The jury has spoken, and like it or not the ownership of the 10 1933 Double Eagles will remain with the US Government and for at least the time being, be securely held in Fort Knox. The descendants of Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt lost their bid to have the coins returns to their possession.
After only five hours of deliberation the two men and eight women agreed with the governments position that these iconic examples of US Numismatics did not leave the mint legally, and therefore they still belonged to the US Government.
Throughout the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero had contended that Switt and an unknown number of unspecified people must have stolen the 1933 Double Eagles from the Philadelphia Mint or acted in collusion with a dishonest Mint employee. She contended that the coins were never officially released to the public. Although no evidence of who or how this was done was presented, the prosecution’s theory that this was the only explanation of why the gold coins were in Mr Switt’s possession seemed to persuade the jurors, if not many coin collectors.
The Switt family members contended they were legally entitled to the coins and that the government was required to prove they were stolen. Indeed, there was no way to know how they got out of the Mint and eventually into the Switt family’s safety deposit box.
The governments position was that the Mint never legally issued any 1933 Double Eagles to the public, and that according to official US Mint records, all 445,500 were accounted for. But according to some reports since 1937, at least 21 have surfaced, and all can be traced back to Switt.
On the other hand, The Langbord-Switt attorney, Barry H. Berke argued that the coins could have been legally obtained during a “window of opportunity” in March and April 1933. During that time period the law and enforcement of FDR’s executive order forbidding private ownership of gold was in a state of transition as both private owners and government officials figured out the details of ehat was and was not covered under the “law” and what if any exceptions there were.
Although Joan Langbord, Switts daughter, and her two sons, Roy and David, declined to comment to reporters after the verdict , most legal experts and many numismatists expect the decision to be appealed.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero was more than willing to talk. According to published reports, MS Romero said “It sends a strong message” that the government will pursue crimes against the U.S. money supply, “no matter how many years pass.” And on the Langbord position that the coins were legally obtained from the mint Romero reportedly said, “We did not think that was a credible story.”
Published sources said Romero had worked on the case for five years with Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Rue. Reportedly months were spent researching government archives for mint records and studying 1930s American monetary policy to determine the rules for disbursing gold coins.
Romero commented after the trial that “Intellectually, it was amazing. You had to learn coining processes . . . and how the Philadelphia Mint worked in the 1930s,” she said.
Along with seeking the forfeiture of the 10 1933 Double Eagles, the government also filed a motion for a declaratory judgment that the coins are the property of the US Government.
It will be interesting to follow this story as additional hearings take place, motions presented and to see if the verdict is appealed. No matter what, this story will most likely remain in the headlines for the foreseeable future.
Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Double Eagles Currently Available on eBay
As a coin collector, my biggest fear in the event of a government ‘win’ in this trial, was that the 10 coins would meet the same fate as the previous confiscated examples; the melting pot. It appears from what I’ve read online this week that this will not be the case. If that is true, this is a good result.
It’s pretty hard to argue that justice was not done in this case. Isreal Switt was the common source of all of the original ‘at large’ 1933 double eagles in existance. He was directly involved in investigations in the 30’s and 40’s when coins he sold were being confiscated. He is recorded as stating to goverment officials then that he knew of no others. The coins he had sold back then that were ultimately confiscated he claimed came from various individual collections.
Fast forward to 10 more ‘previously unknown’ being found in his safe deposit box decades later, and his credibilty and the rights of his heirs to retain the coins is really hard to support. He certainly knew he had these coins in his possession, and he knew any truthful explanation of how he had obtained them would not prevent their confiscation. His heirs also probably had to know more than they are telling, ‘discovering’ the coins only after his death (and after his estate was settled without their mention) on the heels of the landmark case that made the King Farouk example legal to own.
They gambled and lost. I suppose they should be thanked for hiding them successfully through the years past the era where their discovery typically would have guaranteed their destruction.
My final hope is the Government finds a way to have these coins enter the numismatic marketplace, with the proceeds going towards debt reduction.