The 1793 Facing Left, Half Cent is the smallest denomination of any US Coinage series, but that isn't the only interesting fact about the Half Cent denomination. It's actually a bit of a mystery and debate, on the actual designer, of the coin itself. In addition, there were many factors that almost derailed the first Half Cent, and it's a wonder we even have the coin to talk about and collect.
It all started when then President, George Washington and Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, diligently sought after talented European engravers. One in particular, Pierre Droz, a Swiss artist. However, they failed in this endeavor.
The matter was finally settled when an artist named Joseph Wright, from New Jersey, became the "unofficial" Mint Engraver in 1792. It was a short lived post as Wright died of Yellow Fever, less than a year into his new post, in late 1793. The Yellow Fever epidemic struck Philadelphia hard and prompted, all who could, to leave the city and caused a shut-down of mint operations for a time.
During this short tenure, sources give Wright only partial credit, along side Robert Birch, for a single creation, the 1792 Half Disme design (pronounced deem). It's obvious that the facing left and flowing hair qualities of the 1792 Half Disme are the only similarities between it and the 1793 Flowing Hair Half Cent.
However, he must have worked, at least jointly, on the 1792 Disme during this time frame. Which is near an exact duplicate of the 1793 Half Cent portrait, minus the Pythagorean Cap on a pole. So who came up with the 1793 Liberty Bust, design? Was it the man responsible for the 1792 Disme Pattern?
We can, with certainty, eliminate Robert (Bob) Birch since all of his Proposed Coinages mirrors the same 1792 Half Disme Bust Design more than the 1793 Half Cent Bust. Robert Scot replaced Wright and was the first official Chief Engraver in November 1793, but he is not responsible for the 1793 Half Cent, Facing Left, Flowing Hair Liberty, Cap Pole design either.
Most experts give Henry Voight, the Chief Coiner, the credit for the obverse and reverse designs with no mention of Scot, Wright or Birch. I question the basis for this claim. It's also known that Adam Eckfeldt, Voight's assistant Coiner, might have had a hand in the design of the 1793 Half Cent, and some sources even give him credit for the 1792 Disme.
Other sources claim Wright designed the dies for the Half Cent obverse and Voight the reverse. So, it's obvious that Wright and Voight worked in unison on the Flowing Liberty, Facing Left, Half Cent. However, Voight designed the 1793 Flowing Hair Large Cent and this portrait of Liberty is not as well executed as the Half Cent portrait in question.
Both, Large Cent and Half Cent Flowing Hair coins are similar in design concept but they're much different renditions of a final product. So I still feel it's a stretch to give Voight all the credit, and if we do, then it should be listed as a group or tandem creation, and maybe include Eckfeldt, as well? I personally believe it would be an injustice to credit any single person for this design, and I will tell you why.
It's obvious that the Libertas Americana Medal of 1781, obverse Liberty Bust a (Benjamin Franklin commissioned medal) that was used as an inspiration for this particular Half Cent obverse design. However, Franklin was responsible for designing the reverse of this 1781 medal, and it's not known how much input he placed in the Facing Left Liberty, obverse features. So, should this particular obverse design creation be credited to the French Artist Augustin Dupre?
At the least, it's Franklin's and Dupre's original design and brain-child concept. And it wouldn't be the first time a coin design was re-used for a later coin issue and the credit is given to the original artist. The American Silver Eagle Obverse is but one example, it's modeled after Adolph Alexander Weinman's Walking Liberty, Half Dollar, obverse design. All experts give credit to Weinman for the design even though he didn't have any say in the American Eagle coin series.
However, if you compare the 1781 Libertas Medal obverse with the 1793 Half Cent obverse, it's obvious that some modifications were made, but is it enough to make it the 1793 Half Cent an original design? I don't think so. Art is as much about concepts as it is the actual visual details. Now, I am not saying that all the credit should be given to Franklin or Dupre alone, but I do agree that an honorable mention is in order for the design concept and the main features.
Because both the "Libertas" and the 1793 Half Cent obverses relay the exact same imagery, interpretation and purpose and this is neither Voight's, Wright's, Birch's or Eckfeldt's original concept, but an examples of one or all of their own modifications of the "Libertas" design.
If anyone is close to getting credit, and if it can be verified that he designed the 1792 Disme, then it would be Eckfeldt's claim to credit. Even Walter Breen gives the design credit to Eckfeldt in his book Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents 1793–1857.
Whoever is the actual creator of the 1793 Half Cent might never be completely decided, but it's obvious the French Medallist Augustin Dupre's should be credited for the design concept and major design features. Of course, it could be argued that Benjamin Franklin should take part in some of the credit as well.
It's obvious to me that no mint employee, during 1792-1793, can claim 100% credit for the 1793 obverse design, but only that they failed with their own designs so they used the 1781 Libertas Liberty Bust as inspiration.
Despite all the controversy on, who did what, and who should be given credit for the design, the 1793 Half Cent had to meet many hurdles before it was produced in any quantity. Even before the Half Cent began production the size was reduced three times because of copper shortages causing a rise in copper melt value. Furthermore, the US mint Facility in Philadelphia was being built, and once completed, didn't produce any amount of US Coinage until after four months after it was built.
Other obstacles, after the 1793 Half Cent was minted in a quantity of 35,334, is that they were still never popular and considered ugly by the public at large. The coins sparsely circulated, mintages where often interrupted by low demand and the aforementioned copper shortages, and often melted for their precious metal content. Plus all Mint employees, who had a hand in creating these coins, came under scrutiny for their lack of artistic merit and execution.
It was a a time of turmoil, confusion, and delay, during the building of the first US Mint, and this translated into a new coinage that would take a while to be accepted and most records not being recorded. It was a time when creating and issuing US Coinage was an urgent matter, just to gain a start, with an independent coinage for circulation, for the newly independent nation we know as United States of America.