|Value||$20.00 U.S. dollars|
|Diameter||34.1 mm (1.34252 in)|
|Thickness||2.0 mm (0.07874 in)|
|Edge||Lettered – E Pluribus Unum|
|Composition||90% gold, 10% copper|
|Years of minting||1933|
|Design||Lady Liberty holding a torch and olive branch, backed by a glory|
|Design||Bald eagle in flight, backed by a glory, with motto|
The 1933 double eagle is a United States 20-dollar gold coin. Although 445,500 specimens of this Saint-Gaudensdouble eagle were minted in 1933, none were ever officially circulated and all but two were ordered melted down. However, 20 more are known to have been rescued from melting by being stolen, and found their way into the hands of collectors before later being recovered. Nine of the recovered coins were destroyed, making this one of the world's rarest coins, with only 13 known specimens remaining—only one of which is privately owned.
The two intentionally spared coins are in the U.S. National Numismatic Collection, ten others are held in Fort Knox, and the one remaining recovered coin was sold in 2002 to an anonymous private owner who paid US$7.59 million for it—the second-highest price paid at auction for a single U.S. coin.
In 1933, in an attempt to end the 1930s general bank crisis, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, which provisions included:
Section 2. All persons are hereby required to deliver on or before May 1, 1933, to a Federal Reserve bank or a branch or agency thereof or to any member bank of the Federal Reserve System all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates now owned by them or coming into their ownership on or before April 28, 1933, with the exception of the following:
- (a) Such amount of gold as may be required for legitimate and customary use in industry, profession or art within a reasonable time, including gold prior to refining and stocks of gold in reasonable amounts for the usual trade requirements of owners mining and refining such gold.
- (b) Gold coin and gold certificates in an amount not exceeding in the aggregate $100.00 belonging to any one person; and gold coins having recognized special value to collectors of rare and unusual coins.
- (c) Gold coin and bullion earmarked or held in trust for a recognized foreign government or foreign central bank or the Bank for International Settlements.
- (d) Gold coin and bullion licensed for the other proper transactions (not involving hoarding) including gold coin and gold bullion imported for the re-export or held pending action on applications for export license.
Congress additionally passed the Gold Reserve Act in 1934, which outlawed the circulation and private possession of United States gold coins for general circulation, with an exemption for collector coins. This act declared that gold coins were no longer legal tender in the United States, and people had to turn in their gold coins for other forms of currency. The 1933 gold double eagles were struck after this executive order, but because they were no longer legal tender, most of the 1933 gold coins were melted down in late 1934 and some were destroyed in tests. Two of the $20 double eagles were presented by the United States Mint to the U.S. National Numismatic Collection, and they were recently on display in the "Money and Medals Hall" on the third floor of the National Museum of American History.[when?]
These two coins should have been the only 1933 double eagle coins in existence. However, unknown to the mint, a number of the coins (20 have been recovered so far) were stolen, possibly by the U.S. Mint cashier, and found their way via Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt into the hands of collectors. The coins circulated among collectors for several years before the Secret Service became aware of their existence. The matter came to the attention of mint officials when an investigative reporter looked into the history of the coins he had spotted in an upcoming Stack's Bowers coin auction and contacted the Mint as part of his research. As a result, an official investigation into the matter was launched by the Secret Service in March 1944. Prior to the investigation, a Texas dealer sold one of the coins to a foreign buyer, and it left the U.S. on February 29, 1944.
During the first year of the investigation, seven coins were seized or voluntarily turned in to the Secret Service and were subsequently destroyed at the Mint; an eighth coin was recovered the following year and met the same fate. In 1945, the investigation identified the alleged thief and his accomplice, Switt, who admitted to selling the nine (located) coins, but said he could not recall how he obtained them. The Justice Department tried to prosecute them, but the statute of limitations had passed. A tenth coin was recovered and destroyed in 1952.
In contrast, the 1933 Eagle was issued before Roosevelt's withdrawal order, so they may be legally owned by private citizens. However, it is estimated that no more than 40 exist, the rest having been melted, making them exceptionally rare.
