legendary Coins and Currency
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Legendary FirstsLegendary BeautiesUnexpected LegendsGolden LegendsLegends of the Human Spirit
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Some Legendary coins are the first of their kind;<br />others are the first step in a new creation.
View of Boston Harbor, 1770s. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
View of Boston Harbor, 1770s. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.


James Smithson, for whom the Smithsonian is named, was a British scientist believed to have felt slighted by his own country. Although he never visited America, he bequeathed his entire fortune to found an institution there for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Smithson’s 1829 bequest took the form of shiny British sovereigns bearing the head of the new Queen Victoria. They were eagerly accepted by the United States Mint at Philadelphia, melted down, and recycled into American gold coins, mostly five-dollar gold pieces. Only two of the original sovereigns escaped the meltdown.

Massachusetts Pine Tree Shilling, '1652', (struck 1667-1674)


American colonists acted independently even before the war against Great Britain, and the money they created has become legendary. The inhabitants of Boston came up with the first North American silver coins — most notably the Pine Tree Shilling. This was followed by other innovative new coins and even official paper money, the first in the Western world.
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 Flash Exhibition
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