Verdict in 1933 Double Eagles trial

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by Ursula Kampmann

July 28, 2011 – It’s the world’s most expensive coin, the 1933 double eagle, which sold for 7.59 Mio dollar. 445,500 pieces of this type were struck in 1933, but none was officially released. On May 1st, 1933, most of the gold circulating in the United States of America was nationalized. So all coins of this emission were melted down.

Duplicate of the rare 1933 Double Eagle. Photo: Wikipedia.

In fact, some pieces escaped their fate. The cashier brought them out of the mint – illegally according to the verdict. His client was a jeweler from Philadelphia with extensive contacts to coin collectors…

In 1944 this case was examined for the very first time. A journalist had contacted the mint in order to find out more about a 1933 double eagle offered at Stack’s. The Secret Service stepped in and seven 1933 Double Eagles were tracked down and confiscated.

Just days before this investigation started, customs had given an export license for such a double eagle to king Faruk of Egypt, a passionate coin collector. The piece was brought to Egypt and its trace disappeared during the riots following the kings deposition. About half a century later, Secret Service arrested an English coin dealer who had bought this double eagle. The United States and the coin dealer came to terms. It was decided to sell the coin in order to split the profit between both parties. This was a good stroke of business: The coin sold for 7.59 Mio dollar.

In August 2005 the U.S. Mint announced that ten specimens of the 1933 double eagle – hitherto unknown – had been handed to the Secret Service by the descendants of the Philadelphia jeweler who was responsible for selling the other specimens, too. Now, a court had to decide, what should happen to these 10 coins.

First of all it had to be clarified whether the cashier and the jeweler had the possibility to acquire these 10 coins legally. Has there been the possibility that the cashier exchanged the just struck coins for other pieces legally, before the presidential announcement was known in the mint? If not so, the United States will be owner of state property, no matter, when it has been stolen. By the way, in Germany legislation would decide differently: Here an owner who has owned an object bona fide for more than ten years will be the rightful owner of the object.

It took five hours for the jury to forge their opinion. The coins are property of the United States of America. What will happen now, that’s up in the air. Collectors may hope that these coins will be displayed to the public. But considering the high financial deficit of the State, other scenarios are easily conceivable. Anyhow, the American grading company CAC (= Certified Acceptance Corporation) has made an offer of 20 Mio dollars. John Albanese founder and president of CAC states: „I’ve read that the average American is in debt for $40,000. This would pay the debt for 500 people. We see this as a way to do our share to help reduce the nation’s deficit.“

Well, what a new aspect in the cultural property debate, if some of the debt-ridden states realized that their deficits could be paid with unneeded state property…

A little bit about the history of the 1933 double eagle you will find here.

Here you can read the press release of the U.S. Mint concerning the surrender of the coins to the Secret Service.

Here there is an extensive article about the verdict.

Here you will read more about the offer of CAC.