The 2003 discovery in a Pennsylvania bank safe-deposit box of 10 1933
Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagles once owned by Philadelphia
jeweler Israel Switt changed the course of history for
Roy Langbord and his family.
Israel Switt, known as “Izzy” to most of those with whom he
conducted business, was Roy Langbord’s maternal grandfather.
In an exclusive interview granted to
World on Jan. 25, Roy Langbord says if the family had the
chance to do it all over again, the course taken as to what to do with
the coins, once they were found, and the outcome might both have been different.
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The 10 coins became the subject of costly, protracted litigation
between the federal government and the Langbords, as the family fought
to retain ownership of the coins.
The case has seen decisions made in favor of both sides, with the
most recent ruling occurring in August 2016 in favor of the Mint.
The 10 gold pieces are currently held within the U.S. Mint’s Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository in Kentucky
The next step in the legal process is fast approaching, with the
federal government expected to file arguments early in February to
stifle the Langbord family’s bid to bring the case before the U.S.
Supreme Court and possibly overturn the lower court ruling that
delivered ownership of the 10 coins to the federal government.
Roy Langbord, himself an attorney, says he knows getting the case
before the Supreme Court is a long shot.
The case has taken an emotional and financial toll on the Langbord
family, he says. During the litigation in U.S. District Court in
Philadelphia and subsequent appellate court proceedings, the Langbords
were advised by their New York attorney, Barry H.
Berke, not to discuss the case publicly. That is, until now.
Berke is the same attorney that represented British dealer Stephen
Fenton with the purported King Farouk 1933 double eagle that was declared
to be the only example legal to own; it was sold at auction in 2002,
with the net proceeds from the $7.59 million sale split between Fenton
and the Mint.
In a one-hour-and-40-minute telephone interview with
World, Roy Langbord discussed the details of the case from the
family’s point of view and how it affected each person, including his
brother, David, and especially their mother, Joan Switt Langbord,
Israel Switt’s daughter, now in her late 80s.
What the family initially thought was serendipitous, discovery of
the 10 1933 double eagles gradually turned sour once the family
decided to entrust the gold pieces to the federal government.
Langbord said his mother’s first suggestion was to return the coins
to their resting place in the Switt family’s bank safe-deposit box,
where they were found. Final disposition could be pursued by the
family after her death, she said.
Roy said his father, the late Stanton Langbord, however, recommended
the family seek an opinion as to the legal status of the gold pieces.
The coins were among 445,500 double eagles struck in 1933 at the
Philadelphia Mint, with most melted without being released into
Stanton Langbord, who owned and operated an optical company in
Philadelphia, was a heavily decorated World War II veteran who
experienced extensive combat in the Pacific Theater.
Roy Langbord said his father, who died in 2006 at age 85, strongly
believed the government would do the right thing for its citizens.
What eventually transpired was outright zeal on the part of the
government to win an all-out legal war at all costs, Langbord said.
And it all started with the coins.
Langbord said his mother informed him of the discovery of a bag of
coins, found in the safe-deposit box, but its contents weren’t known
until he could go through them with her in an office at the family
jewelry shop. The contents had reportedly been in the same
safe-deposit box since the 1950s, and remained there as the bank
underwent multiple ownership changes.
Roy said going into the safe-deposit box wasn’t even planned. The
facility had experienced flooding, causing the frames of some
safe-deposit boxes to warp, requiring the locks to be drilled open and
the boxes made sound again. The process required the contents of each
box to be removed by its owners.
Roy said the coins were held in a crumpled department store bag from
a since-defunct business. All of the coins in the bag were gold —
Mexican, Roman and assorted U.S.coins.
One of the first coins he pulled from the crumpled bag was in a
2-inch by 2-inch manila coin envelope marked LLDE.
Roy had worked summers at his grandfather’s store, where the pricing
code involved using, in place of digits, a nine-letter word with no
repeating letters. Israel Switt’s code word was “Baltimore.” The LL
translated to “33,” with the “DE” as “double eagle.” Roy’s suspicions
were proven true when he removed a 1933 double eagle.
