US Coins

Only legal 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle in June auction

The 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle sold at auction for $7.59 million in 2002 to shoe designer Stuart Weitzman will change hands in June for the first time since that sale.

Images courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Shoe designer Stuart Weitzman’s decision to auction his 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle, once owned by King Farouk I of Egypt, publicly reveals he is the anonymous collector who purchased it in 2002.

The coin, estimated to sell for between $10 million and $15 million, is to be offered June 8 by Sotheby’s in New York in a three-lot auction that also includes two extremely rare stamps.

Net proceeds from the auction of the three lots are to be distributed to a number of charitable outlets.

Weitzman’s coin is the only example from the production of 445,500 1933 double eagles struck at the Philadelphia Mint that is legal to own. That determination was made during protracted civil litigation that ended in January 2001 with a court settlement permitting the coin to be sold at public auction.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a bank holiday on April 5, 1933, and issued an executive order requiring gold coins, gold bullion and gold certificates unless of specific numismatic value to be surrendered to the federal government on or before May 1, 1933.

The Weitzman coin, considered “gem brilliant Uncirculated” and housed by Weitzman in an acrylic plastic holder, was purchased for $7.59 million during a one-lot, nine-minute auction conducted July 30, 2002, at Sotheby’s New York auction gallery, in conjunction with Stack’s.

Those net proceeds were divided between the U.S. Mint and British dealer Stephen Fenton, who had returned the coin to the United States in 1996.

Weitzman had to pay an additional $20 to the government to officially monetize the coin. Until that monetization, U.S. Mint officials considered the gold piece to be chattel, or property, and not a coin.

Soon after Weitzman’s acquisition, the 1933 double eagle was first put on public display at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in a numismatic exhibit mounted by the American Numismatic Society.

In 2013, the 1933 double eagle was moved, along with the two philatelic rarities, for exhibit at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library. The coin was removed from public exhibit recently.

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Storied history

The Farouk 1933 double eagle was among fewer than a dozen examples secured by California dealer Abe Kosoff sometime after their production and distributed into the numismatic marketplace.

All of the 1933 double eagle production was rendered illegal to own and any extant examples were to be rounded up by the Secret Service and returned to the Treasury Department for melting. The 1933 double eagles were considered by federal authorities not to have been released through official channels.

The Farouk specimen famously escaped melting, as he was able to secure an export license from the U.S. Treasury Department in 1944, to legally remove the gold piece from American soil and take it back to his home country. By the time officials researching the coins realized the export license was mistakenly granted, the coin was already gone.

When Farouk was deposed in 1952 during a military coup staged by Gen. Abdul Nasser, his extensive numismatic, philatelic and other treasures were seized on behalf of the Egyptian people. The numismatic holdings were scheduled to be sold in 1954 by Sotheby’s as part of the  Palace Collection, but the 1933 double eagle was withdrawn at the request of the U.S. State Department.

The 1933 gold piece surfaced on American soil 42 years later. Secret Service agents stormed a guest room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York where Fenton was brokering the sale of the gold piece to U.S. dealer Jay Parrino.

Criminal charges were filed against both dealers, but later dropped as federal authorities pursued civil forfeiture to retain the gold piece. Parrino also relinquished any ownership interest in the gold piece.

During the five years of civil litigation culminating in the decision to publicly auction the gold piece, it was stored in a vault at Secret Service New York offices on the ninth floor of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.

After the court settlement was reached, the gold piece was eventually moved to storage at the Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository in Kentucky. Had the gold not been moved when it was, it would have wound up in the rubble of the collapse of Tower 2 during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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