The world's first $7.59 million coin.
The spectacular and controversial 1933 Double Eagle last fell under the hammer on July 30, 2002 in New York City, obliterating the previous auction record of $4.14 million for a U.S. coin. The new standard? A remarkable $7.59 million! As of December 2009, this remains the highest price ever paid for a U.S. coin.
The famed coin was the lone item in a special auction conducted by Sotheby's and Stack's. The sale was a special arrangement that provides for the U.S. government to keep 50% of the proceeds while the balance goes to rare coin dealer Steve Fenton from London, Englad. The coin has been the subject of numerous legal battles over the years regarding its legality as a numismatic item for private ownership.
A packed audience of nearly 500 coin enthusiasts, reporters, cameramen and onlookers jammed the 7th floor of the Sotheby's building for the single-coin auction. Bidding started at $2.5 million and proceeded briskly in $100,000 increments. The winning bidder at $7.59 million was an anonymous phone bidder.
Fast and furious bidding led to the Double Eagle's final hammer price of $7.59 million.
A number of questions about the condition of the coin were put to rest prior to the sale when four experts from the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) viewed the piece and unanimously declared it to be MS65. Because the coin is pedigreed to King Farouk and the monarch was notorious for abrasively cleaning and/or lacquering coins, there was concern that the 1933 $20 had suffered a similar fate. Fortunately that was not the case and the coin was found to be in Gem-quality condition.
The history of the 1933 $20 in general and this specimen in particular are filled with ambiguity, controversy, deceit and, ultimately, triumph. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took the United States off of the gold standard in 1933, the minting of gold coins continued intermittently for several months. Two Executive Orders (#6102 and #6260) banned the release of further gold coins for circulation, but it is not 100% clear whether a few of the $20 gold pieces of 1933 were legally released. It is known that an export license was granted for this coin during World War II.
Mint Director Henrietta Fore receives the $20 necessary to "pay" for the Double Eagle and balance the Treasury accounts.
The U.S. government set up a sting operation in New York City several years ago to get the coin back. The coin was seized and arrests were made, but as the government's case deteriorated. A compromise was struck and the coin was ultimately sold. Since 2002, 10 additional coins have surfaced and are currently going through legal ownership controversies. Many strongly believe that if these additional 10 coins eventually became legal to own and sell, it would detrimentally affect the value of the coin that sold in 2002. Regardless, even if the value of the King Farouk specimen has decreased, it is still a magnificent coin. The fact that it still holds the record price realized for a U.S. coin only makes it much more astounding.