US Coins

Surrendered 1933 double eagle mystery coin

Comparison of a set of images from David Tripp’s 2004 book Illegal Tender with those of a 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle the U.S. Mint recently reported was surrendered to its custody reveals that both illustrate the same coin.

The Tripp book illustrations compared were of a 1933 double eagle of unknown pedigree. Whether the coin is the same one that dealers Fred Weinberg, Julian Leidman and others examined on the coin show circuit in the late 1970s remains unknown as well.

The images from Tripp’s book indicate time of creation of the photos as circa 1980.

Some numismatists are speculating that the surrendered coin was once held, at different times, in the collections of numismatists R.E. “Ted” Naftzger and H. Jeff Browning.

Many of the gold $20 coins in Browning’s collection, sold in October 2001 by Sotheby’s in conjunction with Stack’s, were from Naftzger’s holdings. Browning’s collection reportedly included a 1933 double eagle that had also been among Naftzger’s holdings.


original design for the Washington MonumentInside Coin World: Note shows Washington Monument as it should have looked: A 19th century note shows the Washington Monument in its original though abandoned form. Also in the June 25 Coin World, a coin scandal begins in 1935.

Both Browning and Naftzger are deceased.

The coin image depicted in Tripp’s book and images of the coin now in Mint custody exhibit the same diagnostics, including post-strike marks and damage from handling.

On the obverse a raised diagonal mark appears below the B in LIBERTY; trailing scuffs are found in the field to the left of Liberty’s hair; and on the right, a spot appears at the end of the eighth ray down from Liberty’s side.

On the reverse, a number of deep horizontal cuts appear on the eagle’s wings and neck; a mark in the field above the eagle’s beak between the two rays is the same; and an identical sharp horizontal cut extends through the lower portion of the upright of the second L of DOLLARS.

The owner of the surrendered gold piece, who Mint authorities do not identify, reportedly voluntarily turned the piece over to the Mint through the Secret Service, not wanting to be in possession of stolen property.

Mint officials have not disclosed when that transfer took place.

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According to the U.S. Mint, none of the 445,500 1933 double eagles was officially released through legitimate channels and any extant example should be considered stolen government property.

Only the example purported to have once been owned by King Farouk I of Egypt is an exception, having been removed from American soil in 1944 under an export license granted through the U.S. Treasury Department.

The coin alleged to be the Farouk piece, upon its return to American soil in 1996, was seized during a Secret Service sting operation. 

After five years of litigation, the government and the dealer from whom it was seized reached an agreement, and the piece was sold July 30, 2002, by Sotheby’s in conjunction with Stack’s, for $7.59 million. The net proceeds were split between the Mint and British dealer Stephen Fenton who had brought the Farouk piece into the United States.

The buyer of the coin at auction, who remains unidentified, had to also pay an additional $20 to monetize the gold piece as a coin, though many in the numismatic community question the Mint’s position on “monetization.”

It remains the only 1933 double eagle legal to own. It is currently on public display at the New-York Historical Society.

The recently reported 1933 double eagle brings to 21 the number of 1933 $20 coins that the government has recovered of the 25 that authorities say Philadelphia Mint cashier George McCann and Philadelphia jeweler and coin dealer Israel Switt removed from the facility by illegitimate means.

Of the four remaining examples, U.S. Mint officials indicate another piece remains somewhere in the United States, another is somewhere in Europe, and whereabouts of the remaining two piece is unknown.

Nine of the recovered examples were melted by the government in 1944. Another 10 are stored at the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in Kentucky; they were turned over to the Mint by Switt’s heirs in 2003 after being discovered in a Philadelphia bank safe-deposit box.

The surrendered 21st piece is housed in the same Fort Knox vault as the 10 pieces seized from Switt’s heirs.

Exclusive of the 25 pieces that Switt and McCann handled are two examples the Mint sent to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. 

The two examples in the National Numismatic Collection and the group of 10 at Fort Knox are identified as having been struck from the same pair of coinage dies.

The surrendered gold piece was struck from a different set of dies. 

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