1933 Double Eagle
The 1933 Double Eagle is a United States $20 gold coin, and holds the record for the most expensive U.S. coin ever sold at auction.
Whilst 445,000 of these coins were produced, none were ever officially circulated due to the Presidential act. As the coins were not considered legal tender, most were melted down and two were presented by the United States Mint to the U.S. National Numismatic Collection. A number of the coins were also stolen from the Mint and began to circulate on the collector's market.
Today 11 1933 Double Eagle coins are known to exist.
Origin and history
The 'double eagle’ was produced between 1849 and 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt stopped the coinage of gold and made it illegal to own the metal in an attempt to end the 1930s general bank crisis. The government declared that gold coins were no longer legal tender in the United States, and people had to turn in their gold coins for other forms of currency.
445,500 specimens of this 1933 Double Eagle were minted during its last year of production but due to the Presidential act none were ever officially circulated.
As they were no longer legal tender, most of the 1933 gold coins were melted down in late 1934. Two of the $20 Double Eagles were presented by the United States Mint to the U.S. National Numismatic Collection, and in theory they should have been the only pair in existence.
However, a number of the coins were apparently stolen from the Mint and at least nine of them were circulated on the collectors market. When an investigative reporter became suspicious whilst researching a story, his information led the Secret Service to recover seven of the illegally-owned coins from the hands of collectors.
One of the missing Double Eagles was acquired by the famous numismatist King Farouk of Egypt in 1944. He was mistakenly granted an export license for the coin a few days before the Mint theft was discovered, and despite efforts by the Treasury Department to request the return of the coin, it remained in Farouk’s collection.
Farouk was deposed in 1952 and his collections put up for auction (along with his equally rare and legendary 1913 Liberty Head Nickel). At this point the double eagle disappeared once more, and remained hidden until 1996 when British coin dealer Stephen Fenton was arrested by US Secret Service agents during a sting operation at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
Charges against Fenton were subsequently dropped, and he defended his ownership of the coin in court. The case was settled in 2001 when it was agreed that ownership of the Double Eagle would revert to the United States Government, and the coin could then legally be sold at auction with the proceeds to be split between them and Fenton.
On July 30, 2002, the 1933 Double Eagle was sold to an anonymous bidder at a Sotheby's auction for $7,590,020, almost twice the previous record for a coin.
The following list summarizes what happened to all known examples of the 1933 double eagle.
1) Seized from Stack’s (1944). Owned by Col. James W. Flanagan. Destroyed.
2) Seized from dealer Max Berenstein (1944). Destroyed.
3) Seized from James F. Bell (a pseudonym of Jacob F. Shapiro) (1944). Destroyed.
4) Surrendered from Frederick C. C. Boyd (1945). Destroyed.
5) Seized from T. James Clarke, via Clarke’s attorney (1945). Clarke subsequently lost a lawsuit to recover the piece 1947. Destroyed.
6) Seized from James A. Stack (1945). A subsequent lawsuit, apparently brought by Stack’s heirs in 1955, was unsuccessful. Destroyed.
7) Surrendered from C. M. Williams (1945). Destroyed.
8) Surrendered from L. G. Barnard (1945). Barnard subsequently lost a lawsuit to recover the piece (1947). Destroyed.
9) Exported to King Farouk of Egypt by U. S. Treasury export license 1944, withdrawn from Palace Collections of Egypt - King Farouk - coin auction 1954, seized from dealers Stephen Fenton and Jay Parrino 1996, officially issued and monetized by US government on July 30, 2002, via an out of court settlement with Mr. Fenton. Sold on July 30, 2002, for $7,590,020. This is the only 1933 double eagle declared legal to own by the U. S. government.
10) Surrendered to the US Mint by Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (1952). Destroyed.
11) Conveyed to the National Coin Collection, Smithsonian Institution (1934), where it resides today.
12) Conveyed to the National Coin Collection, Smithsonian Institution (1934), where it resides today.
In August 2005, the U.S. Secret Service announced they had recovered ten additional stolen 1933 Double Eagle gold coins from the family of Philadelphia jeweller Israel Switt, the coin dealer identified by the Secret Service as a party to the theft who admitted selling the first nine double eagles recovered a half century earlier.
In September 2004, the coins' owner, Joan S. Langbord, surrendered the 10 coins to the United States Secret Service. She later claimed to have inherited the coins from her father via legal means, and has threatened a legal suit to have the coins returned.
Currently, with the exception of the one sold on July 30, 2002, 1933 Double Eagle coins cannot be in the legal possession of any member of the public, as they were never issued and hence remain the property of the US government.