if any greater inferiority shall appear, it shall be certified to the President of the United States, and the said officer or officers shall be deemed disqualified to hold their respective offices.||The Treasurer to reserve not less than three
pieces of each coin to be assayed .when and by whom &c.
|SEC. 19. And be it further enacted, That if any of the gold or silver coins which shall be struck or coined at the said Mint shall be debased or made worse as to the proportion of fine gold or fine silver therein contained, or shall be of less weight or value than the same ought to be pursuant to connivance of any of the officers or persons who shall be employed at the said Mint, for the purpose of profit or gain, officers or persons shall embezzle any of the metals which shall at any time be committed to their charge for the purpose of being coined at the said Mint, every such officer or person who shall commit any or either of the said offences, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and shall suffer death.||Penalty for debasing the coins.|
|SEC. 20. And be it further enacted, That the money of account of the United States shall be expressed in dollars or units, dismes or tenths, cents or hundredths, and miles or thousandths, a disme being a tenth part of a dollar, a cent the hundredth part of a dollar, a mille the thousandths part of a dollar, and that all accounts in public offices and all proceedings in the courts of the United States shall be kept and had in conformity to this regulation.||Money of account to be expressed in dollars, &c.
R. S. 3563.