The 1838 Eagle may have been minted as a direct result of James Smithson's will. Smithson was an English citizen who never set foot in America. A large part of his estate, in the form of British sovereigns, was left to the United States. Many of these gold coins were melted and minted into 1838 Eagles. A few sovereigns still remain in the Smithsonian Institute, which is named after Smithson.
The 1838 Liberty Eagle is a rare date, with a low mintage and high demand, as the first year of a two year type. A few proofs are known. A choice proof in the Pittman Sale in May 1998 was auctioned for $550,000. This was the highest price of any individual coin in his entire collection.