1933 double eagle case ready to go to trial

Jury selection set to begin July 7 in Philadelphia
Published : 07/07/11
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The federal trial that should decide whether a family or the government owns 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles will begin July 7 in Philadelphia.

The trial of Langbord v. U.S. Department of the Treasury et al, is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. It is anticipated that the trial will take two weeks. Judge Legrome D. Davis will preside over the case in Room 6A of the U.S. District Court, 601 Market Street in Philadelphia.

Coin World will be attending the trial starting July 11, providing daily updates online at www.coinworld.com and through social media including Coin World’s Twitter account and its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/coinworld.

A rich history

The legal dispute over the 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles began in 2003 when Joan Langbord, the daughter of Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt, allegedly learned that a family safe deposit box contained the coins. She and her two sons, Roy and David, transferred the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication in September 2004.

In May 2005, the Mint authenticated the coins but refused to return them or initiate forfeiture proceedings. The Langbords sued the government in December 2006. On July 28, 2009, Judge Davis ordered the government to file a forfeiture action, ruling that the coins were unlawfully seized. The government filed its amended complaint for forfeiture and declaratory judgment against the Langbords and the 10 coins on Nov. 10, 2010.

The government’s case attempts to create a framework for the 10 1933 double eagles as being embezzled or stolen from the Mint and wrongfully retained. The Langbords have argued that there was a window of time where people could legitimately obtain 1933 double eagles from the Mint cashier, and that some pieces may have left the Mint that way.

At the heart of the case is the problem of proving actions alleged to have taken place in the 1930s and 1940s. To this end, both sides have retained three experts each, including numismatic experts David Enders Tripp, who is testifying on behalf of the government, and Roger Burdette, the numismatic expert retained by the Langbords.

A landmark case

The case is important for several reasons. Most obvious is that the coins are extremely valuable. On July 30, 2002, at Sotheby’s in New York, more than 700 people watched as six different bidders fought for eight minutes until the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle allegedly once owned by Egypt’s King Farouk sold for $7.59 million, plus $20 to officially monetize the coin. The buyer of that coin has remained anonymous.

If the Langbord coins are legal to own, the Professional Coin Grading Service Million Dollar Coin Club estimates that they would bring $2.5 to $3.5 million each at auction. Numismatic Guaranty Corp. posted a press release to its website on Nov. 3, 2009, announcing that it had graded the Langbord coins. One was graded Mint State 66, two were MS-65, six were graded MS-64 and a single one received an NGC UNC Details, Improperly Cleaned grade. The press release was removed from the NGC website several days later, adding further mystery.

In a larger sense, any court ruling that would question a collector’s right to own coins not issued as legal tender could jeopardize other legendary U.S. rarities like the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin.

Final filings

While May and June were quiet months for filings, a June 24 order required the Langbord family to provide the court with two copies of its proposed trial exhibits before June 28.

On June 27, the Langbords filed a motion for leave to file a supplemental memorandum to allow the addition of Exhibits 200 to 207 to their exhibit list and prevent the government from offering several of Tripp’s expert appendices as summary charts.

The additional exhibits the Langbords seek to add fall under two categories.

The first includes two exhibits that should have been included in the Langbords’ original list and are not new to the government: Treasury Regulations issued under the Gold Reserve Act in January 1934 and an advertisement from a 1941 issue of The Numismatist for the auction of a 1933 double eagle.

The second category includes six additional documents that the Langbords are trying to introduce in response to exhibits produced by the government during discovery. These include three reports and a memorandum from a 1937 Secret Service investigation related to the Philadelphia Mint and “obsolete and inadequate” Mint record-keeping procedures in the 1930s, a document from April 1933 considering what constitutes “hoarding” and a 1934 memo to the Cashier of the Treasurer’s Office addressing gold and other coins being made available to “fill request[s] for a few pieces of new coins for special purposes.”

Perhaps more interesting are the Langbords’ objections to admitting all or parts of several of David Tripp’s summary charts introduced into evidence by the government.

Among them is Government Exhibit 75-B, titled a “Chronology of Relevant Dates regarding the History of 1933 Double Eagles, Including the 1944-1945 Secret Service Investigation and Reported Involvement of Israel Switt.” The Langbords characterize this chronology as being based on Secret Service reports that should not be admitted at trial. The Langbords also contend that it should not be admitted because it is written as an argument for the government’s position, and selectively characterizes (or as the Langbords argue, mischaracterizes) various presidential proclamations, laws and other directives while leaving out contradictory directives and letters.

In a June 23 e-mail to Coin World, Barry H. Berke, the attorney for the Langbord family, said that he fully expects that jury selection will begin July 7, with opening statements beginning on Friday, July 8 or Monday, July 11, while noting, “It’s always possible that a trial can have an unexpected delay.”

During the five years that this case has been in litigation, the possibility of a settlement has always loomed and could happen the day before trial is scheduled to start. ■

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