There were nine more such envelopes, each containing a 1933 double
eagle, inside the bag. When the coins were turned over to the
government in the envelopes, Roy says Mint officials wondered if the
LLDE was some sort of Mint code.
Seeing the contents of each envelope, Roy said, “I knew it could be
life-changing.” He added: “When I first told my mother, she said she
didn’t want her life to change. She said, ‘put them back and you deal
with it after my death.’ ”
She must have had a premonition, Roy said. There were enough bad
things and worse that ended up happening, Roy said. His grandfather
was accused of trading in stolen property; his mother, of knowing much
earlier about the existence of the 10 1933 coins. Roy said there was
never any determination that the coins were stolen from the Mint.
Roy Langbord said his grandfather was small in stature but loomed
large in the business world of Philadelphia. He was a fair and honest
businessman who lived frugally, was well-respected and wouldn’t have
stolen anything from anyone, unlike his portrayal in government proceedings.
“He’d bring scrap metal to the Mint daily to be melted, sometimes
twice a day,” Langbord said. “He was likely given those coins or
purchased them. Was it legal under the circumstances he got them? I
don’t know, and neither does the government.”
In the years before he became a teenager, Roy said, his grandfather
would take him and Roy’s brother, David, annually to the Philadelphia
Mint where they would get a VIP behind-the-scenes tour, after which
each received a current year’s set of Proof coins.
Over lunch with his father the same day the 1933 double eagles were
discovered in 2003, Roy said they discussed what the family should do
with the coins. They began the search for legal counsel for direction.
What was finally decided was diametrically opposed to what his mother
Unlike his father, Roy said, his grandfather and grandfather's
business partner, Edward Silver, were distrustful of the federal
government and President Roosevelt, and didn’t like banks. Switt
preferred doing business in cash, Roy said. He installed two stand-up
safes in his shop in the 1930s that are still in the shop today.
Switt had cause to dislike the government. During the 1930s, he was
arrested by authorities while carrying a suitcase full of U.S. gold
coins to the Philadelphia Mint for melting. This was after Roosevelt
in 1933 had issued an executive order limiting private ownership of
U.S. gold coins.
Switt was never charged, but the contents of the suitcase were
confiscated and melted without Switt ever being compensated, Roy said.
Roy Langbord was generally aware of the rarity of 1933 double eagles
before the family discovery. He said he had seen a New York
Times article discussing the July 30, 2002, public auction by Sotheby’s, in
conjunction with Stack’s, of the purported King Farouk example.
Langbord said he then talked to his mother about whether the family
had any such coins extant. A subsequent hunt yielded nothing.
Langbord said he remembers his grandfather only discussing the 1933
double eagle once, in general, as a U.S. Mint issue.
During his last year of law school in New York City in 1977,
Langbord said his grandfather had asked him to stop at the Stack’s
coin shop on West 57th Street in Manhattan and ask what a 1933 double
eagle was worth. While waiting to talk to a Stack’s numismatist, Roy
said he spied a printed reference of U.S. coin values and looked up
1933 double eagles, for which he found no listed value.
The unidentified numismatist with whom he eventually spoke at
Stack’s stated 1933 double eagles had “no public value” and were
“largely privately traded,” and if he had to guess, placed a value of
$250,000 on one.
Roy said he relayed the information to his grandfather and the issue
of 1933 double eagles was not brought up by him again.
Switt was known to have traded in 1933 double eagles earlier and, in
the mid-1940s, had been interviewed by the Secret Service about his
marketing of the coins.
Service subsequently tracked down nine coins that Switt had
reportedly admitted to selling; all nine coins were either confiscated
or voluntarily turned over to the government by their owners, and all
were eventually destroyed.
Introduced to Berke
Langbord said he initially tried to enlist the services of Peter E. Fleming Jr., a high-profile criminal
defense lawyer, who was preparing for a major trial at the time and
could not take on the case. Roy then directed his attention to Berke
and was able to make his introduction through a Berke colleague that
Roy knew worked at the same firm.
