By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
Three-judge ruling in Langbord et al v. U.S. Department of the Treasury et al puts renewed spotlight on 10 contraband coins…
Little more than a week after a federal judge in California sided against the Federal Government in its efforts to seize an experimental 1974-D aluminum cent pattern coin, the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a blow to the government’s case that it had the right to seize 10 1933 double eagle $20 gold coins belonging to the Langbord family.
The Langbord double eagles came to national prominence in 2004, when a representative of the family informed the government of their existence and sent the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication.
The family alleges that they discovered the coins in a safe deposit box belonging to their late father, Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt. The U.S Mint believes that Switt collaborated with a Mint employee to smuggle out a number of 1933 double eagles after President Roosevelt issued a series of executive orders recalling the nation’s gold coinage (the United States was in the midst of a banking crisis at the time). While 445,000 double eagles bearing the date 1933 were struck, fewer than 25 discreet examples are known to have been held in private hands.
Selling a 1933 double was once a routine affair
With today’s Court decision, the 10 coins–valued at more than $1 million each–might one day be offered for sale. It would be a spectacular turn of events, since the only “legally held” 1933 double eagle, alleged to have once belonged to Egypt’s King Farouk, sold for more than $7 million at a 2002 auction conducted by Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s.
That coin came with an official document signed by the U.S. Mint stating that no other 1933 double eagle would ever be legal to own.
The introduction of 10 new coins, especially if they prove to be better preserved, could prove deleterious to the value of the “Farouk” piece. At which point, it’s conceivable that the owner of that coin might seek redress in federal court.
As complex as the situation appears to be, there was a time when the sale of 1933 double eagles was a routine affair.
Through the early 1940s, a handful of 1933 double eagles were sold through dealers or at auction, and while they were considered rare at the time (it was believed that the Mint had destroyed the entirety of their 1933 output), there was no feeling among the collecting community that the coins were illegal to own.
All that changed in 1944, after the U.S. Secret Service launched an investigation into the coin’s distribution. The Mint, finding no records to show that the coins were ever monetized or released into circulation, believed the coins to be stolen.
Since then, the government has considered all 1933 double eagles to be contraband.
It appears that that position may be about to change.
In the court’s opinion, Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell wrote that the government was “obligated to bring a judicial civil forfeiture proceeding or to return the property…. Having failed to do so, it must return the Double Eagles”. See PDF of Opinion Here….
Now all the Langbords can do is wait; no timetable has been announced regarding the return of “John Does” 1-10 (the coins were actually parties to the case). The U.S. Attorneys in charge of the case have yet to decide what further action (if any) they will take.
Langbord et al v. U.S. Department of the Treasury et al, 12-4574 (3rd Cir. 2015)
Saint-Gaudens $20 Gold Double Eagles Currently Available on eBay
Some related thoughts.
This was the written opinion of just one single female appellate judge, based on a paperwork technicality which the US Gov’t failed to perform in a timely manner.
Most of the Federal “seizure” attnys are probably male and will take into account this single female judge’s overruling the Fed govt’s legal position and will appeal that single judge’s opinion – male ego if you will. That’s simply a fact of life. The Fed attnys don’t care how much of the US taxpayers’ money is used. The loss in court “offends” their honor. They also feel they are battling one single Langbord attny and can outlast his efforts and outspend the Langbords’ financial resources.
At this point however, it is unknown if the Langbords are paying their attny or if, more likely, he is working on a contingency fee of recv’g a share of the coins’ proceeds if they are sold.
If the latter, the Langbord attny is unlikely to give up….if he can sustain his efforts physically.
Battling the proverbial 800 lbs gorilla isn’t easy.
Altho the single 1933 $20 that was auctioned for $7.5M was guaranteed on paper by the US Gov’t as the only such 1933 $20 to sell and be owned legally, if and when these 10 Langbord pcs are released for sale (are there more?) , the US Gov’t will have to be sued to return the $7.5M to the buyer – they certainly won’t volunteer the refund – as the 1933 $20 will no longer be unique in private hands but will drop to perhaps $1.75M at best in value. At least that is my opinion of market value with minimal 11 in legal circulation …and more likely more than that.
