Coin Specifications

Category: Modern Commemoratives (1982-Date)
Mint: Philadelphia
Mintage: 129,152
Obverse Designer: "Thomas D. Rogers, Sr."
Reverse Designer: John Mercanti
Composition: Silver
Fineness: 0.9000
Weight: 26.7300g
ASW: 0.7734oz
Melt Value: $13.81 (3/25/2017)
Diameter: 38.1mm
Edge: Reeded
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1996 P SMITHSON S$1 PF obverse 1996 P SMITHSON S$1 PF reverse

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There are no NGC varieties for this coin.

Description & Analysis

When James Smithson died in 1829, he bequeathed most of his fortune to the United States of America, a country he had never visited. Evidently an admirer of our nation’s founding principles, Smithson declared that this money be used to establish an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Some years went by while his other heirs and the British government protested this donation, but the money was ultimately transmitted to the USA in 1838. Paid in gold sovereigns bearing that date, two of these historic pieces are today preserved within the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection in Washington, DC.

This numismatic division of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History was among the intended recipients of surcharges applied to the two-coin program approved by Congress to mark the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Institution in 1846. Called for were uncirculated and proof editions of both a silver dollar and a gold half eagle. The fact that some of the coin collecting community’s purchasing dollars would go toward the National Numismatic Collection was expected to bring about higher than usual sales, but this ultimately proved to be an illusion.

One of the more attractive coins within the modern commemorative series, the Smithsonian Silver Dollar features on its obverse a charming view of the “Castle,” a structure erected in the Gothic Revival style and which once housed the entire institution. Today it is used mostly for administrative offices and conferences. Laurel branches flank this view at either side, with the inscription “Smithsonian 1846—1996” appearing below. The initials of Mint artist Thomas D. Rogers, Sr. are at the stem of the left branch, with the coin’s mintmark appearing beside the stem of the right branch. Statutory mottoes balance this design at the top.

U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver John Mercanti furnished the reverse model, which portrays an allegorical female figure perched atop a globe of the world. She holds in her right hand an inscribed scroll and in her left the torch of knowledge. To the right of this figure are the words of James Smithson: “FOR THE INCREASE AND DIFFUSION OF KNOWLEDGE.” Mercanti’s initials are at left above the horizon, while purely statutory legends complete this side of the coin.

The half eagle is an equally appealing coin, though simpler in execution. Al Maletsky of the U. S. Mint sculpted a bust of Smithson facing left, with the subject’s name appearing below it. The dual dates of commemoration are to the left of the bust, with Smithson’ famous declaration above it. Statutory mottoes complete this side. The reverse is likewise by a Mint staff artist, T. James Ferrell, and it features the classical sun logo of the Smithsonian Institution. The name “SMITHSONIAN” is placed below the logo, with Ferrell’s initials to the right. All of these elements are framed within a circle, and around this are the statutory legends.

Uncirculated examples of the silver dollar were coined at Denver, while Philadelphia produced the proofs. Both editions of the gold half eagle were struck at the West Point Mint in New York State.

For a program that should have had the full support of the numismatic community behind it, the Smithsonian Institution coins produced shockingly low net sales. Only the silver dollar faired reasonably well, posting totals slightly higher than those of that same year’s National Community Service Silver Dollar. It seems likely that coin buyers were simply suffering from overload as a result the massive Olympic program of 1995-96. The fact that previous modern commemorative coins were then selling at or below issue price did not encourage collectors to buy extra coins for future resale. Today, all four varieties of the Smithsonian coins are quite scarce.


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Price Guide

Last Updated: 11/2/2016

Click on a price to see historical prices, comparison charts and trends.

1996 P SMITHSON S$1 PF Ultra Cameo
Base $ - - - - - - - - - 19.00 20.00 21.00 26.50 30.00 33.75 35.00 37.50 42.50 55.00 550

NGC Price and Value Guides Disclaimer



Total Graded: 1858
Low Grade: 64
Average Grade: 68
High Grade: 70

Upcoming Auctions

Auction Prices Realized

A random selection of coins is shown below.

Auction House
Sale / Lot
5/30/2004 PCGS PF 69   Ultra Cameo Teletrade Auction 1889, 1889/Lot# 1613 $71.50
9/18/2011 PCGS PF 70   Ultra Cameo Heritage Auctions Internet Coin Auction Session(2), 131139/Lot# 21414 $517.50
4/19/2012 NGC PF 69   Ultra Cameo Heritage Auctions Thursday Modern Coin Auctions Session(1), 241217/Lot# 17530 $39.00
10/7/2012 NGC PF 69   GreatCollections GreatCollections Coin Auctions 10/07/2012, 43/Lot# 62475 $57.26
11/25/2012 NGC PF 69   GreatCollections GreatCollections Coin Auctions 11/25/2012, 50/Lot# 75340 $36.00
9/25/2013 PCGS PF 70   Ultra Cameo Heritage Auctions 2013 September 25 - 29 US Coins Signature Auction - Long Beach Session(8), 1189/Lot# 9991 $440.63
1/26/2014 PCGS PF 69   David Lawrence Rare Coins Internet Auction # 788, 797/Lot# 884 $244.00

NGC Registry

NGC Registry Score 1996 P SMITHSON S$1 PF
1996 P SMITHSON S$1 PF Cameo
1996 P SMITHSON S$1 PF Ultra Cameo
Registry Image Gallery
Grade: PF 70 UC
Points: 1213
Owner: Beijim
Grade: PF 70 UC
Points: 1213
Owner: Bruce Laquster
View the Registry Image Gallery

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