One of the most rare and well-known coins in all of U.S. history is the 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle — a $20 gold coin that, by several accounts, shouldn’t even be in existence.
It is the rarest and most valuable coin in the world, designed by a famed sculptor at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. It should never have been minted. And, for decades, the U.S. government has fought to keep a surviving few out of private hands. Source
In the 1930s, during the depression, a law was passed that made it illegal to own gold coins due to many people hoarding a lot of valuable gold pieces.
However, when the law was passed, the U.S. Mint had already minted over 400,000 1933 Double Eagles. So, with the new law in place, the coins never left the Mint and were later ordered to be melted down.
Here is where the tale gets juicy!…
Stolen Double Eagles
Some years later it was discovered that when the coins were to be melted down, the Mint’s chief cashier stole around 20 of the coins.
It’s believed that he got away with it by snatching the coins from a U.S. Mint bag and replacing them with earlier dated Double Eagles, so that the weight and currency count would check out.
Nine or 10 of the coins ended up in the hands of a jeweler named Israel Switt, who then sold them to individuals.
One of the more famed of these Double Eagle gold coins is the one that was eventually sold to the King of Egypt. He was a rare coin collector, among other things.
Once the discovery was made of the stolen coins, they were tracked down and confiscated by the U.S. government. Two of them were given as legal specimens to the Smithsonian Museum. However, the one that ended up in Egypt couldn’t be recovered so easily.
The One That Got Away
The King had used every legal means to purchase the coin, and he even secured an export license for it. So even though the coin was stolen property from the U.S. Mint, the government hadn’t discovered the theft yet and, in fact, approved the export and legal ownership of the coin to the King of Egypt.
Some time later when the King was overthrown in Egypt, his belongings were to be auctioned off and the U.S tried to seize the opportunity to regain possession of that elusive Double Eagle gold coin. The U.S. had discussions with Egypt explaining the mishap regarding the stolen coin and asking for the coin to be returned to the U.S.
Before any decision could be made, the coin vanished once again — not to be seen for another 45 years in 1996.
The coin had found its way to the U.S once again.
It was now in the hands of a British dealer, Steven Fenton, who intended to sell the Double Eagle to an American collector. The government was tipped off about the deal and raided the hotel room where the deal was being made. The coin was confiscated and the British dealer was taken to jail. He ended up suing the federal government in a long, drawn out legal battle for ownership of the coin.
In the meantime, that Double Eagle gold coin had yet another close call.
Another Narrow Escape
While its ownership was being debated, the coin was stored in a vault located in the World Trade Center where it was thought to be safe.
It was there for many years during the legal battles. The coin was moved to Fort Knox only a few short weeks before September 11, 2001.
It was ordered that the coin be auctioned off and the money to be split between Fenton and the U.S. Mint. The coin sold at action for a total cost of over $7.5 million to an anonymous bidder.
10 More 1933 Double Eagles Found
This would be an end to the story, but in 2005 another big discovery was made.
A woman named Joan Langbord had recently come into an inheritance which contained a coin collection — some of which was sent off to the U.S. Mint for authentication.
The Mint was shocked to discover another 10 legit 1933 Double Eagles!
Ms. Langbord the daughter of the late Israel Switt, the jeweler who initially had the first 10 coins. The U.S. government ordered these 10 coins to also be confiscated. Langbord has since filed a lawsuit.
This tale is yet to have a final ending, but it is by far one of the most interesting coin stories ever told, wouldn’t you agree?