1933 double eagle sighting leads to eventual call from FBI official: Guest Commentary

'I actually had a 1933 $20 double eagle in my hands,' and not one of the pieces with known whereabouts
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 08/28/15
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Kenneth Goldman is a longtime dealer, operating as Kenneth Goldman Inc. in Needham, Mass. He began collecting coins when he was 6 years old.

With all the recent news on the case of the 1933 gold $20 double eagles, I have decided to share some of my own experiences with these coins, including how I actually had one of these coins in my hand, some years ago. 

One experience was a near miss in the late 1970s. Another coin dealer offered me a 1932 double eagle, which I bought for around $18,000 or so. In 1933, the past owner went to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. He wanted to buy a 1933 gold $10 eagle and a 1933 gold $20 coin from the Mint. He was able to buy the $10 coin and he saw the 1933 $20 coins piled up on the back table. Unfortunately, the person at the Mint said that the $20 coins were not released yet; he was able to buy the 1932 double eagle, which I later bought. 

A couple of years earlier, I actually had a 1933 $20 double eagle in my hands — for a couple of minutes. I remember quite clearly that this was at the Long Beach Expo in California. I was walking around the floor when a prominent dealer from Texas came over to me. I clearly remember his words to me: “Hey, Goldman. Do you want to see a coin that will make the entire coin show stop?”

I thought for a minute as to what this could be and said, “Sure, what do you have?” He promptly handed me an envelope which was typewritten with something like “1898-S $20 Gold.” My thoughts were that I was being played here, so I continued on with what I thought was a joke. I opened up the envelope and out came a Saint-Gaudens double eagle, reverse facing up. Again, I thought, “What can be so special about an Unc. $20 Saint?” The entire process probably took less than two minutes, but it seemed things were going in somewhat slow motion. 

Naturally I picked up the coin by the edge and turned it over. Imagine my surprise when I saw that this “ordinary coin” was dated 1933! I remember smiling and asking something like “Tell me about this” or similar. I never got an answer except advice to keep this quiet.

Certainly, I knew the history and the illegality of this coin, but I never thought I would have one in my hand. I walked away, thought for a minute, and continued on my way at the convention. I felt that I was very lucky to see one of these in person.

I have not relayed this story until David Tripp wrote the book Illegal Tender—Gold, Greed & the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle where part of this story was told. In that book, you can see an undated photo of a 1933 double eagle and my comments that this coin in the photo was probably the coin I had in my hand, and this coin was different from the one that was sold in the Sotheby’s auction for over $7 million.

All was quiet for some time. Then the book produced another interesting part of this story. I was at home one day, when I got a phone call. It was from the FBI, asking about the 1933 double eagle. I related the story exactly as above and mentioned the name of the dealer who showed me the coin. Unfortunately, the dealer had passed away by the time of the FBI’s call to me. They asked if I had bought the coin. I related that I was in my 20s at that time and I did not have anywhere near the money that this coin would have been worth. As well, I knew of the questionable nature of owning such a coin, so I did not even attempt to ask a price on this. Where the coin is today is unknown to me, but I imagine that it is hidden in a collection somewhere. 

Further, David Akers always said that there were other 1933 $20 double eagles in Europe. David was never one to make up stories, so my thoughts were that he was speaking from experience.

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