US Coins

Judge confirms jury decision on 1933 case

This is one of 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold double eagles that remain at the center of a long-running legal dispute between the federal government and a Pennsylvania family that claims ownership of the coins.

Images by Thomas Mulvaney, courtesy of U.S. Mint.

Judge Legrome D. Davis has confirmed a jury’s 2011 decision that the Langbord family’s 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles are the property of the government.

On Aug. 29 in Philadelphia’s U.S. District Court, Judge Davis ruled in favor of the government, stating that the 10 1933 double eagles were not lawfully removed from the U.S. Mint and that as a matter of law they remain the property of the government regardless of how the coins came into the Langbord family’s possession.

The 2011 trial in Philadelphia

The civil trial took place in July 2011 where a jury unanimously found that the government proved its position that the 10 coins should be forfeited by the Langbord family.

After the jury decision, the Langbord family challenged the verdict on several grounds. They contended that no reasonable jury could have found that the coins were stolen or otherwise removed from the Mint unlawfully and that the government failed to prove a violation of the criminal statute underlying the forfeiture action.

Further, the family argued that the jury’s verdict made the government’s declaratory judgment claim — where the government sought further protections to maintain clear title to the coins — unnecessary.

Davis wrote that there was usefulness in granting the government’s request for declaratory judgment, “because it quiets title to the disputed Double Eagles to an extent the jury’s verdict did not.” In other words, a declaratory judgment further clarifies the legal relationship between the government, the Langbord family and the disputed double eagles.

The family’s motions were denied and the government was confirmed “as the true owner of the stolen coins” in the recent ruling.

Reviewing the jury’s decision

The government argued at trial that a cashier at the Philadelphia Mint was the probable source of all 1933 double eagles that made their way to private hands and eventually Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt, citing a 1940s Secret Service investigation that named Switt as the source of other confiscated 1933 double eagles.

Joan Langbord, Switt’s daughter, testified at the trial that she did not know of the coins until 2003. Bank records showed that she visited her safe deposit box on July 29, 2002 — the day before a different 1933 double eagle was sold at auction for $7,590,020 — and discovered the 10 coins a year later after she visited the box again.

Regarding her testimony, Davis wrote, “The jury was not impressed.” He added, “While Joan Langbord maintained that she knew nothing about the ‘33 Double Eagles before discovering them at the bottom of her safe deposit box in 2003, a jury could reasonably believe otherwise.”

In absence of testimony from anyone who worked at the Mint in the 1930s, the trial testimony focused on the Philadelphia Mint cashier and his records. Despite this absence of live testimony, Davis found that the jury could reasonably find that the coins were taken with the requisite criminal intent and that the government presented substantial evidence “from which the jury could — and did — properly infer criminal intent.”

While the Langbord family disputed the reliability of the Mint’s records, the government’s numismatic expert, David Enders Tripp, used contemporary documents to trace the journey of all 1933 double eagles produced from January 1933 to November 1934, concluding that no 1933 double eagles could have been obtained by the public through legitimate means.

The Aug. 29 ruling stated unequivocally that “Tripp accounted for each and every one of the 445,500 1933 Double Eagles and showed that not a single ’33 Double Eagle was issued to the public.”

Davis added that the Langbord family’s argument that there was a “window of opportunity” spanning March and April of 1933 when the cashier could have dispensed these coins to the public was flawed because, “as Tripp correctly noted, the Mint records reflect that no 1933 Double Eagles were part of these transactions.”

Davis wrote, “The jury saw no record of a legitimate ‘33 Double Eagle release, and from this lack of documentation one may reasonably infer that the responsible party appropriated the coins in secret, knowing full well the wrongfulness and illegality of his actions.” In summary he wrote, “Given the evidence, a reasonable jury could find that the ‘33 Double Eagles were knowingly stolen or embezzled from the Mint.”

Plans to appeal

Barry H. Berke, the Langbords’ lead attorney, has stated that the family plans to appeal the decision. He said that the case raises many legal questions, “including the limits on the government’s power to confiscate property.”

The coins have been kept at the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Ky., and the government has not yet made a statement about what it will do with the coins. Deputy U.S. Mint Director Richard A. Peterson has stated that the coins will not be melted. ¦

Community Comments