The Five Cent Half Disme
Did you know that the five cent denomination was not always the nickel? In fact, the nickel as we know it today would not be introduced until long after the monetary system within the United States was established.
Originally, the five cent coin was known as the half disme, pronounced “deem.” The coin was basically half the weight and value of the disme or dime. Under the Coinage Act of 1792, the denomination had 20 and 4/5 grains of standard silver, which made for 18 and 9/16 grains of pure silver. Famously, some half disme patterns were struck in 1792, although it is known that some circulated. Legend has it that these coins were minted from silver personally deposited by George Washington.
The first larger scale production of the denomination took place in 1794 when the Flowing Hair design was used. Coins were minted bearing the dates 1794 or 1795, with a total production of 86,416.
The half disme remained in use for more than five decades, however there were some complaints about its very small size, which led it to become easily lost. Also, when the market price of silver rose, the denomination became unprofitable to produce. Eventually, the solution was found in a five cent piece struck from a composition of copper and nickel, first used in 1866. The same composition continues to be used to the present day.