Langbord said David Tripp — the federal government’s expert witness
against the Langbords — while preparing the catalog for the 2002 sale
of the purported Farouk coin had contacted his mother asking about the
possible existence of any other 1933 double eagles in the family’s
possession, since the Switt connection to the coins was known.
At the time, the existence of the 10 examples in the safe-deposit
box was not yet known to the family, Langbord said.
Nothing to hide
“We never had anything to hide,” Roy Langbord said. “We didn’t know
the legal status of the coins. We were looking to make a deal if it
was OK to sell them. Dad said, ‘Don’t worry.’ ”
Roy said Berke approached U.S. Mint officials concerning the coins,
optimistic that something positive could be worked out to the benefit
of all sides. Mint officials asked if it was possible to take the
coins to determine authenticity. Langbord said officials were told the
coins could be relinquished temporarily for that limited purpose, “but
we never gave them carte blanche.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Langbord said. The family
would soon find out. By this time, the coins had been moved from the
Switt family’s bank’s safe-deposit box to Stanton Langbord’s bank,
where he held a safe-deposit box.
Roy Langbord said he suspected something sinister was afoot when, in
2004, with Mint and Secret Service officials present along with his
dad and Berke, he noted that the removal of each of the 10 coins from
the envelopes was being videotaped, before the coins’ inspection and
documenting. Not long after, one of the Secret Service agents
approached him and began reading him his rights.
Langbord said legal pressure was being exerted for the coins to be
turned over to authorities for the authentication process. The coins
were turned over to the Mint through the Secret Service, but with the
family’s stipulation that custody was for the limited purpose of authentication.
As court proceedings evolved, Langbord said, it quickly became clear
that his family would likely have a difficult time succeeding in their
pursuit of the 10 coins’ return.
Langbord said he and his family would not agree to participate in a
2005 press conference announcing the discovery of the coins by the
Langbords and what Mint officials referred to as a “recovery.” The
U.S. Mint retained possession of the coins until Aug. 11, 2005, when
officials announced to the public the bureau’s “recovery” of the 10
1933 gold coins.
Mint officials do not consider the 10 gold pieces to be “coins,”
under government claims they were never officially released as such,
thus none of the 10 double eagles will be monetized as legal tender as
was done for the single example sold in 2002. Many numismatists
dispute the Mint’s claims that the double eagles even had to be
“monetized,” given how coins were distributed in the 1930s.
During the course of court proceedings, Langbord said, it became
painfully obvious that U.S. Mint records were woefully incomplete, and
those documents that did exist raised red flags.“It seems like the
documents were created to make it look like nothing was missing and
that nobody did anything wrong,” he said.
The Secret Service, Roy said, had not been actively seeking out the
existence of any 1933 double eagles for some six decades until the
Langbords’ case was brought to them.
In 2006, the Mint used the 10 coins as the centerpiece of an exhibit
during the American
Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Denver. The
Langbords expressed their objection to the display to both Mint and
ANA officials. “We were disgusted and disappointed,” Roy Langbord
said. “The exhibit was a clear violation of the rules of seizure.”
Langbord said it was also a violation when it was reported that
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. had graded the coins, a notification that
was quickly removed from the grading service’s website.
There is evidence that other examples of 1933 double eagles exist
beyond the two in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian
Institution’s National Museum of American History and the
purported Farouk coin and the 10 Langbord coins. Langbord added: “I
think everyone knows that there are others out there. They will
At least one dealer active in the business today has said he
participated in the sale of one that is not among the 13 identified pieces.
In retrospect, based on the events that unfolded, “we should have
sold some of them and put others in museums,” Roy Langbord said. “We
should never have turned them over to the Mint. They just took our
property and ran.”
What advice would he give to anyone with a genuine 1933 double eagle
in their possession?
“The last thing to do is inform the Mint,” he said. “Enjoy the
unique piece as long as you can.
“And if you want to sell it, do it outside the borders of the United States.”