Egyptian double eagle
The missing double eagle was acquired by King Farouk of Egypt, who was a voracious collector of many things, including imperial Fabergé eggs, antique aspirin bottles, paperweights, postage stamps—and coins, of which he had a collection of over 8,500. In 1944 Farouk purchased a 1933 double eagle, and in strict adherence with the law, his ministers applied to the United States Treasury Department for an export license for the coin. Mistakenly, just days before the mint theft was discovered, the license was granted. The Treasury Department attempted to work through diplomatic channels to request the return of the coin from Egypt, but World War II delayed their efforts for several years. In 1952, King Farouk was deposed in a coup d'etat, and many of his possessions were made available for public auction (run by Sotheby's) – including the double eagle coin. The United States government requested the return of the coin, and the Egyptian government stated that it would comply with the request. However, the coin disappeared and was not seen again in Egypt.
In 1996, a double eagle surfaced again after over 40 years of obscurity, when British coin dealer Stephen Fenton was arrested by U.S. Secret Service agents during a sting operation at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Although he initially told investigators he bought the coin over the counter at his shop, he later changed his story. Under sworn testimony, he insisted the double eagle had come from the collection of King Farouk, though this could not be verified. Charges against Fenton were subsequently dropped, and he defended his ownership of the coin in court. The case was settled in 2001 when it was agreed that ownership of the double eagle would revert to the United States government, and the coin could then legally be sold at auction. The United States Treasury issued a document to "issue and monetize" the coin, thereby making it a legal-tender gold coin in the United States.
When the coin was seized, it was transferred to a holding place believed to be safe: the treasury vaults of the World Trade Center. When the court settlement was reached in July 2001, only two months before the Trade Center was destroyed, the coin was transferred to Fort Knox for safekeeping.
On July 30, 2002, the 1933 double eagle was sold to an anonymous bidder at a Sotheby's auction held in New York for $6.6 million, plus a 15-percent buyer's premium, and an additional $20 needed to "monetize" the face value of the coin so it would become legal currency. This brought the final sale price to $7,590,020.00, almost twice the previous record for a coin.[not in citation given] Half the bid price was to be delivered to the United States Treasury, plus the $20 to monetize the coin, while Stephen Fenton was entitled to the other half. The auction took less than nine minutes.
Discovery of ten more coins
In August 2005, the United States Mint announced the recovery of ten additional stolen 1933 double eagle gold coins from the family of Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt, the illicit coin dealer identified by the Secret Service as a party to the theft who admitted selling the first nine double eagles recovered a half century earlier. In September 2004, the coins' ostensible owner, Joan Switt Langbord, voluntarily surrendered the 10 coins to the Secret Service. In July 2005, the coins were authenticated by the United States Mint after working with the Smithsonian Institution, as being genuine 1933 double eagles.
According to various accounts, Israel Switt had many contacts and friends within the Philadelphia Mint, and reportedly had access to many points of the minting process. A secondary source reports that the Secret Service found that only one man, George McCann, had access to the coins at the time and served prison time for a similar embezzlement in 1940. Switt may have obtained the stolen 1933 double eagles through a relationship with the head mint cashier. One theory is that McCann swapped previous year double eagles for the 1933 specimens prior to melting, thus avoiding compromise of accounting books and inventory lists.
Coin experts in the numismatic world have advanced an argument that Switt could have legally obtained the 1933 coins when he was exchanging gold bullion for coins. Although the Mint records clearly show that no 1933 double eagles were issued, there were allegedly three weeks in March 1933 when new double eagles could possibly have been legally obtained. The mint began striking double eagles on March 15, and Roosevelt's executive order to ban them was not finalized until April 5. On March 6, 1933, the Secretary of the Treasury ordered the Director of the Mint to pay gold only under license issued by the Secretary, and the United States Mint cashier's daily statements do not reflect that any 1933 double eagles were paid out.
