Mint must seek court OK to keep rare 1933 coins
By Maryclaire Dale
U.S. government improperly seized a set of
extremely rare and valuable "double eagle" coins
from a Philadelphia jeweler's descendants and
must win a forfeiture case to keep them, a judge
ruled this week.
Ownership of the 10 gold coins worth millions
of dollars apiece may be determined by a jury
in a weeks-long forfeiture hearing.
The family of the late Israel Switt is suing to
recover the double eagles, so named because they
had a face value of $20, twice the amount of
gold coins known as eagles.
The government argues that none of the coins
were removed legally from the Mint when
President Franklin D. Roosevelt abandoned the
gold standard in 1933. The stockpiled double
eagles minted that year and waiting to go into
circulation were instead melted down, although a
few apparently survived.
The judge's order released Wednesday calls for
the government to initiate a forfeiture hearing
by Sept. 28. The hearing would likely amount to
a trial in which the government would have to
prove Switt's family never legally possessed
them, a family lawyer said.
Lawyer Barry Berke argues that some coins could
have left the Mint legally through a gold
exchange program in place at the time that
attracted jewelers like Switt.
"There was a period of time where it was
permissible to exchange gold coins for gold
bullion," said Berke, who represents Switt's
daughter, Joan S. Langbord of Philadelphia, and
her sons, Roy Langbord of New York City and
David Langbord of Virginia Beach, Va.
They say they found the coins in a safe deposit
box in 2003, 13 years after Switt died.
The following year, they asked the Mint to
authenticate them and suggested they were open
to a negotiated settlement, perhaps akin to the
50-50 split reached in a previous case involving
one double eagle coin.
The collection could be worth nearly $80 million
or more. A comparable double eagle sold for
$7.59 million in 2002 believed to be the
highest price ever paid for a coin.
The family has previously asked for the coins'
return or a settlement of up to $40 million.
U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis ruled that the
government improperly seized the coins and
denied the 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 warrantless seizure," Davis wrote.
Federal prosecutors representing the Mint
declined through a spokeswoman to comment
In a statement, the family noted Israel Switt's
combat service in World War II and said they
have tried to be open with the government
throughout the long case.
"Perhaps this was only a minor and personal
battle, but nevertheless it is one where a
family's rights to receive fair treatment from
the government of the United States was
vindicated," the statement said.