Today, the Half Cent Coin remembers the beginnings of the first chartered bank of the embryonic country 234 years ago.
In the History of the Bank of North America, published in 1882 at the request of the president and directors of the bank, Lawrence Lewis described the beginnings of the institution:
On the 7th of January, 1782, the Bank of North America began active operations.
Its business was conducted in a commodious store belonging to its cashier, Tench Francis, situate on the north side of Chestnut Street, a short distance west of Third, which had previously been leased and fitted up for its accommodation.
In these quarters the bank continued its operations for up wards of sixty-five years.
The bank subsequently purchased the lot and buildings thereon. The following is an abstract of the title:
Tench Francis et ux to John Wilson, May 24, 1792.
John Wilson et ux to Mordecai Lewis, Miers Fisher, and Robert Waln, as Trustees for the Bank, December 20, 1793.
Robert Waln, surviving Trustee, et ux to The President, Directors, and Company of the Bank of North America, February 3, 1821.
The following is a description of the Banking House as it appeared on December 3, 1839, taken from a survey made that day by the surveyor of the “Philadelphia Contributionship:”
“The Bank of North America, situate on the north side of Chestnut Street, west of and near Third Street, being 38 feet front by 45 feet deep, three stories high, exclusive of an octagon back, one story high, 18 and 9 inch walls.
“The lower story is one main room, with three small apartments, divided off by a boarding about four feet high, with turned ballusters on the top, for the use of the President, Cashier, and a discount-room, and a counter in the middle nearly the length of the main room; a girder under the second floor supported by three turn’d columns; a large vault on the west side of the room three stories high, with iron doors opening into it in each story, and a small fire-proof in two of the small rooms above mentioned; . . . single architraves and mouldings to the windows; a vestibule inside the front door, with folding sash-doors hung in it; glass, 13 by 19 inches; outside shutters front and back; two plain marble mantels in the lower story.
“The second story is divided into four rooms and passage; . . . base and surbase round; double and single architraves to the doors and windows; two marble mantels, with open pilasters; recess closets; glass, 13 by 19 inches, pannel’d inside; shutters front and back and outside do. to the back windows.
“The third story in four rooms and passage, . . . plain base and surbase round; single architraves and mouldings; glass, in front, 13 by 27 inches; back, 9 by 11; plain stairs, with windows in the lower corner leading from the lower to the third story; garret plastered, and plain sky-light in the roof.
“Old-fashioned wooden eaves; the front dentil, back plain; roof covered with copper, and copper pipes down; the cellar floored with brick, and two furnaces therein, which appear to be safely constructed.”
The bank hours were from ten in the morning until one in the afternoon, and again from three in the afternoon until five.
The regular employees of the bank were only six in number,—the cashier, the teller, the sub-teller, the accomptant, the clerk, and the porter.
They received very inconsiderable salaries,—the cashier but $1000 a year, the porter but $160. The accounts were all kept in Mexican dollars and ninetieth parts thereof.
Directors’ meetings were held every Thursday, and two members of the board were chosen monthly to inspect and control the affairs of the bank.
The institution being now fairly under way, the Superintendent of Finance issued the following circular letter announcing the fact to the governors of the various States:
Office of Finance, January 8th, 1782.
Sir, I have the honor to transmit herewith an ordinance passed by the United States, in Congress assembled, the thirty-first day of December, 1781, incorporating the subscribers to the Bank of North America, together with sundry resolutions, recommending to the several States to pass such Laws as they may judge necessary for giving the said ordinance its full operation.
The resolutions of the 26th May last speak so clearly to the points necessary to be established by these Laws, that I need not enlarge on them.
Should anything more be found necessary upon experience, the President and Directors will, no doubt, make suitable application to Congress, or to the States respectively, as the case may require.
It affords me great satisfaction to inform your Excellency that this Bank commenced its operations yesterday, and I am confident that, with proper management, it will answer the most sanguine expectations of those who befriend the Institution.
It will facilitate the management of the Finances of the United States.
The several States may, when their respective necessities require, and the abilities of the Bank will permit, derive occasional advantage and accommodation from it.
It will afford to the individuals of all the States a medium for their intercourse with each other and for the payment of Taxes, more convenient than the precious metals, and equally safe.
It will have a tendency to increase both the internal and external Commerce of North America, and, undoubtedly, will be infinitely useful to all the Traders of every State in the Union, provided, as I have already said, it is conducted on the principles of equity, justice, prudence, and economy.
The present Directors bear characters that cannot fail to inspire confidence, and, as the corporation is amenable to the Laws, power can neither sanctify any improper conduct nor protect the guilty.
Under a full conviction of these things, I flatter myself that I shall stand excused for recommending in the strongest manner this well-meant plan to all the encouragement and protection which your State can give consistently with Wisdom and Justice.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, Your Excellency’s most obedient & Most h’ble serv’t,
The Half Cent Coin shows beside an image of the bank prior to 1846.