U.S. & World Coin News and Articles

PCGS CoinFacts 1933 $20 Regular Strike

Since the launch of PCGS CoinFacts,™ we have been hard at work updating and expanding the site's information. Here's another recent example:

David Akers (1975/88): The 1933 Double Eagle was the last gold coin struck for circulation by the U.S. Mint. Before they were legally released, a Presidential order was issued on March 6, 1933 prohibiting banks from paying out gold coins or gold certificates. Nevertheless, a small quantity of 1933 Double Eagles did get out of the Mint and in the late 1930s and early 1940s, there were a number of private transactions involving the sale of 1933 Double Eagles.

Colonel James W. Flanagan, for instance, purchased one for his collection for $2,200 (a very high amount for a coin at that time). Other specimens traded hands as well, always privately but often as the result of a published advertisement, at prices ranging from $1,000 to $2,200. At the time, no one thought anything about the possible illegality of owning a 1933 Double Eagle and the coin was considered to be one of the rarest (but not the rarest) Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles.

Then, in 1944, Colonel Flanagan's collection was sold at public auction in New York City by Stack's. The U.S. Treasury Department learned of the inclusion of Flanagan's 1933 Double Eagle in the sale and they confiscated the coin on the grounds that it had not been legally released. No compensation was made to Flanagan by the Government and it is presumed that the coin was melted. According to Abe Kosoff, Treasury Department agents then asked various coin dealers for the names and addresses of collectors to whom they had sold 1933 Double Eagles. Kossoff, and possibly others, preferred to contact their customers privately to refund their money, and then turn over the coins to the agents.

Several 1933 Double Eagles were confiscated in this manner, and they also are presumed melted. One collector whose 1933 Double Eagle was confiscated, a Mr. L.G. Barnard of Memphis, Tennessee, took the matter to court and after a great expenditure of time and money, lost the case. The Government's position that a private individual could not legally own a 1933 Double Eagle was upheld by the courts.

Ten years after the Flanagan sale, King Farouk's collection was sold in Cairo, Egypt. Farouk's collection contained a 1933 Double Eagle and, at the request of the U.S. Government, the Egyptian Government withdrew the coin from the sale. However, this 1933 was not turned over to U.S. authorities and so it presumably still exists somewhere. (It was catalogued as an "EF" but was really uncirculated as are all known 1933s.)

At the time of the Flanagan sale, the cataloguers (Stack's) noted that they knew of eight or ten pieces (possibly all different) that had been sold privately. Undoubtedly, some of these coins still exist but because of their current "illegal" status, they have gone underground and so it is impossible to know exactly how many 1933 Double Eagles there are and where they are located.

It is my guess that no more than five or six 1933 Double Eagles still exist, making the rarest Saint-Gaudens $20 one of the rarest of all U.S. gold coins. If it is ever decided that it is legal to own the 1933, I think it would probably become one of the four or five most valuable U.S. coins, if not the most valuable.

It is impossible to go from the small sample I have seen of this issue to an accurate statement of general appearance and minting characteristics. However, the specimen in the Smithsonian Institution is very well struck except for a slight weakness on the eagle's trailing leg feathers. It is fully frosty with some surface granularity and metal flow near the rims. The luster is very good as is the color, which is a medium rose and greenish yellow-gold. Reportedly, the Farouk specimen is of nearly identical overall appearance and grade.

David Hall: Before the Steve Fenton coin was sold by Sotheby's, it was displayed in Beverly Hills. PCGS made arrangements to have the PCGS graders view the coin. Sotheby's was very accommodating and allowed us to view the coin out of the holder in good lighting conditions. The coin has the creamy luster you see on late-date Saints and though there are a few minor marks, it would grade a solid MS65 at PCGS.

I recently had a chance to see one of the examples in the Smithsonian collection. John Dannreuther and I examined the coin at the August, 2009 ANA Convention. Our grade is MS65.

P. Scott Rubin: With the court decision on the 1933 Double Eagle – that the government was correct in taking the ten 1933 Double Eagle coins from the members of the Langbord family – it marks the end of the questions about how many 1933 Double Eagles will ever be available for sale. That answer is one and only one.

The government can never sell any of the 12 coins it now has in its possession. This is because of the document it issued with the July, 2002 sale of the Fenton-Farouk coin, which stated that the coin was monetized and is the only 1933 Double Eagle that was or will be released by the United State Government. It also means that any 1933 Double Eagle that should appear in the future would receive the same fate of the Switt (Langbord) 10. This reaffirms that the now-unique example of the 1933 Double Eagle available in the collector market, is the most valuable coin issued by the United States. The publicity surrounding the recent trail has only added to the coin's appeal and value.

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