The 1933 Gold Double Eagle, a Rare Coin with a Rich History

Posted by Derek Sawchenko on

The extremely rare 1933 $20 Gold Eagle coin. The obverse features Lady Liberty full body frontal view with the word "Liberty" on the top and "1933" on the bottom right. The reverse features a full body profile of an eagle in flight.

The 1933 gold double eagle coin is a United States 20-dollar gold coin. It was originally issued from 1907 until 1932, with 445,500 double eagles minted with the 1933 date. However, not one of these 1933 double eagle coins was released into circulation due to currency laws during the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had tried to stabilize the economy by taking the U.S. off the gold standard. People were even required to hand over any gold coins they owned. 

With the Gold Reserve Act passed by Congress in 1934, it became illegal to circulate or possess United States gold coins. This act also declared that double eagle gold coins were no longer legal tender, and citizens had to exchange the coins for other forms of valid currency. As a result, most of the 1933 double eagle coins were melted down in 1934 and some were even destroyed. Two double eagles were given by the U.S. Mint to the U.S. National Numismatic Collection, and they were recently displayed in the "Money and Medals Hall" on the third floor of the National Museum of American History.

These two coins were supposed to be the only 1933 double eagles in existence. However, a number of the coins were stolen, perhaps by a U.S. Mint cashier, and somehow found their way into the hands of a Philadelphia jeweler by the name of Israel Swift. At least 9 coins were sold to private collectors, and one was even bought by King Farouk of Egypt. When the Secret Service found out about these coins, they confiscated the coins from collectors. However, they were unable to retrieve the one coin that was sold to King Farouk which had already been legally exported to Egypt. 

After the deposition of King Farouk in 1952, the coin appeared once again on the market. More than 40 years later, it ended up in the hands of Stephen Fenton, a British coin dealer living in New York. The Secret Service were able to recover the coin in a sting operation where they pretended to be collectors trying to purchase the coin.

A years-long legal battle ensued between Fenton and the U.S. Mint over ownership of the coin, during which time the coin was stored in the Treasury Vaults of the World Trade Center. The case was settled and a mere two months before 9/11, the coin was moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky. An agreement was reached that the coin would be sold at auction and the proceeds would be split between Fenton and the U.S. Mint.

The 1933 double gold eagle sold at auction on July 30, 2002, for $6.6 million, plus the buyer's fee, which brought the sum to $7,590,000.


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