The 1933 Gold Double Eagle has been called the “most expensive coin in the world” and for good reason.
The Back Story
Gold Double Eagle coins had been minted by the United States Treasury each year from 1907 through 1932. With the onslaught of the Great Depression and the ensuing run on banks and other financial institutions President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order in 1933 that took America off the gold standard and made it illegal for Americans to use gold coins as currency.
Timing is Everything
In the beginning of 1933 the Treasury had already minted 445,000 Double Eagles in Philadelphia and none were ever released into circulation. They were reportedly shipped off to Fort Knox where they were to be melted down into bars and stored there for safekeeping. Only two coins were supposed to have escaped the melting process and they were donated by the mint to the Smithsonian Institute.
But, in 1952 the United States Secret Service managed to get their hands on 8 more of the prized Double Eagles and speculation began to arise about just how many coins might have escaped the melting process.
The general consensus is that the around 20 coins were smuggled out of the Mint by a cashier by the name of George McCann. His plan was quite simple, he merely replaced the 1933 versions with other versions from the previous years. He then sold at least 19 of the to a local jeweler/coin collector by the name of Israel Switt.
Switt then sold at least 9 of them to various private collectors. One of those private collectors just happened to be King Farouk of Egypt. (More on that later).
The Secret Service began keeping tabs on coin auctions and was able to recover 8 of the missing Eagles through various sting operations ranging from 1944 through 1952. None of the would be sellers of the coins were ever prosecuted due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
The United States tried their best though various diplomatic channels to get King Farouk to return the coin but with no success. Then , when his government was toppled in 1952 many of his personal possessions were put on the auction block for sale to the highest bidder. The coin mysteriously disappeared.
Flash forward 40 years later…
That’s when a British coin dealer by the name of Stephen Fenton was arrested when he entered the United States and tried to sell a 1933 Double Eagle to undercover agents. He was busted in a sting operation and claimed that the coin in his possession was actually part of the Farouk collection. Since his claim of authenticity could not be verified the charges were eventually dropped. Fenton then went back to court to re-assert his ownership of the coin.
It wasn’t until 2001 that an agreement was reached. The coin would revert back to the ownership of the United States and subsequently be sold at a public auction. It was then monetized for the princely sum of $20.00 and was now considered “legal tender” in the United States. In the meantime, it would be stored in the Treasury vaults located in the World Trade Centers. In a strange twist of fate, the coin was transferred to Fort Knox in July of 2001 and we all know what happened on September 11, 2001.
Sotheby’s was in charge of the auction and the last remaining known 1933 Double Eagle was sold to an anonymous bidder for 6.6 million USD. When you tack on the 15% buyers fee that the bidder had to pay, the total cost jumps to $7,590,020. (The 20 bucks on the end of that number is the 20 bucks required to monetize the coin.) The proceeds of the sale were then split 50/50 between Fenton and the US Treasury. The coin itself is now on display at the Federal Reserve Bank located in Manhattan.
All The Gold You Can Eat
One might think that the story of the 1933 Double Eagles ends right there but in 2004
another 10 of them surfaced under strange circumstances. It seems that one of the heirs to Switt’s estate by the name of Joan Langford found 10 more Double Eagles languishing in a safe deposit box and turned them over to the Secret Service for certification. They were later authenticated by the mint and confiscated by the government.
Langford was looking for some kind of compensation and took his case to court. In 2011 the court determined that the coins in question were indeed “stolen” and no compensation was granted. They currently reside with their melted brothers within the confines of Fort Knox.
So much for trying to do the right thing….