Filed in 1933 Double Eagle Court Fight
By David L. Ganz
wagons, both sides put their final papers before
the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania as the U.S. Mint defended
against an action brought by Joan Langbord,
daughter of deceased Philadelphia coin dealer
Israel Switt to recover 10 1933 double eagle
gold coins authenticated by the Mint and then
seized by the government.
It will take the judge months to sift through
them and then to decide whether to grant summary
relief to either party in the lawsuit. The
papers, though, offer some interesting reading.
On Jan. 14, Langbord, who is in her late
seventies, and her two adult sons, on behalf of
their respective ownership interests, asked for
and received permission from the court to reply
to the government's motion papers and bombarded
the court and their adversaries with over 100
pages of exhibits and legal arguments.
These include the last will and testament of
Israel Switt who died at age 95 in 1990; the
will of his wife (and Joan Langbord's mother)
who predeceased her husband in 1985. Also
included: a listing of assets. Not among them:
mention of any 1933 double eagle gold coins.
Present in detail: lots of stocks.
All of it centers on whether the 1933 double
eagles, which Langbord found in her mother's
safety deposit box, were lawfully removed from
the U.S. Mint and entered into commerce or
whether they were stolen and wound up in Switt's
hands during the time that he was in the
numismatic and jewelry business in the 1930s.
The December 2008 and January 2009 filings
reveal a Pennsylvania inheritance tax return of
Elizabeth (received Dec. 31, 1985), showing
$146,000 in stocks and bonds and $106,000 in
cash and personal property. Roy and David
Langbord (grandsons, and co-litigants with their
mother, Joan) each received half the residue of
the $239,000 estate.
Israel Switt's will is done in the firm hand of
an octogenarian. The value of his estate, as per
inheritance tax returns of Pennsylvania, is
$943,000 (in 1990), including almost half set
aside as the value of his stock in the
partnership of Switt & Silver. Cash and personal
property was valued at $109,000 again no mention
of the 1933 double eagle.
Stocks, bonds and real estate exceeded $170,000;
son-in-law Stanton Langbord was named as
executor. A Fifty percent (50%) interest in the
general partnership Switt & Silver located at
130 S. 8th St., Philadelphia, PA. Value based on
Partners' equity on Dec. 31 1989, was
$630,643.00; less the stated figure on Dec. 31,
1989 for property and equipment, ($16,247);
appraised value of such property, $265,000; for
a total partnership value of $879,396.
No mention, here, of one (no less 10) 1933
double eagles - unless it was miscellaneous
personal property (item 11), listed at $500.
In 2003, or 13 years after her father's death
and 18 years after her mother's, Mrs. Langbord,
now 78, the daughter of Switt claims that she
discovered the coins in a safety deposit box
that had belonged to her parents. Langbord,
acting through her lawyer, voluntarily notified
the Mint of the extraordinary discovery of 10
double eagles, all dated 1933. She asked that
they be authenticated.
Mint officials took possession and then spent
about nine months resolving jurisdictional
issues with the Secret Service and examining the
coins before concluding that they were genuine -
and then claimed that since they were always
government property, they had no intention of
returning them to the family.
Presently, the coins have been shipped to Fort
Knox, Ky., where they are in the secure gold
depository facility there. They periodically
emerge to be displayed at the numismatic
conventions encased in plastic.
With the coins in custody, the Langbord family's
remedy was either to acquiesce, or to sue the
government. Lawyer Barry Berke, who litigated
the King Farouk specimen seizure from 1996-2001,
claims his clients did the right thing in
notifying the government of the hoard and is
equally adamant that they are entitled to keep
the coins. Hence the lawsuit.
Actually, there could have been two lawsuits.
The government, which seized the coins, could
have sought a declaratory judgment to justify
its actions. They've done that before - several
times, in fact - ironically involving the same
described 1933 $20 coins. Berke's legal papers
make that point.
Berke's clients brought several different
counts, including a federal tort claim for the
value of the goods seized. That sets off
numerous battles, not the least of which is how
much the 1933 Saints are worth.
As a single specimen rarity, $7.59 million was
its price. What 10 more are worth, apiece, is
anyone's guess, though experts could reason
through analogy. The coin is so famous that it
could be a higher price, or a lower one.
In the midst of all this, experts Q. David
Bowers and David Tripp have faced off as
deposition witnesses, each attacking the
credibility of the other side. Tripp's
deposition is available on the government's Web
site; Bowers is not. Requests to Berke for a
copy have gone unanswered.
Now the wait begins for the court's decision in
a request by both sides for summary relief.
Under federal rules, the judge may take as long
as he likes to decide. A written decision is
anticipated in late winter or early spring.