legendary Coins and Currency
Exhibition Collection Search Timeline Game Visit
Legendary FirstsLegendary BeautiesUnexpected LegendsGolden LegendsLegends of the Human Spirit
Enter the Online Exhibition (Flash Required)
 
 
Image of Great Britain, Sovereign, 1838
 
View details Switch between front and back
Zoom using Flash

Purchase this image

Materials: Gold
Measurement: Dia. 22 mm; Wt. 7.981 g
Source: Transfer from U.S. Mint
Note: Seaby 3852
 


Great Britain, Sovereign, 1838

This coin is one of those used to convey James Smithson's bequest to the United States for the creation of the Smithsonian Institution. James Smithson was born in 1765 as the illegitimate son of Sir Hugh Smithson, later known as Sir Hugh Percy, Baronet, 1st Duke of Northumberland, K.G., and Elizabeth Hungerford Keate.

Elizabeth Keate had been married to James Macie, and so Smithson first bore the name of James Lewis Macie. His mother later married Mark Dickinson, by whom she had another son. When she died in 1800, he and his half-brother inherited a sizable estate. He changed his name at this time from "Macie" to "Smithson."

James Smithson died June 27, 1829, in Genoa, Italy. His will left his fortune to his nephew, son of his half-brother, but stipulated that if that nephew died without children (legitimate or illegitimate), the money should go "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."

The nephew, Henry Hungerford Dickinson, died without heirs in 1835, and Smithson's bequest was accepted in 1836 by the United States Congress. Smithson never visited the United States, and the reason for his generous bequest is unknown. The gift was the foundation grant for the Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithson bequest consisted of 104,960 gold sovereigns. Presumably they all bore the head of the new Queen Victoria, who had acceded to the throne in 1837.

The United States insisted on new sovereigns rather than circulated ones for a very practical reason: the United States would get more gold that way. All but two coins were melted down, reminted as American coins, and spent. The last two originals are in the Smithsonian collection.
 
Related Events
1812: The United States declares war on England to ensure free trade and American rights.
1815: Napoleon defeated at Waterloo and abdicates as French emperor.
1835: Englishman James Smithson leaves his fortune to United States for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."
1836: Texas wins independence from Mexico and declares itself a republic.
1848: United State wins the Mexican War and acquires large landholdings in the West and Southwest.
 
Legendary Firsts The following objects are in this section.
Massachusetts Pine Tree Shilling, "1652" (struck 1667-1674)First United States Silver Dollar, 1794Great Britain, Sovereign, 1838
Massachusetts, "twenty shillings," 1690Brasher Doubloon, 1787United States, 5 Dollars, 1838
Pewter Continental Dollar, 1776United States, 20 Dollars, 1854United States, 10 Dollars, 1838
Copper Pattern Dollar, 1794Portrait Medal of James Smithson, 1817 
 
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Learning Resources Tell a Friend Flash Exhibition
Copyright© Privacy Policy Press Credits