The Art of Collecting
Steve Roach, Coin World’s editor-at-large, has been deeply involved with numismatics for more than 20 years, starting as a young coin collector in Michigan. Two years spent as a coin grader, nearly three years at a major coin wholesaler and a stint as a paintings specialist at an international auction house have given Steve a rich understanding of the hobby, its market and the unique personalities and exceptional objects that make collecting meaningful. He joined Coin World in 2006 as a columnist, and has served as associate editor and editor-in-chief. He received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan, a juris doctorate from the Ohio State University and is a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers.
Langbord case: What are those 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles worth?
It's wild for me to think that I started full time at Coin World in 2009, and the Langbord 1933 double eagle case was in full swing. Now, six years later, the case continues to have twists and turns as it evolves.
From daily trial coverage at the 2011 trial in Philadelphia, to dozens of follow-ups, it’s a case that has never bored me. Here’s the latest development, which is a game-changer for the coins and potentially the hobby.
As I reported earlier today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on April 17 vacated a previous declaratory judgment by a district court that declared the coins as government property that was unlawfully removed from the U.S. Mint.
That decision vacated a July 21, 2011, jury decision where 10 jurors unanimously ruled in favor of the government, concluding that the coins were illegally obtained from the U.S. Mint.
While the government is now weighing its options, the Langbord family’s attorney Barry Berke is optimistic, stating, “The Langbords are thrilled to receive their property back after fighting to vindicate their rights for over a decade.”
So the big question is, what exactly are these 10 1933 double eagles worth?
I did my best to answer that question at the outset of the 2011 trial.
Here's what I wrote in Coin World just before the original trial began that July:
We know what the coins grade since Numismatic Guaranty Corp. reported Nov. 3, 2009, that it had graded one coin Mint State 66, two MS-65, six MS-64 and one with an NGC Uncirculated Details, Improperly Cleaned grade.
When pricing any object, one first looks at comparables — other objects of similar type and quality and the prices they sold for. In 2002, the 1933 double eagle allegedly owned by Egypt’s King Farouk sold for $7,590,000 at auction. It graded MS-65 and was — and currently is — the only 1933 double eagle that can be legally owned by an individual.
So if the coins are ruled private property, are the “Langbord 10” worth around $7 million each?
That's unlikely. When multiple examples of an object enter a market, the demand/supply ratio changes. While the added publicity helps — meaning that more people know what a 1933 double eagle is and may want one — it’s not enough to compensate for the fact that the coins are not unique.
A parallel in the art market is when an artist’s estate is valued for estate tax purposes, a blockage discount is sometimes used. This assumes that the works are sold at once, depressing the market. To maximize value, prudent estates use long-range marketing, which places objects into the market slowly, responding to the ebbs and flows of demand and artist reputation.
What pricing comparables do the 1933 double eagles have?
Perhaps most obvious is the 1927-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle, considered by some the rarest regular issue coin of the 20th century. Around 10 are collectible today from a mintage of 180,000. They are sold infrequently. The last example at public auction was an MS-66 that realized $1.495 million at a January 2010 auction.
Seeing that the prices for the top objects in many collecting categories are going sky high, with proper marketing to buyers beyond the existing coin-market, the 10 Langbord 1933 double eagle coins could be worth around $2 million each, perhaps more.
But how many more examples remain to be discovered is a troubling, lingering question.
Especially as the market for multi-million dollar rarities expands, there could be a wider market for these 10 1933 double eagles than there was in 2011.
And I look forward to continuing to cover these coins as they proceed though the legal system and potentially enter the numismatic marketplace.