Rules Gov’t Improperly Seized 1933 Gold
In a stunning
rebuke to the US Mint and the Treasury Department,
U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis ruled that the
government improperly seized 10 1933 Saint Gaudens
Double Eagles (Possibly worth millions d dollars
each), and denied the Langbord family due process
when Mint officials decided to keep them after they
were authenticated without a hearing.
“The government’s ‘good-faith’ belief that the coins
were once stolen is not sufficient, under the
circumstances, to justify its decision to conduct a
warrant less seizure,” Davis wrote.
The case which has been in litigation since,
revolves around one of the most fabled coins in all
of US Numismatics.
By way of a brief background; The 1933 $20 Double
eagle was the last year of production in the popular
Saint gaudens series. At the same time the coins
were being manufactured, President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt made private gold ownership illegal in the
US, All the 1933 Double Eagles were supposed to have
Unknown to Mint officials, a limited number found
their way out of the mints possession. Historically
this is not an unusual occurrence, and dozens of
documented cases exist where non regular issue coins
have been removed, sold, or otherwise were created
for privileged individuals or enterprising
collectors with contacts within the Mint itself.
In the 1940s, when the government got wind that coin
dealers were selling 1933 Double Eagles, and the
Secret Service launched an investigation and
eventually seized all the coins it could find. One
that evaded the government efforts and was reported
as part of the King Faruk collection (Egypt). The
1940s investigators concluded that all of the Double
Eagles that got out of the Mint had passed through
the hands of a Philadelphia jeweler named Israel
Switt. Though the lead Secret Service investigator
pressed for charges to be brought against Switt, the
Philadelphia U.S. attorney said the statute of
limitations had expired. Switt was never prosecuted
for the theft of the coins from the Mint.
Fast forward to 2002 when a London dealer Stephen
Fenton was caught in a Secret Service sting
operation trying to sell the Faruk 1933 $20.
Litigation ensued and eventually a settlement was
reached that ultimately declared this single 1933
Double Eagle as the ONLY one that could be legally
owned. Interesting as part of the settlement Fenton
and the US Mint shared equally in the proceeds of
the $7 million hammer price at the 2002 auction sale
in New York City held by Sotheby’s and Stacks in a
jointly catalogued event.
This was and remains the highest price paid for ANY
US coin .
Sometime after 2002, the Langbord’s attorney, Barry
Berke, who also was involved in the compromised
litigation and auction sale of the King Faruk coin,
wrote to the Mint offering to allow them to
authenticate 10 coins (all 1933 double eagles) that
Mrs. Langbord said were found in a sealed safety
deposit box while she was looking for some pieces of
her late mother’s jewelry to sell.
Mint experts determined that the coins were genuine,
but declined to return them to the Langbord family
on the basis that the Mint claimed that the coins
were the property of the US government and could not
have been lawfully removed from the Mint. Since
then, as expected. the courts have been involved.
An Interesting analysis of the case so far was put
forward by By Alison Frankel posted on the American
Law Litigation Daily. She stated” Berke’s (The
Langbord’s attorney) canny strategy was to turn the
coins over to the government, but only for purposes
of authentication. Then when the government refused
to give the coins back–as Berke surely knew it
would–he sued, claiming the coins had been illegally
seized from the Langbords. And though assistant U.S.
attorneys in Philadelphia argued that the Langbord
family had unclean hands, Judge Davis ruled that the
Langbords’ constitutional protections had been
violated. Now the burden of proof lies on the
The judge’s order calls for the government to
initiate a forfeiture hearing by Sept. 28. The
hearing would likely amount to a trial where the
Government must establish that the Langbord coins
were stolen–even though everyone connected with the
coins’ disappearance from the Mint and the initial
investigation of the alleged theft is long dead.
Obviously this saga will continue into the fall, but
it seems that the government is going to have a
difficult time “”proving” that the coins were stolen
from the mint.
Which brings me to a few final thoughts. Not being a
lawyer or being trained in the art of obfuscation it
seems to me personally that the governments handling
of both this and the original Fenton-Faruk
settlement/sale has been both inept and tainted.
If when the Fenton-Faruk coin was confiscated the
Government stood by its position that the coin was
indeed illegal to own, regardless of the outcome of
any continuing litigation, I would be more inclined
to accept their current position with respect to the
Langbord “hoard”. However it seems a bit
disingenuous to strike a deal where the Mint gets
half the proceeds of the sale of the Fenton-Faruk
coin, and that somehow it is suddenly declared to be
“Legal to Own”, and then take the exact opposite
position when additional coins surface.
I realize that I may be an idiot for expecting the
law to be fair and consistent, but in my opinion,
the governments hands are a bit soiled and it would
appear that the Mint wants to have both its cake,
and eat it too.
Why the government and the US Mint have decided that
this issue is of such great importance that they
would spend millions trying to hold onto the
Langbord’s 10 1933 Double Eagles, and yet for almost
100 years they have turned a blind eye to the 1913
Nickels that have traded in the marketplace is
beyond me. The presence of these coins is a Plus for
the hobby and, if the mint were to strike a similar
50/50 deal with the Langdorn’s, what would be the
The US Mint spends million of dollars each year
trying to promote the sale of its products,
encouraging coin collecting, attending major shows
and trying to come up with new and exciting
collector programs. Wouldn’t it seem to be a smart
idea if the mint struck a deal to auction off One of
the 1933 Saints every year for the next ten years.
That might create a bit of a buzz in the numismatic
community and provide a few lucky, albeit wealthy
collectors, the opportunity to own on of the most
historic and fabled coins in US numismatics.