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The World’s Most Valuable Coin Now on Display

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The 1933 Double Eagle gold piece is the most valuable coin in the world, and until now, it has been hidden away in a vault. Beginning in August 2013, however, visitors to the New York Historical Society can view the coin, which has a rich and mysterious history and has inspired a Smithsonian Channel documentary, four books, and an episode of The Closer. This summer, David N. Redden, an auction executive, removed the coin from its storage place at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He then took the coin, which sold for $7,590,020 in 2002, to its new home at the Historical Society. Though there was some security – a police officer rode in the front of the SUV and another in the back – there was little fanfare, and at the Historical Society, there are fewer security measures in place than you would think. After all, this is the world’s rarest and most valuable coin; if it were stolen, no one would dare buy it, which essentially makes it worthless to a thief.

So what makes this small piece of gold – 34 millimeters in size and weighing less than an ounce – so valuable? In part, it is the rarity of the coin, and in part it’s the coin’s rich history, so fantastic it almost seems fictional. The U.S. Double Gold Eagle had been minted since 1907, and it continued to be produced in 1933. In that year, 445,500 of the coins were made, but none were released. That year, President Franklin Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard. He ordered all of the 1933 Double Gold Eagles to be melted down and made into gold bullion, except for two coins which were to be given to the Smithsonian. However, some of the coins mysteriously escaped the meltdown. Historians are still not sure how the coins got out of the Mint, but they suspect that a worker named George McCann took about 20 of the coins and replaced them with earlier versions of the same coin. In any event, a Philadelphia collector named Israel Switt eventually came to own 19 of them, selling at least nine to private collectors. Eventually, the Secret Service seized eight of them, as they were stolen federal property. They believed that only one stolen coin remained. It had been sold to King Farouk of Egypt and eluded federal agents, even after he was deposed in 1952. Finally in the 1990s, a British coin dealer named Stephen Fenton brought it to New York, where it was seized and stored at the World Trade Center. Two months before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, authorities moved it to Fort Knox. Eventually, federal authorities reached an agreement with the owner of the coin; it would be auctioned off, and the federal government and Fenton would split the proceeds. In 2002, it fetched the record payment for any coin; to add further mystery to the already legendary piece, the owner remains anonymous to this day.

However, the story of the coin is not done. Two years after the record-breaking auction, Joan Langboard, a descendent of Israel Swift, found 10 more 1933 Double Eagle Coins among her belongings. She sent the currency to the U.S. Mint to be authenticated, but the government declared them seized. Langboard is now waging a legal fight to retain ownership of the coins. The discovery of the 10 coins also has an effect on the coin stored in the New York Historical Society. If these coins had been discovered two years earlier, the now famous piece may not have fetched quite so exorbitant a price. But the unearthing and seizure of these coins does seem a fitting chapter to add to the financial saga already so shrouded in mystery and tied up with government policy.

Fort Lauderdale Auction - Stacey A. Giulianti, Esq., is a Florida licensed attorney and a Florida licensed auctioneer. Mr. Giulianti has been involved in the auction field, specializing in art and antiques, for 20 years and has worked as an attorney and adviser in the field. A member of the Florida Bar, he also holds the Accredited Claims Adjuster designation and is a member of both the Florida Auctioneers Association and the National Auctioneers Association. Mr. Giulianti is the proprietor of Exclusive Gavel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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