Very insightful comments Mr. Weinberg, thank you.
Men certainly have a way of dismissing a woman’s input as somehow being less thoughtful or logical, no matter how ignorant the man in question actually is. This is so engrained that most of us don’t even think we’re doing anything wrong… we’re just being “rational” or “sensible”. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of honor, though no doubt “honor” is another one of those excuses.
As for the Langbords paying their own attorney, no one at CoinWeek has spoken with them yet, but I do know that Roy Langbord is an entertainment attorney himself, and unless he’s a ****-poor one, I can’t imagine his pockets are usually empty (this case being a particularly notable exception).
And Langbords’ own attorney Barry Berke had successfully represented the British dealer who had the Farouk specimen in his possession. The outcome of that case and this one depended mostly on his strategizing.
I’m tempted to be peevish and suggest they hire a female lawyer if they get too tired.
I doubt the gender of the judge has anything to do with either the ruling or the governments likely reaction to it.
I spent 21 years in the Los Angeles area court system ending in 1991, attending literally thousands of hearings and trials. My wife still works in the LA area courts – has for decades – and attends 2-5 hearings and trials a day. I can tell you that without a doubt male attorneys – local, state or federal – have significantly less regard and respect for female attnys and judges than they do for opposing male attnys or judges’ rulings. It’s a fact of life,. But that is only one factor in the Fed attnys deciding whether to appeal the 2-1 Appellate court decision returning the 1933 $20’s to the Langbord family. But it is a factor.
Dear Mr. Weinberg: I have no doubt about your experiences in the court system and the behavior you observed. The reason I stated that I doubted the gender of the judge was a part of decision or how the Gov’t would react was in part due to the fact that two of the three lawyers from the US Attorney’s Office were woman; Jacqueline C. Romero, Esq. and Nancy Rue, Esq.. I just think that the issues involved and the beurocratic need to cover thier ass’s because of prior questionable actions by the Gov’t are a much more compelling motivation than gender.
Are you saying the government isn’t petty?
What about the FACT that the secret service asked Mr Switt in the 1940s if he had any more after he had already sold a bunch and flat out said NO. Amazingly after one sells for 7 million his family “finds” 10 more. If anyone gets the 1933 eagles it should be the collectors or their family members who had them confiscated by the secret service and lost the money they paid for them also in the 1940s, it should not go to the coin dealer who clearly bought them from another liar and cheat that worked for the mint. (Look up the 4 horseman) talk about shady.
The Government should require these coins to be graded, slabbed and chip embedded then returned to the Langbord family in care of the Smithsonian. They should then be required to be on permanent display at the Smith to prevent them from being separated and falling into black market selling. As they are not legal tender, to preserve the one that is, it should be required that if the family wishs to sell it, the US government will be required by law to buy from them at current bullion value only. This would preserve the value of the legal one and render the others as useless except for bullion. The family shall not be allowed to bequeath to heirs or receive any monetary gain from display both publice or private. This would force the family to basically sell them at some point as they don’t present they value to them they were expecting to get on the open market, after all they are still contraband.
This I late but I will ask it anyway. What in the world was Attorney Berry Berke thinking of, sending The US Mint (A US Government agency) all 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens Gold coins. If anyone needed any kind of confirmation here, sending in 1 Saint-Gaudens Gold coin for “testing reasons” would have made everything so much easier for everyone involved, and the suffering, deep pain, and loss to the Langbords family would have been so much more bearable.
This is late but I will ask it anyway. What in the world was Attorney Berry Berke thinking of, sending The US Mint (A US Government agency) all 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens Gold coins. If anyone needed a confirmation here, sending in 1 Saint-Gaudens Gold coin for “testing reasons,” would have made everything so much easier for everyone involved, and the suffering, deep pain, and loss to the Langbords family would have been so much more bearable.