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ILLEGAL TENDER – GOLD, GREED, and the MYSTER of the LOST 1933 DOUBLE EAGLE By David Tripp 2004 Published by Simon & Schuster.


This is a book I have noticed several times in the local library. I have noticed it before with idle curiosity but never advanced beyond looking at the inside flaps of the book. On a whim recently whilst at the library I succumbed to desire and checked it out.


The opening of the book is descriptive of the initiation of the St. Gauden’s Double Eagle by non other than Theodore Roosevelt, with his commissioning of Augustus St. Gaudens to create a whole new coinage for the United States. Consider that this was the era of the mannish Barber coinage, and dated Liberty designs on the gold coinage that dated to the 1830’s. Augustus St. Gaudens and Chief Engraver of the US mint, Charles Barber had a hostile relationship going back into the 1880’s so it was with great apprehension that St. Gaudens accepted the assignment. As the work progressed, it was only through the patronage and intervention on the part of Theodore Roosevelt that the new $20 gold piece even materialized beyond the design stage because of the flack generated by Charles Barber.


The author gives a pretty good narrative of the creation of the coin, and the progression of the minting process from the original very high relief coins that Theodore Roosevelt desired, to the eventually accepted lower flat relief designs that were desired by bankers etc.


The story advances into the depths of the Great Depression, and the Presidential Proclamation 2039 by Theodore Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt in the opening days of his presidential administration. This part of the book is the most fascinating because of the highlights of the deliberate ambiguities created by this order, and how implementation and prosecution varied and created so many uncertainties for all holders of gold coinage, gold in general and even gold certificates.


All the while the mint continued churning out gold $20 pieces until May 19th, when the last of the newly minted coins were taken to the vaults for storage. There they would remain until the summer of 1937 whence they were all allegedly melted , cast into bars and shipped to Ft. Knox, the newly built storage facility.


Sometime during the transfer of these coins from vault, to accounting and weighing etc. and their subsequent destruction, someone, it is inferred that the cashier was the most likely candidate, apparently switched older previously dated coins, perhaps as many as 25 according to recent assumptions, with the 1933 dated coins and discreetly sold them outside of the Philadelphia mint. Said cashier on subsequent investigation in the 1940’s had been determined to be at the center of an investigation in the 1920’s when an incredible $10000.00 worth of gold, nearly 500 ozs. was determined to be missing. At the time, it was explained as an accounting error and then quietly buried.


Nothing further progressed knowingly with these alleged 25 coins until 1944, when the Egyptian legation applied for an export license for a purported 1933 Double Eagle. In all the confusion of slipshod record keeping of the Mint and the Treasury Department, it apparently was overlooked that the coin was not legal to own, that it had never in fact, been released to the public. So the export license was approved and the coin sent to Egypt for the collection of King Farouk.


At the same time this coin was being exported, the Secret Service had been tipped off that these coins were being made available and that one was coming up for auction in a lot at Stacks’ Galleries in the Spring of 1944. The Secret Service seized this coin and launched an investigation into the matter, and determined that several prominent dealers of the time were allegedly complicit in the matter, namely Abe Kosoff, Ira Reed, Max Mehl and Israel Switt. The Secret Service believed at this time based on testimony from the participants, and seizures, that there were 10 coins missing, they had 9 of them seized and that the 10th went to Egypt for King Farouk. Some owners turned over the coins without much of an issue, but others, namely James Stack continued to fight for custody of the coin, even after death, the case was brought to a conclusion and the Secret Service and the Treasury Department prevailed in the case in September 1955.


The book proceeds with the change in government in Egypt in 1952 and the auction of King Farouk’s enormous collection, and mysteriously grouped Lot 185 that included a purported 1933 Double Eagle. On protest from the United States Consul the coin was withdrawn from the sale, and thence disappeared into the abyss that was the Egypt of the 1950’s.


The coin remained an unknown and unheard of again legend in numismatics, a modern day enigma of the hobby. What happened? Was it destroyed, lost or in a private collection? The trail is still cold from the time it was withdrawn until it was discussed by a Cairo jeweler with an English dealer in 1995. Subsequent discussion and negotiation produced the coin, and it changed hands in September of that year and became the property of Stephen Fenton, owner of Knightsbridge Coins in London. In early 1996 he had his contacts send out feelers to see if there was interest in the United States for this coin. Here is where the book comes to an amazing crescendo with seemingly common people, and well known dealers, all in collusion to market this coin. At the apex, one participant weakens at the possibility of what may subsequently transpire and initiates contact with the Secret Service and is at times cooperative, and at other times it is inferred, self serving.


There are again arrests, the seizure of the coin, it’s authentication, and the subsequent and costly legal battle that pitched the Mint, the Treasury Department and the Secret Service against one part time dealer, two full time dealers and a non-participant in the negotiation buyer.


The rest of the story we know, the coin was legalized for ownership by the settlement of the case, it was subsequently auctioned for an astounding $7,590,020.00 in 2002.


But the plot is thickened, because there are photographs with date stamps, apparently authentic from the late 1970’s of another coin.


This book stops as of 2002. However the heir of Israel Switt, Joan Switt, his daughter subsequently produced 10 examples of the Double Eagle and sent them to the mint for authentication, at which time they were seized. That matter is still fluid, and has not been resolved.


The book is a good and fascinating read. At times I would have liked more details on certain aspects, for instance, the events of 1933. There is apparent conjecture, which must be expected, the participants of this book cannot be expected to share all details. All in all I found it a most fascinating read, determined by the fact that I found it notably difficult to put down, and in fact, read during meals(thankfully my wife was out of town, she hates when I read at the dining room table.) and late into the evening.

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  • 1 year later...

I've read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Interestingly the court case involving the "remaining" 10 Switt coins is coming up at the end of the year and there's starting to be some press coverage. A recent CoinWorld article attempts to point out some of the shortfalls in the govt's case and proposes a number of ways the coins could have been legally circulated before Roosevelt signed the gold ban into law.

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