One of two 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles held in the
National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution since
1934 is making its way to London for a March 3 and 4 exhibit, the
first leg of a seven-nation European tour.
The tour represents the first time that a 1933 double eagle has
been publicly exhibited in Europe.
Marc Pachter, interim director of the Smithsonian’s Museum of
American History, said,
“The 1933 double eagle is a symbol of a shared struggle in an
interdependent global economy, both in the early 20th Century and today.”
He added, “We are delighted to make one of the greatest treasures
of the Smithsonian available to European audiences as part of this
The two 1933 double eagles that are part of the National
Numismatic Collection were turned over by U.S. Mint officials to
Smithsonian officials in October 1934, according to an Oct. 9 exchange
between Acting Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Fred Chaffin and U.S.
Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross.
The 1933 double eagle’s tour was arranged in conjunction with the
Smithsonian by the Samlerhuset Group B.V. (online at www.samlerhuset.com), a global
numismatic marketing firm headquartered in Almere, Netherlands,
selling coins, commemorative pieces and related collectibles.
Samlerhuset Group B.V., which markets numismatic items into 16
different countries, is half owner of the Royal Norwegian Mint and
part owner of the World Coin Fair in Berlin.
Samlerhuset is also sole owner of Nordic Moneta Oy, the former
direct marketing subsidiary of the Mint of Finland.
According to Smithsonian officials, all of the costs associated
with the tour, including the participation of any Smithsonian
curatorial and support staff, are being borne by Samlerhuset.
Samlerhuset is also financing the mounting of the exhibit,
security for the coin while on exhibit, and transfer to and from the
seven venues, according to Smithsonian officials.
While the exhibit structures will be shipped between venues by
ground transport, the coin is being transported independently by a
contracted security detail whose costs are being underwritten by Samlerhuset.
The coin will be accompanied by a carnet — a merchandise passport
— to allow problem-free passage through customs in each country,
according to Smithsonian officials.
Smithsonian officials said they were contacted by Samlerhuset
representatives in 2009 about the possibility of such a numismatic
tour. A contract between Samlerhuset and the Smithsonian was signed in
January 2012, after Smithsonian officials approved all facets
associated with the tour.
Smithsonian officials agreed to the proposal since it will help
the museum to extend its outreach and to open and maintain dialog and
education exchanges with the venues at which the 1933 double eagle
will be displayed.
Peter Swanston, Samlerhuset chief executive officer, said company
officials for a long time have wanted to bring one of the
Smithsonian’s two 1933 double eagles on tour “to show this remarkable
piece of U.S. financial and numismatic history to a European public.”
Swanston said based on the firm’s experience of bringing other
numismatic rarities on exhibition in and around Europe, “we knew
interest in these kinds of coins is huge. We also knew we had the
ability and capability to bring the coin safely on tour.”
“As one of the main international coin collection companies, we
want to increase the general knowledge and interest in coins and coin
collecting,” Swanston said. “Owing to its legendary status and its
status in the financial history of the USA and the world economy, the
1933 double eagle will catch people’s interest way beyond traditional
numismatic circles. This coin in simply too interesting and its
history too fascinating to keep from a European audience.”
While Swanston did not disclose the estimated costs associated
with the tour, he emphasized the tour is well worth the expense.
Going on tour
The London stop takes the 1933 double eagle to Goldsmiths’ Hall on
Foster Lane, where the coin will be on public exhibit from 10 a.m. to
4 p.m. March 3 and 4. Admission is free.
The Goldsmiths’ Company (www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/),
one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London,
received its first royal charter in 1327.
Founded to regulate the craft or trade of the goldsmith, the
Goldsmiths’ Company has been responsible since 1300 for testing the
quality of gold and silver, and from 1975, platinum articles. In 2010,
testing palladium was added to the company’s responsibilities.
Under an 1870 act, Goldsmiths’ Hall was legislated as the venue
for the annual Trial of the Pyx for testing the metallic composition
of British coins.
The remaining six stops on the numismatic tour for the 1933 double
eagle, and hours of public exhibition, where known, are:
➤ Dublin, Ireland, March 6 and 7, Baroque Chapel, Irish Museum of
Modern Art, 1 to 8 p.m. March 6 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 7.
➤ Brussels, Belgium, Royal Library, March 9 and 10.
➤ Prague, Czech Republic, National Museum, March 13 to 14.
➤ Warsaw, Poland, National Museum, March 16 and 17.
➤ Oslo, Norway, Cultural Museum, March 20, 21 and 22.
➤ Helsinki, Finland, National Museum, March 27, 28 and 29.
Only one legal to own
The U.S. Treasury Department contends that it never officially
released the 1933 double eagle into circulation.
Thirteen pieces of 445,500 coins struck are known to have survived
government melting furnaces.
On March 6, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an
executive order prohibiting banks from paying out gold coins or gold certificates.
An uncertain number of 1933 double eagles escaped into the
marketplace, with most if not all transactions originating with a
Philadelphia jeweler and coin dealer. In the 1940s and 1950s, the
Secret Service identified and confiscated 10 examples sold by the
dealer, all of which were melted.
One of the coins sold by the dealer eventually went to Egypt’s
King Farouk. Farouk was able to remove his example from American soil
in 1944 using an export license mistakenly granted Feb. 29, 1944, by
the U.S. Treasury Department to the Egyptian Legation.
Farouk’s monarchy was toppled by a military coup in 1952, and two
years later, the 1933 double eagle disappeared soon after the U.S.
State Department requested it be withdrawn from the public sale of The
Palace Collection, Farouk’s personal numismatic collection.
The coin purported to be the Farouk example surfaced during a Feb.
8, 1996, Secret Service sting operation at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
in New York City. The dealer from whom the coin was confiscated and
the federal government fought over ownership in court.
The coin, as part of a January 2001 court settlement, was sold
July 30, 2002, by Sotheby’s, in conjunction with Stack’s, during a
single-coin, nine-minute, public auction.
With buyer’s premium, the coin sold for $7.59 million, with the
anonymous buyer paying an additional $20 to the federal government to
monetize the piece. The hammer price of $6.9 million was split between
the U.S. Mint and Stephen Fenton, the British dealer who imported the
coin into the U.S. in 1996.
The coin, which U.S. Mint officials determined was struck with the
same pair of dies that struck the two examples in the National
Numismatic Collection, is currently on display at the Federal Reserve
Bank of New York.
Ten other 1933 double eagles are known to exist. They are
currently housed at the U.S. Mint’s Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository
The 10 pieces were turned over for authentication to the U.S. Mint
in September 2004 by the family of Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt,
who reportedly acquired the coins directly from the Philadelphia Mint
and is the same dealer who marketed the coins in the late 1930s and
early 1940s. Switt acknowledged in an interview with Secret Service
agents in the 1940s that he had sold some examples of the coins to others.
Until the 10 pieces surfaced, Mint officials believed that all
extant examples had been recovered and melted.
In August 2005, United States Mint officials seized the 10 gold
pieces, claiming them as recovered government property.
The seizure triggered a nearly six-year-long legal battle by
Switt’s heirs (his daughter and two grandsons), who sought to have the
10 gold coins returned.
The court case culminated in July 2011 with a federal court jury
in Philadelphia ruling in favor of the federal government, supporting
the claim the coins were not legally obtained, but were stolen
government property. ■
Editor's note: The wrong images were provided with a press
release and used in the print and digital editions of this article
in the Feb. 27 issue of Coin World. The correct obverse and
reverse are used here.