Opinion by Dr. Richard S. Appel – Unique Rare Coins ……
Mystery, intrigue and a see-saw legal battle has surrounded 10 1933 St. Gaudens $20 gold coins since their discovery in a family safe deposit box in 2002. The box originally belonged to Israel Switt, a long-time Philadelphia jeweler and coin dealer. He died in 1990, and his daughter, Joan Langbord, allegedly discovered the rarities when she and her two sons had the deposit box drilled open. Much heartache followed for the holders of the tens of millions of dollars in coins.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order on April 5, 1933 that outlawed gold ownership and demanded all U.S. citizens to deliver to a Federal Reserve Bank, “all Gold Coin, Gold Bullion and Gold Certificates”. Earlier that year the Philadelphia Mint had coined 445,500 St. Gaudens $20 gold coins bearing the 1933 date. After Roosevelt’s order went into effect the Mint melted all but two of the coins into gold bars. The two remaining pieces were given to the Smithsonian Institute for inclusion in the U.S. Mint’s collection.
Despite the fact that by the government’s accounting the 10 coins shouldn’t exist, at least 10 similar 1933 $20 coins openly changed hands in rare coin circles for several years after their minting. They too were believed to have originated from Switt. Federal authorities thought that a Philadelphia Mint bank teller conspired with and illegally sold the coins to Switt. But this allegation was never proven.
Because of the government’s prosecution of cases like this, the total number of 1933 $20 gold coins that eluded the melting pot will likely never be known. If all of the escaped 1933 double eagles were indeed stolen, this would not be the first time that a similar event occurred in the annals of the Mint’s history.
During the ensuing decades after their origin, a series of fascinating, confusing and conflicting twists accompanied the fate of these 20 rare coins. Aside from the latter 10 coins being known and sold in the rare coin community during the 1930s and early ’40s, the Federal Government initially seemed unconcerned. In fact, in 1944, the government’s Office of Gold and Silver Operations granted an export license for one of the surviving coins to be sent to King Farouk of Egypt. Later that year, they changed their mind and tracked down the owners to demand the return of the ten known coins, including Farouk’s. On the Farouk example, they met with considerable resistance and their effort was dropped. The other coins were returned, including one owned by famous collector Louis Eliasberg, Sr. Eventually, the nine seized examples were reported to have been melted them.
In 1996, a 1933 $20 St. Gaudens gold coin, presumed to be the Farouk example, surfaced at auction. Being alerted to that fact, the Secret Service seized the coin. In 2002, after several years of legal wrangling, the government relented and agreed to allow the coin to sell at auction, with the understanding that the it would receive a split of the sale price from the owner. The coin sold for a record price of $7.59 million. The Langbords should have been so lucky!
Two years later, in 2004, the Langbords delivered their 10 coins to the Mint with the hope that the Mint would declare them to be authentic. They likely thought that if the coins were indeed genuine, that they would negotiate a similar deal as the one negotiated with the “Farouk” coin. Tragically for them, after a lengthy silence, the government declared that the Langbord-Switt coins were the “property of the Federal Government” and refused to return them.
The Langbord family filed suit, setting into play a lengthy and expensive legal battle in which the family demanded the return of the 10 coins. In July 2011, a jury sided with the government and declared that the coins were government property. The trial judge, apparently undecided, agreed and awarded the coins to the government a year later. Undaunted, the Langbords again filed suit and in April 2015, convinced a three judge panel in Circuit Court to overturn the jury verdict. The success was short-lived and in August 2016, the government prevailed again when the U.S. Court of Appeals found in their favor.
The Langbord’s took their case to the United States Supreme Court, but as is their prerogative, the Court refused to hear the case. As a result, the U.S. Government will remain the owner of 10 incredibly desirable and extremely valuable coins. The Langbord family will receive nothing for them and bear the burden of years of legal expenses.
As for the coins, it remains to be seen what the government will do. One can only wonder what will be their ultimate fate.
* * *
Dr. Appel is the principal for his company UniqueRareCoins.com, working as a rare coin broker or consultant for his clients. Dr. Appel uses his 50 years of experience as a former rare coin dealer to obtain the choicest coins offered in the wholesale market, and at the lowest dealer prices. Or, if his client is selling, he strives for the highest possible sale prices. Those he works for find him indispensable. They no longer worry if they are being treated fairly. They know he always keeps their interests at the top of his agenda, and his low commissions are usually reduced or offset by negotiating the best prices for them. Dr. Appel can be reached at 800-782-2646 or [email protected].