1933 double eagle case trial approaches, and you'll be there

Published : 07/06/11
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Get ready for the numismatic trial of the century, and Coin World will place you in the courtroom.

The fate of 10 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles currently held deep in a vault at the U.S. Mint’s Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository could be decided in a few weeks, as the Langbord family and the federal government present their cases for ownership before a federal jury. The trial of Langbord v. U.S. Department of the Treasury et al, is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. EDT July 7. Judge Legrome D. Davis will preside over the case at the U.S. District Court, 601 Market St. in Philadelphia.

While the Langbord family — Joan Langbord and her two sons, Roy and David — filed suit in 2006 to reclaim the 10 coins that they claim the government illegally took from them in 2004 and the government contends were stolen, the case really began in March 1933 in the last days of the administration of President Herbert Hoover and during the first few days of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Philadelphia Mint, as part of its routine operations in 1933, struck small quantities of the only two gold coin denominations still in active production — the Indian Head $10 eagle and the Saint-Gaudens double eagle. While gold coins did not circulate widely, banks did order them occasionally, and collectors and dealers eagerly awaited the availability of each year’s new gold coinage, which they could acquire at face value at the Philadelphia Mint and at some banks.

One of the central issues that the jury will have to decide is whether any of the 1933 double eagles were released through legitimate channels. Mint officials since 1944 have contended that none of the coins had been struck before Roosevelt entered office and therefore none of the coins that entered the marketplace in the late 1930s and early 1940s were released from the Mint legally. Roosevelt ordered all gold coins removed from circulation on March 6.

Mint records found by numismatist Roger W. Burdette, however, indicated that minting of the 1933 double eagles began March 2, during Hoover’s term of office, and therefore it was possible that some were acquired legally before March 6. Twenty or so of the 1933 double eagles did escape the initial melting at the Philadelphia Mint, all of them linked to Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt, Joan Langbord’s father. The government tracked down nine of them, confiscated them and destroyed them in the 1940s and 1950s. One example became the subject of a celebrated legal battle during the last decade of the 20th century; an out-of-court settlement was reached in 2001 allowing private ownership of that one coin, and, according to the government, only that coin.

Coin World Associate Editor Steve Roach, a longtime numismatist and also an attorney, said that from a legal perspective, it will be interesting to see how the parties go about proving events that happened at the Mint 70 years ago. Roach will cover the Langbord trial in person starting July 11, relying on both his numismatic and legal backgrounds to relay to readers what unfolds in the courtroom. “At the trial, I’ll be in the courtroom, observing the trial and posting updates on www.coinworld.com and through our social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.” Coin World will post daily news coverage of the trial at our website, including breaking news when a verdict is reached.

Be sure to stay near your computers starting the week of end July 11. No matter what the verdict, you’ll read it here as soon as it happens. ■

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