Why the Mint isn’t seeking that 1933 gold $20 double eagle: They already have it

Owner turned coin in to bureau to avoid holding stolen government property
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Published : 05/31/18
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About that 1933 double eagle that Mint officials know the location of but weren’t seeking to recover? It’s already in the U.S. Mint’s possession.

It has been in Mint custody for some time.

T.V. Johnson, director of corporate com­munications for the Mint, informed Coin World May 22 that the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle that Greg Weinman, senior legal counsel, alluded to during public presentations May 10 and 11 in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists, has been secured at the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in Kentucky for an undisclosed period, in company with 10 other 1933 double eagles the Mint recovered in 2005.

Although Coin World has had the information since May 22, Mint officials asked that the magazine delay publication until officials at the Treasury Department could be consulted.

According to the Mint, the owner of the extant 1933 double eagle turned the gold piece over to authorities because he didn’t want to be caught with what federal courts determined was stolen government property. The person who turned the 1933 double eagle over to authorities wishes to remain anonymous.

Johnson told Coin World May 22 that U.S. Mint officials have been instructed by the Department of Justice not to divulge the specifics as to when the latest 1933 double eagle was turned over to authorities, or how, nor how the person who surrendered the gold piece came into possession of it. Johnson said the gold piece was surrendered to Weinman by its owner through other government channels.

Expert examination

Johnson explains in a May 23 email to Coin World that the surrendered specimen was authenticated by Dr. George Hunter, the same former Mint official who authenticated the 10 specimens recovered from the Langbord family. 

“According to Dr. Hunter’s authentication report that concluded that this was a genuine 1933 Double Eagle, he viewed the piece under microscopic magnification from 4x to 40x, for details of metal flow markings in the field of the coin, for lettering shapes and placement, including the serifs on the letters and the stars and inscription on the edge, for fill of the dies and split collar in various areas of the faces and edges of the coin, and for any other anomalies which might indicate that it was counterfeit,” explains Johnson. “He also measured its weight, diameter and thickness and observed its overall color and heft, subjective nondestructive measures of the alloy and density of gold coins. His report does not address whether this piece was struck from the same dies as the other 10 specimens.”

The Langbord 10 coins

In 2016, after 11 years of litigation and after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from lower court rulings, the Mint was awarded custody of 10 1933 double eagles declared stolen government property.

Joan Switt Langbord, the daughter of noted Philadelphia jeweler and numismatist Israel Switt, said she found the 10 1933 double eagles in a family safe deposit box at Sovereign Bank in Philadelphia in 2003.

The 10 gold pieces were turned over to the Mint through the Secret Service in 2004, purportedly for the sole purpose, according to the Langbord family, of having them authenticated.

Eleven months later, in 2005, Mint officials announced they had recovered 10 1933 double eagles considered stolen government property since none had been officially released at the time of their production.

The 10 1933 double eagles were determined to have been struck from the same pair of coinage dies used to strike the two examples presented by the Mint to the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

21 of 25

The most recently surrendered 1933 double eagle is the 21st example from 25 that litigation determined Switt and Philadelphia Mint cashier George McCann collaborated to remove from the production facility by other than official means.

Mint officials say none of the 445,500 $20 gold pieces dated 1933 were officially monetized and released into circulation after their production.

Weinman indicated at his public presentations that another example is purportedly in Europe, another is in an unknown location in the United States, and that the whereabouts of the final two examples are unknown to authorities.

Of the 25, only one is declared legal to own and monetized. That is the example King Farouk I of Egypt was able to remove from American soil in 1944 after being granted an export license by the U.S. Treasury Department.

In 1954, two years after Farouk was deposed during a military coup, the exported 1933 double eagle was scheduled for auction by Sotheby’s as part of The Palace Collection. The piece was withdrawn from the sale at the request of the U.S. State Department. The piece soon disappeared and remained underground until resurfacing in 1995 the hands of a dealer with connections to Gen. Abdul Nasser’s military that overthrew Farouk.

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The Farouk piece was recovered by the Secret Service in 1996 following a sting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

The Mint and British dealer Stephen Fenton, who had imported the Farouk piece, reached a settlement before trial in January 2001, determining the piece would be sold at public auction.

The piece realized $7.59 million in a July 30, 2002, auction by Sotheby’s, in conjunction with Stack’s, with the Mint and Fenton splitting the net proceeds.

The unnamed buyer paid an additional $20 to allow the piece to become the only example monetized and legal to own.

Another nine 1933 double eagles went to the melting pot in the 1940s and 1950s after having been either seized by the Secret Service or turned in by those who held them.

The nine relegated to the melting pot include the piece that Tennessee collector L.G. Barnard sought to auction through Stack’s but lost during litigation in a challenge by federal authorities.

The Secret Service still has on its books a directive to seize any extant 1933 double eagles as stolen government property.

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