The famous “double eagles” from that year were never officially released by the government. Only a few had ever made their way out of federal vaults, and only one had ever been sold publicly, in 2002. The price: $7.6 million. And there were nine more of them in the safe-deposit box. But after the Langbord family took the coins to the United States Mint to be authenticated in 2004, they got a rude surprise. The Mint said the coins were genuine and kept them. The government claims that they are government property stolen from the Mint, most likely in the 1930s, by Mr. Langbord’s grandfather, Israel Switt, a Philadelphia jewelry dealer. The Langbords went to court and recently won an important ruling. A United States District Court judge has given the government until the end of the month either to give back the coins or go back to court to prove that they were in fact stolen by Mr. Switt, a daunting task after three-quarters of a century. Nearly a half-million 1933 double eagles were minted before President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shifting the nation away from the gold standard, issued an executive order that made owning large amounts of gold bullion and coins illegal. Two of the coins went to the Smithsonian Institution, and almost all the rest were melted down.The Federal government believes the coins were stolen, and it seems unlikely these coins ever found their way to the marketplace legitimately, but the government will have to prove these coins were stolen, 75 years after they were ordered to be melted down.
John Schwartz, Rare Coins: Family Treasure or Ill-Gotten Goods? [New York Times, Sep. 15, 2009].