Until the early 1970s (when President Nixon took the United States off the gold standard and President Ford signed legislation that again made it legal for the public to own gold bullion), any recovered 1933 double eagle, as gold bullion, was required to be melted. Therefore, while double eagles recovered prior to 1974 were melted down, any double eagle recovered now can be spared this fate. Currently, with the exception of the one sold on July 30, 2002, 1933 double eagle coins cannot be the legal possession of any member of the public, as they were never issued and hence remain the property of the United States government.
On October 28, 2010, United States District Court judge Legrome D. Davis released a 20-page decision regarding claims to the coins by descendants of Israel Switt, leading to a trial in July 2011. On July 20, 2011, after a ten-day trial, a jury ruled unanimously in favor of the United States government concerning ownership of the ten additional double eagles. The court concluded that circumstantial evidence proved that Israel Switt had illegally obtained the coins from the United States government, and that they are thus still government property. The decision was affirmed on August 29, 2012, and the plaintiffs planned to appeal.
In 2003, the ten double eagles were stored at the United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky. They were shown to jurors in Philadelphia during the July 2011 trial, but were then returned to Fort Knox, where they were to remain until a decision was made regarding their disposition. In April 2015, a United States federal appeals court ordered the coins returned to the Langbord family because the original asset seizure was conducted improperly, as the government failed to file a judicial civil forfeiture complaint within 90 days of the family's seized asset claim. This order was reversed on July 28, 2015, and in October 2015, an en banc session was held with 13 judges from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, where they heard oral arguments in the ongoing appeal. On August 1, 2016, the judges reversed the previous ruling, finding the coins to be property of the United States government. The Langbords appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on April 17, 2017 denied certiorari.
In 2004, the National Collectors Mint (NCM) released gold-plated replicas of the 1933 double eagle, ostensibly under the authority of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Commonwealth. The NCM advertised and certified the coins as "legal tender of the CNMI", a bogus designation.
The replica coins did not include any "replica" or "copy" indications on their faces. The replica coins matched the original coins in concept of design, but they were not exact duplications of the coin. The only difference in basic design between the NCM replicas and the original double eagle was the addition of the CNMI territorial seal under the U.S. motto on the reverse.
After some controversy over the nature and marketing of these replicas, the coins were reissued with the word "copy" stamped across the eagle's abdomen.
Notes and references
- Hunt for Double Eagle, French version: A la recherche de la pièce perdue, produced by Laura Jones (Fulcrum TV), directed by Tilman Remme, 53 min, 2010
- Alison Frankel, Double Eagle: the epic story of the world's most valuable coin. New York: Norton, 2006 ISBN 0-393-05949-9
- David Tripp, Illegal tender: gold, greed, and the mystery of the lost 1933 Double Eagle. New York: Free Press, 2004 ISBN 0-7432-4574-1
- Bryan Christy, "Curse of the Double Eagle", Playboy, April 2004
- Linda Fairstein, The Kills (a fictional story based on the King Farouk–owned 'Double Eagle' coin). Little Brown, 2004 ISBN 978-0-7515-4284-4
- James Twining, The Double Eagle, an investigation novel involving the FBI, United States Department of Treasury, Fort Knox, etc.
- ^1933 TEN DOLLARS OR EAGLE
- ^Donovan, Karen (December 26, 2006). "Buried Treasure". Trusts and Estates. Archived from the original on 24 December 2010. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- ^Worden, Leon (January 2006). "1933 Double 'Legal'—Barry Berke: The Saints' Biggest Advocate". COINage: 46–48. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
- ^Farouk-Fenton 1933 Double Eagle Sets New World Record Price!, Gold Rush Gallery
- ^Auction brings $7.6 million for 'Double Eagle'Archived 2012-02-07 at the Wayback Machine., CNN July 30, 2002
- ^ ab"United States Mint Recovers 10 Famed Double Eagles" (Press release). United States Mint. August 11, 2005. Retrieved July 23, 2011. [dead link]
- ^ abc"Double Eagle Trouble",[dead link]ANS Magazine, 2002
- ^"The United States Mint Press Release",[dead link] US Mint
- ^"Trial Likely for Langbord 1933s", numismaster.com
- ^Loftus, Peter (July 21, 2011). "Family Loses Coins Worth Millions in Dispute With U.S."Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved July 23, 2011.
