Sir Hans Sloane, born in 1660 to a well-to-do family in Ireland, collected over 71,000 items throughout his long globe-trotting life, to which he added a library and a vast array of plant specimens.
When he died, his trustees offered the entire collection, worth around £80,000, to King George II for the nation. In return, they asked for £20,000 to go to Sloane's two daughters.
The king was hardly overwhelmed by the offer, and replied that anyway, "he doubted if there was money sufficient in the Exchequer". The trustees then knocked on Parliament's door and received a warmer reception.
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Parliament would be delighted to receive the collection in order to create a national museum. It had already acquired another collection in 1700 that had belonged to Sir Robert Cotton. Also up for sale was the Harleian Collection of manuscripts and medals that had belonged to the earls of Oxford. The problem was, Parliament had nowhere to house the collections, and no money to buy them with.
Not wanting to lose Sloane's collection to the Russians or the French, Parliament passed the British Museum Act on 7 June, providing for a public lottery to raise £300,000. But, in keeping with the politics of the age, the lottery was corrupt.
A hundred thousand tickets were meant to be sold for £1, and later £2, each. No one was allowed to own more than 20 tickets. However, a wealthy City banker by the name of Sampson Gideon sold many of the tickets before the public could get a look in, and kept 5,000 tickets for himself. Similarly, one of the receivers, Peter Leherpe, allowed buyers to snap up as many tickets as they liked, as long as they provided additional fictitious names.
A black market in lottery tickets sprang up. After just two days, tickets were selling at a 16-shilling premium – those lucky enough to be on the inside were making huge profits.
We'll probably never know who the winner was, but we do know he held ticket number 46885. £95,194, eight shillings and two pence was handed over to the newly created British Museum to buy Montagu House, which stood on the same site as the present museum.
Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.
Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.
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