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William Jennings $40 Million Claims Marvelous Certificate

William Jennings $40 Million Claims Marvelous Certificate


[WILLIAM JENNINGS.] Blank Printed Stock Certificate, ca. 1850, Philadelphia. 1 p., 12.5" x 6.5" Edge tears on left where it was removed from binding.


This marvelous engraved certificate depicts a miserly old man leaving behind an enormous safe guarded by a dog, while a family arrives with a key to open it. Although unfilled, certificates like this one promised shares in the inheritance based on how much the individual contributed to legal fees.



“The Estate of William Jennings, Esq. of Acton Place, London / Estimated at $40,000,000 in 1850.”
“By authority of a Convention of the heirs of WM. JENNINGS, Deceased, now resident in the United States of America, and convened to raise funds and organize proceedings for the recovery of the vast Estates of said decedant—this Certificate of Loan declares that there is due to ________________ or order the sum of ________________ Dollars, payable out of the proceeds first realized from said Estate.”


When William Jennens/Jennings died without a will in 1798, the Court of Chancery named George Augustus William Curzon, a descendent of his aunt, as his heir. Curzon’s mother administered the estate for her son, but he died young, so she passed the estate to her second son, Richard William Penn Curzon (1796-1870), but some alleged that he was the illegitimate son of an unmarried woman named Anne Oake. The courts divided Jennens personal property among several relatives, but subsequent legal proceedings regarding the estate continued until 1915 without reaching a conclusion. The litigation eventually exhausted through legal fees the Jennens inheritance of approximately £2 million.


However, William Jennens’ uncle and namesake William Jennens (b. 1676) was a British army officer in the American Indian Wars. If he was the William Jennings who married Mary Jane Pulliam, then many Americans may also have been co-heirs. Another story is that John Addis married the only daughter of Mary Jennings Shea, the sister of William Jennens/Jennings, and they had six children before his death in Philadelphia in 1810. In 1850, two conventions were held in the United States to take the necessary steps to recover the estate. Organizers solicited every descendent of anybody named “Jennings.” Raising funds for litigation began in England, but many alleged relatives in the United States and even unrelated people named “Jennings” sent money in hopes of sharing in the inheritance. Newspapers in the 1850s occasionally reported that a certain family or families had been discovered to be the legal heirs of Jennens/Jennings, and rumors swirled in England as well.


The convoluted nature of this case that continued for more than a century may have inspired Charles Dickens, who included the ongoing case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce as a key plot device in his Bleak House, published serially in 1852 and 1853.


William Jennens/Jennings (1701-1798) was born to Anne Guidott and Robert Jennens, who were married in Westminster Abbey in 1700. Robert Jennens was an aide-de-camp to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. William Jennens’s godfather was King William III (1650-1702). Robert Jennens bought Acton Place in 1708 and remodeled it until his death in 1725. William Jennens lived in unfurnished rooms in the basement with his servants and dogs and avoided social conduct. He conducted business in London, and he developed a reputation as a miser while he amassed his fortune. He died unmarried and without a will and was described as the richest man in Great Britain at the time of his death.


James H. Spencer (1824-1887) was a physician in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to this certificate, he was the chairman of the executive committee of a Convention to initiate legal proceedings for the recovery of the estate for the proper American heirs.


This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.



Item: 67490

Price: $700.00
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