As the summer heat becomes nearly unbearable in most parts of the country, imagine what summer was like in Philadelphia at the end of the 18th century.
The summer of 1793 in Philadelphia was much like the current summer in Ohio where Coin World is published: dry and hot. In 1793, residents complained about tropical mosquitoes, which would become more than a mere inconvenience as they would spread yellow fever that would terrorize Philadelphia over the next several years.
Locals were advised to leave the city and thousands did, while those who stayed watched loved ones die.
Yet the new nation had to produce coinage. Remember, Philadelphia was then the nation’s capital and the largest city in the United States.
The Mint lost three key employees in 1793, so it is amazing that the early Philadelphia Mint was able to produce coins for circulation, including half cents and three distinct large cent designs, at all that year.
As Coin World’s Michele Orzano points out in her cover story this month, early Mint officials stopped coinage production during the warm summer months when mosquitoes were active and transmitting the yellow fever virus, making the copper coinage of 1793 even more impressive.
She writes: “It is an amazing thing to look at a copper 1793 Liberty Cap, Left half cent, for example, and consider the backdrop of distress under which it and many other coins were struck. It is a denomination that makes no sense to modern day Americans but it was the first produced by the first Philadelphia Mint.”
Understanding the struggles at the early Philadelphia Mint helps provide a deeper appreciation for early U.S. coinage, just as learning the history behind coins can provide greater enjoyment in collecting them.
If you will be in Philadelphia for the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money, Aug. 7 to 11, take a moment to imagine what it may have been like in 1793. Perhaps you will be inspired to pick up a historic early American coin for your collection.
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