Joan Langbord’s family responded June 19 to the Federal government’s claim that 10 double eagles, all dated 1933, never legally entered circulation and thus could never have been legally held by her father, Philadelphia jeweler and part-time coin dealer Israel Switt.
The substance of the response came in a memorandum of law signed by Barry Berke, lead lawyer in a matter that has attracted a “friend of the Court” brief of the Professional Numismatists Guild.
Berke’s theory is succinct as it is simple. The government, he says, has no real idea how the 1933 double eagle left the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia after it was struck and before the bulk of other $20 gold pieces were melted following issuance of an executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Both sides have experts offering differing opinions and views – but none of them are factual claims of accuracy; rather, they are hypothetical explorations of how the coin was either lawfully removed and placed into commerce, or how it was purloined in violation of rules and regulations.
Either way, Berke asserts that the Mint was wrong in retaining the coins after Joan Langbord, Switt’s daughter – he died in the early 1990s – took them from a safe deposit box and submitted them for authentication. The Mint, Berke claims, should have initiated a civil forfeiture proceeding, and by not doing so, loses valuable rights.
Switt is the jeweler and gold dealer of the 1930s, whose pedigree is imprinted on every known 1933 double Eagle that exited the mint. Langbord and her adult sons claim to have found 10 double eagles in a safety deposit box shortly after the Treasury Department and a private owner realized $7.2 million in the 2002 auctioning of the King Farouk specimen.
About two dozen 1933 double eagles are known to have existed; the government has seized a number of them. Up until the Farouk specimen was offered with Stephen Fenton, who got caught up in an FBI sting operation, none had successfully remained very long in the hands of any collectors.
The Mint always claimed that none of the coins was ever placed into circulation, and in the 1940s, vigorously sought to go after the 1933 $20 whenever the coin went public. The PNG is concerned about the precedent a seizure ruling might entail and volunteered a “friend of the Court” brief rejecting the government’s view on the basis that coins are intended to be money without regard to how they get into circulation.
They argue persuasively that to rule otherwise makes 1804 dollars, 1913 nickels, 1943 copper cents and a host of other items rancid and suspect – which is not the case at all.
The government still has time to bend the U.S. District Court’s ear with a reply brief, due July 5. Then, Judge Legrome Davis will make a decision as to whether or not to decide on the papers, or have a trial later this year.