Handlers of 1933 double eagle sale discuss details
- Published: Jun 22, 2018, 9 AM
Professional numismatist Julian Leidman says he never had any reservations about selling, nearly four decades ago, a 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. That coin is the specific coin most recently surrendered to federal authorities, its holder in fear of being accused of possessing stolen government property.
Mint officials have maintained for years — and affirmed through a 2011 civil trial — that all privately held extant 1933 double eagles (except the King Farouk specimen “monetized” following its auction in 2002) are stolen government property. The Mint maintains the pieces were never monetized through official government channels, and so considers them to be chattel, not coins. Some in the numismatic community dispute the Mint’s concept of “monetized,” saying that what the Mint claims now was not the practice in 1933.
Leidman, the owner of Bonanza Coins in Silver Spring, Maryland, is among those skeptical numismatists. He says he considers struck pieces of metal bearing designs, a date, denomination and country of issuance to be coins. He says he would have no qualms about buying and selling a 1964-D Peace dollar, another U.S. issue that authorities deem illegal to own since none of the 316,076 pieces struck at the Denver Mint were ever released into circulation.
None of the main production strikes, nor any of another 30 test strikes also produced has ever publicly surfaced, and none of those silver pieces nor any of the test strikes were saved by the Mint as part of their heritage assets. Neither did the Mint deliver any examples to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution for historical preservation.
Leidman said he never had any concerns transacting the purchase and sale of a 1933 double eagle.
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“Not a concern for a second as I always consider it a coin and that is what I deal in,” Leidman told Coin World June 14. “I would handle a 1964 Peace dollar given the chance.”
The surrendered 1933 double eagle has been determined to be the mystery piece illustrated in author Davis Tripp’s 2004 book, Illegal Tender. The identification was made after comparison of images published in Tripp’s book against images taken on behalf of the Mint by its curator, Dr. Robert Goler, and provided to Coin World.
The surrendered 1933 double eagle, now secured at the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in Kentucky, was once part of the gold coin collection of numismatist Roy E. “Ted” Naftzger Jr.
The 1933 gold piece was acquired in a private transaction from Naftzger by collector H. Jeff Browning. Leidman said he and two other buyers, Mike Brownlee and Stan Kesselman, partnered to purchase Naftzger’s collection of Saint-Gaudens double eagles for an unspecified price “in the mid six figures.” The 1933 alone was sold to Browning for $250,000 (the equivalent of $763,319 in 2018, adjusting for inflation).
Leidman and Kesselman both said they believe Naftzger obtained the 1933 double eagle from California dealer Abe Kosoff, who was known to have secured a number of the 1933 gold pieces from Philadelphia jeweler and coin dealer Israel Switt.
At one point, the question was raised whether the coin Naftzger obtained, likely from Kosoff, was the Farouk specimen, Leidman said.
The Naftzger-Browning 1933 double eagle “was given to a small partner of Browning’s because [Browning’s] attorneys wanted to get it out of his estate after he passed away,” according to Leidman. “I was marketing on behalf of him through Mike Brownlee, a close friend of his. Mike sold Browning many coins and I was a partner in the sale of the Naftzger Saints to him in 1975.”
Leidman said after Browning's death, he originally tried to broker the sale of the Naftzger-Browning 1933 double eagle to Montana collector James Edmiston. Edmiston, the founder of the former Bank of Columbia Falls, had an extensive U.S. coin collection that was often on display at the bank, according to Edmiston’s son, also named James, who is an attorney in Billings. The elder Edmiston passed away two years ago at age 94, his son said.
Leidman said the elder Edmiston wanted to use, as part of the payment for the coin, a yellow diamond, which Leidman took to jewelers in New York for appraisal. Leidman said that after he learned the diamond had been irradiated, the deal for the 1933 gold piece was never consummated.
Leidman said after Browning’s death, the 1933 double eagle that had been conveyed by Browning’s attorneys handling the estate to a Dallas collector who was a social friend of Browning’s, was returned to the Dallas collector.
“The coin got passed to [the collector] after Jeff passed away, as the lawyers did not want it in the estate,” Leidman said. “Mike Brownlee handled the disposal of the coin [for the Dallas collector] in the early 1980s, but my recollection is that he eventually got coins from the dealer that sold the coin to [another collector]. I do not believe that [the second collector] traded coins for it. I believe that the dealer traded coins for it [to Brownlee], whether it was sold before or after the transaction with Mike on behalf of [the Dallas collector].”
United States Mint officials have not identified who surrendered the most recently verified 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle to authorities, nor when that transfer took place.
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