- ^Loftus, Peter (September 6, 2012). "Rare Gold Coins Belong to Mint, Judge Decides". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
- ^Roach, Steve (July 21, 2011). "1933 double eagle trial: At long last, a conclusion". Coin World. Retrieved July 23, 2011. [dead link]
- ^Ashby Jones (April 17, 2015). "Court Orders U.S. Mint to Return Famed Coins to Family". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
- ^Hardiman, Thomas. "Decision in Langbord v. US Treasury, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals". Retrieved November 20, 2016.
- ^Guarino, Ben (August 2, 2016). "'A high-stakes dispute over ten pieces of gold': Court reclaims priceless Double Eagle coins for U.S. government". washingtonpost.com.
The government will prove, she pledged, that the heirs knew that the goods were not legitimately theirs, and so the jury should return the coins “to their rightful owner, the people of the United States of America.”
Barry Berke, a lawyer arguing on behalf of Mr. Switt’s heirs, the Langbord family, told the jury that the case was, simply, about power and government overreach. Washington should not be able to seize property from citizens “unless it can prove it is entitled to — and not just powerful enough to take it,” he said.
He called the government’s case an attempt to “rewrite history,” and promised to present alternate explanations for treasured coins coming legitimately into the Langbords’ hands: the mint commonly exchanged coins for gold, he said, and the cashier of the mint kept an “open bag” of 1933 double eagles near his desk.
How did the coins get out? Gloriously designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the 1933 double eagles were never officially distributed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, trying to stop a bank panic and to stem hoarding, issued an executive order that made owning large amounts of gold bullion and coins illegal. So while nearly a half million were made, all but two, sent to the Smithsonian, were supposed to have been reduced to bullion.
But in 2004, Joan Langbord, Mr. Switt’s daughter, and her sons contacted the United States Mint to say they had discovered the 10 coins tucked away in a safe deposit box, within a folded Wanamaker’s department store bag, and asked for help in authenticating them. Instead, the government seized the double eagles — an eagle was a $10 piece, a half eagle a $5 — saying that since they had never been circulated, they must have been stolen. The Langbords sued to get them back.
In 2009, Judge Legrome D. Davis of Federal District Court, said that the government could not simply assume the coins were government property, and would have the burden of proving the facts in court. While the government has the burden of proof, this is not a criminal case in which guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. It must convince jurors only that a preponderance of the evidence supports its case.
In a tough pair of detailed orders issued just before trial, Judge Davis stated flatly that some of the evidence could allow jurors to infer that the coins were stolen and that the family knew it and concealed them. He noted somewhat acerbically in a footnote that the safe deposit box in which Ms. Langbord “claims to have discovered” the coins had been opened by her in 2002, “the day before the Fenton coin was sold at auction.”
Even if the jury decides in favor of the Langbords, Judge Davis could still declare the government the rightful owner. That possibility worries coin collectors, said Armen Vartian, a lawyer who filed briefs in the case on behalf of the Professional Numismatics Guild. “The government cannot just go around saying, ‘You have this. We think it’s ours. Give it back,’ ” he said. Having looked at the evidence against the Langbords, he said, “At best, it’s inconclusive,” and added, “You would think that the government has better things to do.”
In the courtroom, jury selection took much of the first day. The process, as usual, was grindingly slow, but had its moments. Judge Davis, a large man with a sonorous voice who tips back so far in his chair that sometimes only his head is visible over the desk, asked a potential juror whether the fact that her husband collected coins would influence her. Did she share his hobby?
“I don’t collect coins,” she said. “I spend them.”
She was seated.Continue reading the main story