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Judge Rules that Gov’t Improperly Seized 1933 St. Gaudens Gold coins

In a stunning rebuke to the US Mint and the Treasury Department, U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis ruled that the government improperly seized 10 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagles (Possibly worth millions d dollars each), and denied the Langbord family due process when Mint officials decided to keep them after they were authenticated without a hearing.

“The government’s ‘good-faith’ belief that the coins were once stolen is not sufficient, under the circumstances, to justify its decision to conduct a warrant less seizure,” Davis wrote.

The case which has been in litigation since, revolves around one of the most fabled coins in all of US Numismatics.

By way of a brief background; The 1933 $20 Double eagle was the last year of production in the popular Saint gaudens series. At the same time the coins were being manufactured, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made private gold ownership illegal in the US, All the 1933 Double Eagles were supposed to have been destroyed.

Unknown to Mint officials, a limited number found their way out of the mints possession. Historically this is not an unusual occurrence, and dozens of documented cases exist where non regular issue coins have been removed, sold, or otherwise were created for privileged individuals or enterprising collectors with contacts within the Mint itself.

In the 1940s, when the government got wind that coin dealers were selling 1933 Double Eagles, and the Secret Service launched an investigation and eventually seized all the coins it could find. One that evaded the government efforts and was reported as part of the King Faruk collection (Egypt). The 1940s investigators concluded that all of the Double Eagles that got out of the Mint had passed through the hands of a Philadelphia jeweler named Israel Switt. Though the lead Secret Service investigator pressed for charges to be brought against Switt, the Philadelphia U.S. attorney said the statute of limitations had expired. Switt was never prosecuted for the theft of the coins from the Mint.

Fast forward to 2002 when a London dealer Stephen Fenton was caught in a Secret Service sting operation trying to sell the Faruk 1933 $20. Litigation ensued and eventually a settlement was reached that ultimately declared this single 1933 Double Eagle as the ONLY one that could be legally owned. Interesting as part of the settlement Fenton and the US Mint shared equally in the proceeds of the $7 million hammer price at the 2002 auction sale in New York City held by Sotheby’s and Stacks in a jointly catalogued event.

This was and remains the highest price paid for ANY US coin .

Sometime after 2002, the Langbord’s attorney, Barry Berke, who also was involved in the compromised litigation and auction sale of the King Faruk coin, wrote to the Mint offering to allow them to authenticate 10 coins (all 1933 double eagles) that Mrs. Langbord said were found in a sealed safety deposit box while she was looking for some pieces of her late mother’s jewelry to sell.

Mint experts determined that the coins were genuine, but declined to return them to the Langbord family on the basis that the Mint claimed that the coins were the property of the US government and could not have been lawfully removed from the Mint. Since then, as expected. the courts have been involved.

An Interesting analysis of the case so far was put forward by By Alison Frankel posted on the American Law Litigation Daily. She stated” Berke’s (The Langbord’s attorney) canny strategy was to turn the coins over to the government, but only for purposes of authentication. Then when the government refused to give the coins back–as Berke surely knew it would–he sued, claiming the coins had been illegally seized from the Langbords. And though assistant U.S. attorneys in Philadelphia argued that the Langbord family had unclean hands, Judge Davis ruled that the Langbords’ constitutional protections had been violated. Now the burden of proof lies on the government.”

The judge’s order calls for the government to initiate a forfeiture hearing by Sept. 28. The hearing would likely amount to a trial where the Government must establish that the Langbord coins were stolen–even though everyone connected with the coins’ disappearance from the Mint and the initial investigation of the alleged theft is long dead.

Obviously this saga will continue into the fall, but it seems that the government is going to have a difficult time “”proving” that the coins were stolen from the mint.

Which brings me to a few final thoughts. Not being a lawyer or being trained in the art of obfuscation it  seems to me personally that the governments handling of both this and the original Fenton-Faruk settlement/sale has been both inept and tainted.

If when the Fenton-Faruk coin was confiscated the Government stood by its position that the coin was indeed illegal to own, regardless of the outcome of any continuing litigation, I would be more inclined to accept their current position with respect to the Langbord “hoard”. However it seems a bit disingenuous to strike a deal where the Mint gets half the proceeds of the sale of the Fenton-Faruk coin, and that somehow it is suddenly declared to be “Legal to Own”, and then take the exact opposite position when additional coins surface.

I realize that I may be an idiot for expecting the law to be fair and consistent, but in my opinion, the governments hands are a bit soiled and it would appear that the Mint wants to have both its cake, and eat it too.

Why the government and the US Mint have decided that this issue is of such great importance that they would spend millions trying to hold onto the Langbord’s 10 1933 Double Eagles, and yet for almost 100 years they have turned  a blind eye to the 1913 Nickels that have traded in the marketplace is beyond me. The presence of these coins is a Plus for the hobby and, if the mint were to strike a similar 50/50 deal with the Langdorn’s, what would be the downside?

The US Mint spends million of dollars each year trying to promote the sale of its products, encouraging coin collecting, attending major shows and trying to come up with new and exciting collector programs. Wouldn’t it seem to be a smart idea if the mint struck a deal to auction off One of the 1933 Saints every year for the next ten years. That might create a bit of a buzz in the numismatic community and provide a few lucky, albeit wealthy collectors, the opportunity to own on of the most historic and fabled coins in US numismatics.

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