This custom coin from the 1850’s is the most expensive coin in the world.
From 1850 the twenty-dollar Gold Double Eagle coin was issued publicly. In 1907 the gold piece was radically altered by the well-known American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Gold Double Eagle coin continued to be issued until 1933 when, in an attempt to prevent the hording of gold and halt the run on the banks during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the United States off the gold standard.
With this change in currency laws, no more gold coins were to be issued and those owning gold coins were expected to turn them in to the mint. The laws, however, said nothing about minting more, so in 1933 another 445,500 Gold Double Eagle coins were minted, but not issued. By 1937 the 1933 run of Gold Double Eagles were destroyed, having been melted down and turned into bars of gold bullion.
Not all of the Gold Double Eagles were destroyed, because two were donated to the Smithsonian Institute and placed into the U.S. National Numismatic Collection. These 1933 Double Eagles were the only two legal gold pieces to survive the melt down. However several others were stolen. It is believed that a man named George McCann who was the Mint’s chief cashier, was responsible for the theft. It’s not known exactly how many coins the chief cashier may have taken or exactly how he managed to do it, but most believe that he switched the coins out with earlier dated coins so that the books would balance.
What is verifiable is that a Philadelphia jeweler, Israel Switt, managed to obtain at least 19 of the stolen Double Eagles. To private collectors Switt sold at least 9 of the coins. One of the buyers was Egyptian King Farouk, who managed to export the coin before secret service was made aware of the theft. Due to wartime political complications diplomatic means of retrieving the coin from the Egyptian king could not be employed. However, 8 other 1933 Double Eagles were confiscated and returned to U.S. Mint.
In 1952, after King Farouk was deposed from his throne, the 1933 Double Eagle resurfaced at an auction of Farouk’s belongings. The U.S. government tried to get the coin back and managed to keep it from being auctioned off, but the Double Eagle again vanished for another forty years.
When the 1933 Double Eagle again emerged in 1996 after missing for 40 years, it was a British coin dealer named Stephen Fenton who had possession of the rare coin. It was in New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel that the Federal agents managed to set up an undercover operation, posing as American coin dealers wanting to purchase the coin. They managed to arrest Fenton and seize the Double Eagle. It is believed that the Double Eagle seized in the sting operation was the one King Farouk had purchased years earlier, although it cannot be absolutely confirmed.
After a brief stay in jail, Fenton took up the fight in court against the U.S. government over the coin’s rightful ownership. The battle took several years. During this time, the Double Eagle was kept in the vault of the World Trade Center. It was only two months before the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that the fight over the coin ended. A compromise was found. The coin would be auctioned off and a 50/50 split was agreed upon by the Mint and Fenton.
On July 30, 2002 the rare 1933 Double Eagle twenty-dollar gold piece sold for $6.6 million. On top of that price was a buyer’s fee of 15%; and a $20.00 fee for the Mint to balance their books. This brought the total sale of the most expensive coin in the world to $7,590,020. The buyer of the 1933 Double Eagle chose to remain anonymous, so the whereabouts of King Farouk’s prized coin remain a mystery.
Regarding the remaining coins McCann stole from the Mint, in 2004 one of Israel Switt’s heirs, Joan Langbord, found ten more 1933 Double Eagle gold pieces among Switt’s belongings. Being unaware of the history of the coins, Langbord turned the coins over to the U.S. Mint for authentication. The Mint seized the coins and a battle now ensues over their ownership. Until the court battle is settled, the coins are being stored in Fort Knox.
For information on custom coins and other custom metal products, contact the Monterey Company.