Coin Specifications

Category: Modern Commemoratives (1982-Date)
Mint: West Point
Mintage: 9,068
Obverse Designer: Alfred Maletsky
Reverse Designer: T. James Ferrell
Composition: Gold
Fineness: 0.9000
Weight: 8.3600g
AGW: 0.2419oz
Melt Value: $303.22 (3/29/2017)
Diameter: 21.6mm
Edge: Reeded
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1996 W SMITHSON $5 MS obverse 1996 W SMITHSON $5 MS 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.

Base $ - - - - - - - - - 980 381 460 485 495 505 515 540 560 680 890

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Total Graded: 859
Low Grade: 62
Average Grade: 69
High Grade: 70

Upcoming Auctions

Auction Prices Realized

A random selection of coins is shown below.

Auction House
Sale / Lot
7/13/2004 NGC MS 69   Heritage Auctions Exclusively Internet Auction #24073, 24073/Lot# 11863 $825.70
4/18/2005 PCGS MS 69   Teletrade Auction 2028, 2028/Lot# 2074 $742.50
7/29/2012 NGC MS 70   GreatCollections GreatCollections Coin Auctions 07/29/2012, 33/Lot# 66272 $687.50
12/16/2012 PCGS MS 69   Teletrade Auction 3399, 3399/Lot# 4114 $488.75
6/3/2014 PCGS MS 69   Stack's Bowers June 2014 Baltimore, 6021/Lot# 4811 $340.75
11/6/2014 NGC MS 69   Heritage Auctions 2014 November 6 - 10 US Coins Signature Auction - Beverly Hills Session(6), 1211/Lot# 9237 $329.00
12/14/2014 PCGS MS 69   David Lawrence Rare Coins Internet Auction # 834, 843/Lot# 767 $370.00
1/22/2017 PCGS MS 69   Heritage Auctions Internet Coin Auction Session(1), 131705/Lot# 29619 $299.63

NGC Registry

NGC Registry Score 1996 W SMITHSON $5 MS
Registry Image Gallery
Grade: MS 70
Points: 1781
Owner: Alaska Coin Nut
Grade: MS 70
Points: 1781
Owner: Beijim
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