Claiming that the government stole 10 uncirculated 1933 $20 gold pieces from them, the heirs of Philadelphia jeweler and sometime coin dealer Israel Switt filed suit Dec. 5 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, demanding the return of the coins or, in the alternative, unspecified damages.
Last time that a 1933 $20 gold piece was sold, in 2002, the U.S. Mint and London dealer Stephen Fenton split the proceeds from a rare single-lot auction sale run by Sotheby’s and Stack’s that yielded over $7.59 million, plus a $20 fee to “monetize” a coin that the government claims was the only one in private hands that could be lawfully owned.
Handling the lawsuit is Barry Berke, whose Kramer, Levin law firm in New York City also successfully represented Fenton in a six-year battle with the feds over ownership of the rare gold coin, one of about 445,000 minted in 1933 and which, the government claimed, were not lawfully released into circulation.
The 31-page complaint, and two-page summons, marks both the conclusion of bizarre events in which Joan Langbord, Switt’s daughter, and her two sons, Roy and David, handled over 10 of the 1933 double eagles to the Mint to authenticate, only to have the feds declare them genuine and announce that since they were government property, they would be retained, not returned.
In 2003, the suit alleges, Mrs. Langbord, now 76, the daughter of Switt (who himself had died in 1985), discovered the coins in a safe-deposit box that had belonged to her parents. Langbord, acting through her lawyer, voluntarily notified the Mint of the extraordinary discovery and asked that it be authenticated.
Mint officials took possession and then spent about nine months resolving jurisdictional issues with the Secret Service and examining the coins before concluding that they were genuine – and then claimed that since they were always government property, they had no intention of returning them to the family.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson and will be heard in the federal courthouse on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, across the street from the current Mint facility in Philadelphia, and blocks away from the place that the coins were manufactured and where Israel Switt presumably acquired them.