Record-setting coin sale highlights the value of coin collecting
- Published: Jun 9, 2021, 12 PM
The world of numismatics watched in anticipation on June 8 when Sotheby’s auctioned off one of the most unique offerings in the history of American coins. The only 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle that can be legally owned was sold to a new owner, who paid more than $18 million.
For one coin.
In realizing this price, the highly anticipated auction exceeded its expected price of $10-15 million.
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
This particular coin has an extensive history, including ownership by foreign royalty and legal battles for survival, that adds intrigue and character and plays a role in its attraction. Its story carries additional weight, allowing it to command great attention and record high pricing.
The gold coin traces back to King Farouk of Egypt and was later purchased in 2002 by shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, who offered it for sale through the June 8 Sotheby’s auction.
The U.S. Mint had produced 445,500 double eagles in 1933, which were to be distributed as others had before into circulation. However, in one of his first acts, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared an effective end to the nation’s adherence to the gold standard, banned the payout of gold coins, and restricted the private ownership of some forms of gold.
According to U.S. Mint’s records, the entire mintage of 1933 double eagles were to be melted with the exception of two that were sent to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
However, in 1937, a number of the coins appeared for sale. A 1944 Secret Service investigation determined that they had been stolen from the Mint and nine were seized from their owners (all nine were later melted).
But before that investigation, one coin was mistakenly granted an export license when requested by Egypt, whose King Farouk was a coin collector. It became part of his collection, thereby making that 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle outside the legal jurisdiction of the United States government.
Political turmoil in Egypt led to King Farouk’s abdication in the 1950s. He was exiled to Italy and many of his possessions, including his 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, were offered at auction. At the request of the U.S. government to Egypt, the 1933 double eagle was removed from the auction.
However, the whereabouts of the coin were unknown until British coin dealer Stephon Fenton surrendered the coin to United States authorities in 1996.
The coin's provenance, a history of ownership of a valued object, is known.
The 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle provenance
According to U.S. Secret Service reports and depositions, it begins with United States Mint, Philadelphia, 1933; via George McCann (February [?] 1937); Israel Switt, “at about the beginning of February 1937"; James G. Macallister, July 1, 1937 ($500); B.L. Taylor, July 1937; Max Berenstein; R.H. Smith; Ira S. Reed, 1941; J.F. Bell, “sometime in 1942"; B. Max Mehl (possibly via Ira Reed), February 23, 1944; King Farouk of Egypt, February 23, 1944 ($1,575); Republic of Egypt, July 23, 1952; The Palace Collections of Egypt, Sotheby’s Cairo, February 24, 1954, lot 185 (part, withdrawn); Anonymous Egyptian (via a Cairene jeweler); Stephen Fenton (via André de Clermont), October 3, 1995 ($210,000); United States Mint (January 25, 2001); Sotheby’s/Stack’s, July 30, 2002 ($7,590,020); Stuart Weitzman.
Hanging in legal limbo for several years after its 1996 emergence, the coin was stored in a Secret Service vault at the World Trade Center in New York City.
The coin remained the only legally obtainable example of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, in addition to the two impounded at the Smithsonian Museum. Over the years, at least 11 other known examples that also made their way in public hands have surfaced and are now in custody of the United States government.
A timeless hobby remains vibrant
Coins of this country (and many nations of the world) are more than just a means of commerce. They often carry unique heritage, serving as benchmarks to history, achievement and the fibers of the fabric that make up America.
Throughout time, they have become artifacts of bygone days, emblematic of the good, the bad and the ugly, but always true in representation. Like the 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle, they all have a story to tell.
Since that coin was made, technology has risen to a premier position as an impetus for “better.” Whether it is newer, faster, more cost-effective, more efficient or any other advantageous characteristic, the role of technology has reached a point where you cannot live without it, even when you do not know it is there.
For the most part, technological advance has blended into the environment, often to the point where consumers are either unaware or unconcerned about its presence and function. There is hardly a single aspect of our lives that has not changed in the past few decades. There are hardly any that will not continue to change as newer technology is tried and proven.
The lure of technology has driven consumer tendencies as the latest gadget leads to frenetic buying behaviors. The telephone started as the “electrical speech machine” in 1876. As the nation grew, so did the need to communicate.
The device began to bring the world together. Inventive minds were making it better, more efficient, and more attractive. Today, a phone is so multi-functioned that its virtually replaces most other devices.
In the palm of your hand, there is more technology than that which NASA used to program Apollo 11’s successful mission to the moon. The simple hand-held device becomes a vault of consumer confidence, thanks to the capabilities brought about by the development of technology.
In the world of numismatics, known to most as coin collecting, changing times make it mandatory to adapt to be successful, whether your interest is as a business or as a hobby.
