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Friend or foe?

Franklin Roosevelt is a president coin collectors love to hate. Not that they are all Republicans, but the author of the New Deal took away the right to own gold coins. That has been the hobby story since I began reading numismatic material in the 1960s and we are sticking to it.

The tale had its greatest force in the years immediately prior to the legalization of gold ownership once again at the end of 1974.

People tend to forget the facts behind the headlines. Roosevelt’s first Treasury Secretary was a coin collector. William Woodin was also an author of a book about patterns. It was a standard reference before Judd.

Roosevelt’s recall order also specifically exempted coin collectors. They couldn’t hold a garageful of $20 gold pieces, but they could retain two of each date and mintmark for their collections. They rest had to be traded in for other forms of cash.

Now that is pretty generous in light of the financial emergency facing the country. Woodin’s unfortunate invisibility to history was due to the unhappy development of cancer later in 1933 so he left office and died. Had he lived, Roosevelt mythology might have turned out to be that he was the best friend coin collectors ever had.

But later generations forget the emergency the country was facing. That is natural. The gold ban was in force in one form or another for 41 years. People that far removed in time from the crisis have a hard time understanding the meaning of the words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Actually, those words sound completely bonkers in normal times, but at times when lines are forming outside of banks, like the IndyMac offices in California, they begin to make sense – at least to the worried depositors.

In 1933 banks were failing almost daily. The Bank Holiday, declared by Roosevelt shut them all down for five days until they could be checked out. The healthy ones were allowed to reopen. The unhealthy ones remained closed.

Troubles today look small by comparison. But give Roosevelt another kick anyway. It is now a pleasant hobby tradition.