US Coins

10 1933 gold double eagles safe from fed destruction

Two of the 10 1933 double eagles in Mint custody were brought from Fort Knox to Monroeville, Pennsylvania, for presentations May 10 and 11 by Mint senior counsel Greg Weinman in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists Spring Show.

Images by Coin World Senior Editor Paul Gilkes.

Another U.S.-held 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle is on the Mint’s radar, but Greg Weinman, the Mint’s senior legal counsel said there are no current plans to have the Secret Service go after it, even though that enforcement body has on its books a directive to seize extant examples.

Weinman provided insights into the never-issued 1933 gold pieces during May 10 and 11 presentations at the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists spring show.

Of 25 pieces that authorities determined were illegally removed from the Philadelphia Mint, 10 are at the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in Kentucky; nine were melted in the 1940s and 1950s pursuant to Secret Service recovery and subsequent court proceedings; and one is the example that King Farouk I of Egypt was able to remove from American soil in 1944 using an export license granted by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Of the remaining five extant pieces, Weinman says he knows the location of one in the United States, another reportedly is in Europe and a third is elsewhere, while the location of the remaining two is unknown.

Weinman said there are no current plans to have the Secret Service pursue any of the examples where the location is known.

Weinman also indicated that the 10 never-issued gold double eagles that have been secured at Fort Knox since their recovery by the U.S. Mint in 2005 will never be melted.

In fact, said Weinman, although the Mint considers the 10 1933 gold pieces as “chattel,” that is, government property, holding that they were never monetized, or legally issued as money, the bureau also embraces the gold pieces as “national treasures.”

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Litigation involving 1933 double eagles has been interwoven throughout his entire 21-year government career, since he first joined the Mint in 1997.

Two of Fort Knox’s 10 gold pieces, accompanied by U.S. Mint police from that bullion storage facility, were on display during the PAN presentations.

The Mint plans to open an extensive exhibit at the Philadelphia Mint the week of Aug. 13 during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money that will run through Feb. 28, 2019. The exhibit will feature the 10 gold pieces, original documents, plaster models, dies and historical photographs.

Path to recovery

The 10 gold pieces were discovered in 2003 in a bank safe deposit box by Joan Switt Langbord, the daughter of Philadelphia jeweler and gold dealer Israel Switt.

The Langbord family turned the 10 gold pieces over to the Mint through the Secret Service in 2004. The Mint authenticated them as genuine after comparing them to two examples in the National Numismatic Collection and determined all 10 pieces had been struck from the same pair of dies as the two in the Smithsonian.

Weinman said the 10 gold pieces were in paper coin envelopes when turned over to authorities at Sovereign Bank by Switt’s grandson, Roy Langbord, on behalf of his mother and the Langbord family.

Weinman said although no one has even been arrested in connection with the 10 gold pieces that the Mint considered having been stolen, he said the Secret Service agent overseeing the transfer wanted to arrest Roy Langbord, Weinman said.

Late in 2005, U.S. Mint officials announced the recovery of the 10 gold pieces, an action that sparked the beginning of more than a decade of litigation that traveled all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Israel Switt was determined to have colluded with Philadelphia Mint cashier George McCann to remove 25 of the 1933 double eagle production by other than legitimate means, since none of the 445,500 pieces struck were officially released as money, Weinman said.

The 25 1933 gold pieces were intended to have been sent to the melting cauldron in 1937 along with the other outstanding production.

The Mint’s meticulous record-keeping pinpoints exact production and disposition of the 1933 gold coin production.

On Feb. 3, 1937, McCann broke the seal on Vault F, Cage 1, at the Philadelphia Mint containing 445,000 gold pieces from the 445,500 produced overall.

Weinman identified the disposition of the production, based on Mint ledgers, as:

??20 destroyed in a special assay.

??Nine destroyed in the annual assay.

??469 sent to the cauldron from the cashier’s vault.

??445,000 sent to the cauldron from Vault F.

??Two sent to the Smithsonian Institution for the National Numismatic Collection.

Best possible outcome

Weinman said the Mint’s legal stance regarding the 10 gold pieces was strengthened by extensive documented evidence and a knowledgeable witness to testify in court.

Regarding its handling of the piece identified as the one owned by King Farouk, Weinman said that the settlement the government reached, which resulted in the piece being monetized and sold at auction in 2002 for nearly $7.6 million, was the best the government could hope for then.

Documented evidence had not been researched and discovered and there were no potential numismatic experts willing to testify in court at the time, Weinman said.

For the government, the litigation was a matter of principle, and for British dealer Stephen Fenton, it was about the money the sale of the Farouk piece could generate, Weinman said.

Fenton had imported the 1933 gold piece after acquiring it in 1995 through London dealer Andre de Clermont, who had obtained it from an Egyptian jeweler with ties to his nation’s highest military leadership.

Farouk was overthrown in 1952 in a military coup by Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Farouk’s Palace Collection, which included the 1933 gold piece, was set to be sold in 1954 in Cairo, Egypt, by Sotheby’s, but was withdrawn at the request of the U.S. State Department and subsequently went underground for more than 40 years before this piece resurfaced.

Weinman said despite the 1944 export license granted Farouk by the U.S. Treasury Department, Farouk never held clear title since the piece was never officially released through the Mint and remained U.S. government property.

After five years of litigation, a settlement was reached in late January 2001 that allowed the Farouk piece to be monetized as the only 1933 double eagle legal to own, and it was sold at public auction with the net proceeds equally divided between Fenton and the U.S. government.

The Farouk piece realized $7.59 million, which included the buyer’s premium, in the July 30, 2002, sale by Sotheby’s, in conjunction with Stack’s, with an additional $20 paid for monetization.

Originally placed by its unidentified owner on public exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Farouk piece is now displayed at the New-York Historical Society.

Weinman noted that numismatist David Tripp was so intrigued with the Farouk 1933 double eagle during its cataloging for the 2002 auction that Tripp took the next year off to research his manuscript for Illegal Tender, which chronicles the 1933 gold eagle production, the disposition of the struck pieces and gold ownership in the United States, using official government records.

Without recognizing it at the time, Tripp was contributing much of the legwork that the government would later use in the Langbord case concerning the 10 found 1933 gold pieces. And the government didn’t have to go searching for an expert witness to testify in court. They had Tripp this time.

The Department of Justice, on behalf of the Mint, filed a civil forfeiture case to retain the 10 recovered 1933 gold pieces, ultimately securing a declaratory judgment awarding the Mint ownership of any and all 1933 double eagles.

In April 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of lower federal court outcomes.

Weinman said it is unlikely that the saga involving the 1933 double eagles is over. Those five examples remain at large. Mint officials, however, are not currently planning to initiate any action for their return.

And, Weinman added, during a 2007 deposition of noted Philadelphia coin dealer Harry J. Forman a year before his death, Forman recounted a lunch conversation with Israel Switt in 1980 in which Switt asked Forman about selling a 1933 double eagle. Forman testified that he told Switt any such sale would have to be conducted on foreign soil since it was illegal to own a 1933 double eagle in the U.S. 

Weinman said documentation obtained during litigation included a letter signed by Switt indicating he had no knowledge of how any 1933 gold pieces had come into his possession and did not have any more nor know the whereabouts of any other specimens.

Israel Switt passed away in 1995 at the age of 90. 

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