Looking for treasure in change received from a cash purchase has become a passé practice. The coins that carry the most value and attraction are tucked away in dresser drawers and jewelry boxes or places unknown.
A committed coin collector not only faces a reduced a supply of desired coins, but always the threat of fakes and misrepresented coins touted to be better than they are from unscrupulous sellers. If there has ever been a time when above-board ethics, trust and reliability have been needed, now is that time.
“Counterfeiting and piracy is globally projected to reach $2.8 trillion in 2020.”
Source: ICC, OECD, Vandagraf International
Coin World introduces Coin World+ app
The technology found in today’s cell phone holds the key to establishing the trust and confidence needed for a coin collector to have a satisfactory experience. Coin World, a leading print and digital publication for 60 years in the field of numismatics, has created a new service called Coin World+, which gives coins a “voice” while establishing the heritage of the item.
Coin World+, now available for mobile phones everywhere, is purpose-built for the changing times. Learn more at CoinWorldPlus.com
In the world of coin collecting, third-party grading services are employed by a coin’s owner to establish authenticity and determine its grade, utilizing a scale unique to the hobby. Once that has been done, the coin is then encapsulated for protection in a plastic holder (known as a “slab” in numismatic vernacular), sealed with the label detailing this information.
Coin World+ gives coins a “voice” through technology
The Coin World+ service allows this to go one step further. A “tag” with a Near Field Communication (NFC) label is designed to enable coin enthusiasts to digitally authenticate and access product-related content with the tap of an NFC-enabled smartphone (iPhone 7 running iOS 11, or newer: Android devices running Ice Cream Sandwich, or newer). It operates within a radius of 1.5 inches and allows for two-way communication, with both devices involved being able to send and receive information.
With a Coin World+ tag, each coin has its own encrypted unique ID number securely fixed on the surface of the holder. This will enable coins to be better safeguarded as they move through the hobby’s distribution network — (from mints to authorized purchasers to wholesalers to dealers to collectors) to protect them from counterfeiting, combat gray markets, and provide communication with a coin’s owner directly, in a targeted manner.
How does Coin World+ work?
No app is required to access basic coin details (year, description, category, grading service information, etc.), which a user can do by simply tapping their NFC-enabled smartphone against the coin’s Coin World+ tag. The phone’s NFC reader captures the electronic ID number of the tag. The ID number directs the phone online where the user can access the Coin World app’s features via their phone’s web browser. The customer will be able to authenticate the coin from the grader’s data and obtain rudimentary information.
Those who want to receive additional information and access more features will need to download and register the free Coin World+ app. Available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, the Coin World+ app allows for services such as inventory management, creation of a want list and online shopping for the coins you covet.
“All investors and collectors want as much information as possible. Coin World has history, pricing data and valuation information on more than 20,000 U.S. coins. The Coin World+ app makes it easy for anyone to see that information by simply waving your smartphone over one of our tags,” said Rick Amos, Amos Media Company CEO, owner of Coin World.
Each tag is designed with a tamper-proof antenna, so if it is damaged or an attempt to remove it is made, the chain of communication is broken. Thus, the coin will need to be resubmitted for a replacement tag.
With the presence of the unique ID, coin owners and potential buyers can be assured of authenticity and an understanding of the coin’s journey. Any deviation of the tag can be detected and flagged, should it not transfer through normal channels. If it affects a coin already in a user’s inventory listing on the app, the owner receives a notification.
Since the information on a coin holder equipped with a Coin World+ tag can be read by any device with NFC technology, counterfeits become easier to identify. This protects the brand owner, the coin owner, the potential customer and anyone involved in the chain of the coin experience.
For the first step of the Coin World+ program, only coins that are encapsulated by third-party grading services can receive the tag. Grading services, dealers and individuals may purchase the tag. The cost is determined based on the value of the coin at the time the tag is purchased – $10 for coins less than $10,000 and $20 for coins greater. Future programs are in the works to include paper currency, ancient and world coins.
In an age where accurate information is key, Coin World aims to build a coalition within the numismatic industry, including the mints, their authorized purchasers, wholesalers, graders, dealers, auctioneers, industry associations, task forces, and content providers, to provide collectors with useful information that supports the hobby and uses technology to reach out to the current as well as next generation of collectors.
While it may have changed, no longer “your father’s hobby,” coin collecting continues to be an exciting endeavor as a hobby or an investment opportunity. Success lies in utilizing the means to prevent unpleasant surprises. Knowing your coins are valuable, authentic, and desired can increase the peace of mind in realizing your investment is secure, thanks to technology like Coin World+.
Coinworld.com provides a FREE newsletter to get the latest information on the 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle as details emerge and be sure to check out Coin World+ to ensure you keep up with the changing times…and are ready when the collectible of a lifetime comes across your path!
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