Skip to main content

Government wins 1933 gold $20s

The government has won again. It will not have to return 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold pieces to the Langbord family, which had asked the Mint to authenticate them after they were located in a safe deposit box of material inherited from Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt by his daughter Joan Langbord.

The full Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a decision filed Aug. 1, ruled for the government 9-3.

While collectors have sided with the Langbords and drooled at the possibility of the coins being eventually sold into the numismatic community, the court said the law sides with the government.

The legal back and forth that has gone on since the Mint refused to return the coins to the family in 2005, was not without its moments of hope for the Langbords.

Berry H. Berke, a New York lawyer who represents the family, has proven time and again to be legally resourceful in the battle with the government.

But the latest setback could be the end of the road for the family and for collectors who had hoped to see more than one 1933 gold $20 legally owned by numismatists.

The only currently legal example sold for $7.59 million 2002 in a New York auction. Berke had worked to legalize that coin after it had been seized in 1996.

However, the legal basis that allowed such an outcome for that specific coin was that the Treasury had issued an export license for it in 1944 so legendary Egyptian collector King Farouk could acquire it.

There are no Treasury export licenses for the Langbord coins to interfere with the government’s case that the coins were never legally issued and therefore are the property of the government.

What happens next?

Berke cannot be counted out.

Lesser individuals would never have begun the legal proceedings in the first place to get the coins back after the government’s decision not to return them.

Collectors would cheer any other legal rabbits Berke can pull out of his hat.

The question is, will he?

No matter, Berke has reached a status akin to a numismatic super hero.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

• Like this blog? Read more by subscribing to Numismatic News.