The trial that should determine who owns 10
1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles continued July 8 at
Philadelphia’s Federal District Court, with the examination of a
single witness — David Enders Tripp — the government’s expert witness
Tripp was hired by the government to help show
that the coins were embezzled or stolen from the Philadelphia Mint.
The Langbord family, who allegedly discovered
the coins in 2003 in a family’s safe deposit box, contend that they
should be able to own the coins as there was a window of time where
people could legally obtain 1933 double eagles from the Mint cashier.
The jury was brought in at about 9:20 a.m. and
the government called Tripp as its first witness. Tripp — an
archaeologist turned numismatic consultant, research and writer who
later served as the head of Sotheby’s coin department — is author of
the 2004 book Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed and the Mystery of the
Lost 1933 Double Eagle. He stressed the importance of
provenance, or a coin’s prior ownership history, as both providing
historic context and to establish value.
Tripp said that he started looking at archival
material in the late 1970s, and that he used archival sources in the
10 years he spent preparing his work. When the government tried to
formally present Tripp as an expert on the 1933 double eagle, Barry
Berke, the lead attorney for the Langbords, objected, arguing that
Third Circuit custom does not support such a specific statement. The
jury was then dismissed as Judge Legrome D. Davis’ microphone was not
working properly, and when the jury re-entered, the Langbords’
objection was overruled.
Judge Davis defined the role of the expert
witness for the jury, stressing that just because an expert has a
particular qualification does not mean that the jurors must believe
everything that the expert says.
Tripp framed his testimony in the history of
the Philadelphia Mint, telling the jury that “You can’t look at 1933
double eagles in a historical vacuum,” and framing the 1933 double
eagle in the context of the economy at the time, which he said was “in
He passed out a 1907 Saint-Gaudens double
eagle for the judge and jurors to examine, noting that the only
differences between that and the 1933 and 1907 coins is the date and
the addition of “In God We Trust” on the reverse.
Introduced into evidence was a floor plan of
the Philadelphia Mint’s basement, which held the vaults and cages.
Mint cashier daily statements were described in detail, and attorneys
for the Langbords objected to several pieces of evidence related to
Franklin Roosevelt’s March 6, 1933, order that called for people to
turn in their gold coins, and subsequent events related to it.
Tripp characterized a March 7, 1933, wire from
an assistant attorney general that said Mint supervisors could
continue exchanging gold for gold coins as an orphan document. When
asked to describe an orphan document, Tripp said it was akin to
presenting only one side of a conversation, and to treat it with caution.
Tripp described the assay process — where the
purity of coins was assessed through a destructive process — and said
that two coins were selected at random from coin deliveries. A
calendar was shown depicting all the 1933 double eagles’ movements
from January 1933 to October 1934.
At this point the jury was dismissed and Judge
Davis reminded the attorneys for both sides that it is important for
them to use the jurors’ time well and to avoid objecting to things
that have previously been objected to and overruled.
The trial is scheduled to continue on Monday,
July 11. ■