The Magellanic Premium of the American Philosophical Society

magellanic premium medal

On September 17, 1785 Jean-Hyacinthe Magellan sent a letter to the American Philosophical Society inquiring if the Society would be willing to accept 200 guineas to establish a yearly scientific prize. Magellan envisioned the premium being awarded for the best discovery or useful improvement in the areas of navigation or natural philosophy ("mere natural history only excepted.") 

The form of the Premium fit into the views of the Society's founder and then president, Benjamin Franklin, who viewed the awarding of medals and prizes as an appropriate custom for the new democratic Republic. In his letter, Magellan set forth the conditions for the Premium's appearance. The prize would be a solid gold oval plate, on which was engraved a short Latin inscription, the date, and the names of the Premium, the Society and its president, and the winner. He insisted that the only other ornamentation be the Society's seal attached with a silk string ribbon. 

Magellan wrote that all he required was the reply of the Society, and he would send the 200 guineas by way of his friend Samuel Vaughan (APS member 1784). Benjamin Franklin personally wrote Magellan on January 24, 1786 to "thankfully accept" the offer, and inform him that a committee had already been formed to establish rules for the award in accordance with his intentions. The Society had approved the Premium, with slight modifications to Magellan's conditions and the addition of astronomy to the categories. Once Vaughan had informed the Society that he had received the money from Magellan, Franklin stated the APS would, "without unnecessary delay, provide for funding this capital &: advertise the proposed premium." The APS carried an announcement of Magellan's offer in the next volume of its publication Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (Volume 2, 1786), which was followed by an advertisement for the award in Volume 3, 1793. In the 215 years since Magellan offered the Premium, the APS has awarded the medal only 44 times.