'33 double eagle's seven-nation European tour great news

Published : 02/14/12
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In a period when daily headlines are often filled with doom-and-gloom economic news, there’s some great news to share from the numismatic realm.

One of the United States of America’s “crown jewels” — a 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle — is set for a grand, seven-nation tour of Europe this spring.

The coin making the trip and taking on the ambassadorial role is one of two of the famed date that have been resident since 1934 in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

We are informed that the idea for the tour came from Samlerhuset Group B.V., the giant global numismatic marketing firm with headquarters in the Netherlands and the entity that is also picking up the tab for all expenses associated with the tour.

Planning and facilitating European tours for major numismatic rarities is not a new undertaking for the Samlerhuset Group. But reaching across the Atlantic Ocean to work with the Smithsonian is new.

We applaud Smithsonian officials for recognizing the opportunity to create greater awareness of its holdings, particularly the National Numismatic Collection. The story of the 1933 double eagle is fascinating to those who may be inclined to collect coins and it is equally compelling to the public in general.

While a single coin will be showcased, the exhibit, we are given to understand, will provide an overview of the times and circumstances that brought about the recall of gold and the melting of gold coins in the United States, including most of the then newly minted 1933 double eagles. It will also tell the story of the known 13 survivors.

The initial publicity that we have seen indulges in a bit of puffery by describing the 1933 double eagle coin that will be on tour as “the world’s most expensive gold coin ever to come to auction.”

Of course, we in the numismatic community know that statement alludes to the 1933 double eagle sold at public auction in 2002 for $7.59 million. That coin is not on tour. It is on view at the Federal Reserve Bank in York City.

Since the U.S. government conferred special status upon the example sold at auction by deeming it the only 1933 double eagle that can be held privately, we know what its value was in 2002 and we know that it still holds the world record for a gold coin sold at public auction.

We do not know the value of the remaining known 12 double eagles bearing the 1933 date (two in the National Numismatic Collection and 10 being held at Fort Knox that were awarded to the U.S. government via jury trial in 2011).

Specialists who have examined all of the known 13 surviving examples believe all were struck from the same dies. Those same specialists also confirmed that the surviving coins are in different states of preservation and would not all grade the same. Thus, if it were possible for all of the coins to be sold at auction, grade would play a role in their value. Also, a greater quantity being available would likely somewhat depress the market for them.

Should the privately held example come to public auction today, it would likely set a new record. In the 10 years since it crossed the auction block, at least two U.S. coins sold via private treaty have surpassed the $7.59 million threshold.

Let’s hope the European tour for the Smithsonian’s numismatic ambassador will open the door for additional tours and perhaps exchanges in which the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection could someday be host for exhibits of treasures from some of Europe’s great museums. ■

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