George Washington, Born Feb. 11 & 22, 1732.
Steam Coinage Medal First Reverse Second Reverse
Obverse common to both. "FEB. 22 / 1836" Repunched "MAR. 23 / 1836"
Copper. Actual Size: 28 mm.
In 1836, the Philadelphia Mint acquired its first steam-operated machinery to strike coin, greatly updating its facilities from the old "swaybar" (or "balancier") presses. So proud were they of this new equipment that the very first production was to be a medal struck on it commemorating the event and, because the time of year was about right, it was decided that "inauguration day" was to be February 22, the 104th anniversary of George Washington's birthday.
The new press was fired up and began to issue forth these copper medals - but not for long. The contraption broke down so completely as to require a month to effect repairs and make upgrades before it could be used on regular coinage. At that time, the first production was - again - these inaugural medals but with the new date. To save the cost of sinking an entirely new die, the old reverse was used with "FEB. 22." overpunched to read "MAR. 23." Today, original "FEB. 22" pieces are by far the scarcer of the two.
But then we have this rather strange piece. This was a medal issued by Jacques Manly from dies engraved by Samuel Brooks in 1790. This was only a year or so after Washington took office as the first president of the United States (1789) and while the depiction may be accurate, it certainly isn't flattering. Most of the originals (there was a copy made about 1850 with slightly different legends) are in copper, that shown above is in white metal, one of about 10 believed to be in existence.
The obverse reads "GEO. WASHINGTON BORN VIRGINIA" and, in exergue, "FEB. 11, 1732". The reverse is pure text: "GENERAL / OF THE / AMERICAN ARMIES / 1775 / RESIGNED / 1783 / PRESIDENT / OF THE / UNITED STATES / 1789". Below would be "MANLY &c 1790" except on this piece all but the 1790 has been effaced.
But here we have two medals, that of Manly giving Washington's birthday as February 11 and the official mint medal as February 22. Who's wrong? Well, neither.
When Washington was born in a British colony, the British calendar being used was actually the old "Julian" calendar (later called "Old Style") and, according to it, he was born on February 11. But for nearly two centuries, much of Europe - particularly the Roman Catholic countries - had been using the more accurate "Gregorian Calendar". Unfortunately, it appeared during the Reformation and no Protestant country such as Britain was going to use a "Popish" calendar so the errors accumulated. In the Gregorian calendar (later called "New Style"), a century year had to be divisible by 400 in order to be a Leap Year and their year began on January 1. In the old Julian calendar, every year divisible by 4 was a Leap Year and their year began on the first day of spring (say, March 21). So they had the strange occurance of January 1 through March 20 of, say, 1700, coming after December 31, 1700 and the day after March 20, 1700 being March 21, 1701 . Today, researchers have to be careful in dating old documents so that they make chronological sense, such as " February 14, 1642/3 ". Above and beyond that, the old caledar was making Easter start to crowd Christmas so something had to be done.
The changeover was made on September 1, 1752 by making the following day be September 12 and the new year beginning on January 1st. (There were minor riots: "Give us back our fortnight!" But they never did.)
So George Washington was born in Virginia on February 11 ( Old Style calendar) which corresponds with February 22 in the New Style ("Gregorian") calendar that we use today. Actually a copy of the Manly medal appeared in about 1850 on which the obverse legends are in highbrow Latin and the date beneath reading "11 FEB. O.S. / 1732". Just so nobody would be confused.