Today, the Smithsonian Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers when Congress accepted the bequest of Mrs. Grant and Mr. Vanderbilt on August 5, 1886 of the General’s memorabilia.
From the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, for the year ending June 30, 1887. Part II:
The collection of historical and personal relics, coins, medals, engraved portraits, and similar objects, is gradually increasing, though without direct effort, and Mr. A. Howard Clark, for some time attached to the Museum, has begun the work of cataloguing and arranging them.
It would appear that no part of the work is more attractive to the visitor than that in which are displayed the personal relics of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and the other statesmen and soldiers identified with the early history of the nation, and its interest has been greatly increased during the year by the addition of the Grant collection of objects, including the swords and military and civil testimonials belonging to General U. S. Grant.
These had been purchased by Mr. W. H. Vanderbilt, and by him given to Mrs. Grant in trust to hold during the lifetime of General Grant, and at his death, or sooner, at her option, to become the property of the United States Government.
In accordance with Mrs. Grant’s request, the transfer of this collection was made by Mr. Vanderbilt in 1885, and a copy of his letter to the President of the United States transmitting the deed of trust is here given:
640 Fifth Avenue, January 20, 1885.
I purchased the articles of historical interest belonging to General Grant and gave them to Mrs. Grant in trust, to hold during the life-time of the general, and at his death, or sooner, at her option, they to become the property of the Government.
They consist of his swords, memorials of his victories, from the United States and cities, and tributes to his fame and achievements from Governments all over the world.
In their proper place at Washington they will always be secure, and will afford pleasure and instruction to succeeding generations.
This trust has been accepted by Mrs. Grant, and the disposition of the articles is in conformity with the wishes of the general. I transmit to you herewith the deed of trust.
Mrs. Grant informs me that she prefers to close the trust at once and send the memorials to Washington.
May I ask, therefore, that you will designate some official representing the proper department to receive them, and direct him to notify Mrs. Grant of the arrangements necessary to perfect the transfer and deposit in such of the Government buildings as may be most suitable.
Yours, respectfully, W. H. Vanderbilt.
His Excellency Chester A. Arthur, President of the United States.
The matter was formally brought to the attention of Congress by the President of the United States in a message dated February 3, 1885, a copy of which follows:
To the House of Representatives:
I take especial pleasure in laying before Congress the generous offer made by Mrs. Grant to give to the Government, in perpetual trust, the swords and military and civil testimonials lately belonging to General Grant.
A copy of the deed of trust, and of a letter addressed to me by Mr. W. H. Vanderbilt, which I transmit herewith, will explain the nature and motives of this offer.
Appreciation of General Grant’s achievements and recognition of his just fame have in part taken the shape of numerous mementoes and gifts which, while dear to him, possess for the nation an exceptional interest.
These relics, of great historical value, have passed into the hands of another, whose considerate action has restored the collection to Mrs. Grant as a life trust, on the condition that at the death of General Grant, or sooner, at Mrs. Grant’s option, it should become the property of the Government. * * *
In the exercise of the option thus given her Mrs. Grant elects that the trust shall forthwith determine, and asks that the Government designate a suitable place of deposit and a responsible custodian for the collection.
The nature of this gift and the value of the relics which the generosity of a private citizen, joined to the high sense of public regard which animates Mrs. Grant, has thus placed at the disposal of the Government, demand full and signal recognition on behalf of the nation at the hands of its representatives.
I therefore ask Congress to take suitable action to accept the trust and to provide for its custody, at the same time recording the appreciative gratitude of the people of the United States to the donors. * * *
Chester A. Arthur.
Executive Mansion, February 3, 1885.
In the mean time the collection was placed in charge of the War Department until definite action had been taken by Congress, and on August 5, 1886, the following resolution was adopted and became a law:
Whereas Julia Dent Grant and William H. Vanderbilt, by deed of trust executed on the tenth day of January, eighteen hundred and eighty-five, presented to the United States certain swords, medals, paintings, bronzes, portraits, commissions, and addresses and objects of value and art presented by various Governments in the world to General Ulysses S. Grant as tokens of their high appreciation of his illustrious character as a soldier and a statesman:
Therefore, Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the United States accept, with grateful acknowledgment, the said property and articles more fully described in the schedule attached to said deed of trust, to be held by the United States and preserved and protected in the city of Washington for the use and inspection of the people of the United States.
Sec. 2. That the said property and articles be placed under the custody of the Director of the National Museum, and he is hereby directed to receive the same for safe keeping therein.
Approved August 5, 1886.
The collection was transferred to the National Museum in November, 1886.
A complete catalogue of the objects in this collection is given in the list of accessions, under No. 18528.
The Smithsonian Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of General Grant, circa 1905.