If you had the opportunity to learn the inside story of one of the great numismatic mysteries, what would it be?
The 1913 Liberty Head nickel?
Perhaps the 1884 and 1885 proof Trade dollars?
How about the 1933 $20 gold pieces?
If you chose the third option, you are in luck.
The Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists has arranged a talk – two actually – on the story of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold pieces.
The first will be given at PAN’s spring dinner at 7:30 p.m. on May 10 at the LeMont Restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The second will occur at 10:30 a.m. on the following day in the PAN Coin Show Lecture Area at the Monroeville Convention Center.
Speaker will be Greg Weinman, the man who managed for the U.S. Mint the years’ long court battles over legal ownership of 10 1933 gold $20s in the possession of the family of Israel Switt, a Philadelphia jeweler.
The family sent the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication in 2004.
They were declared genuine, but the Mint seized them.
The family of Switt's daughter, Joan Langbord, sued the Mint and lost, appealed and won, and then lost again on further appeal and denial of a final appeal to the Supreme Court just last year.
This drama ran for 13 years.
Weinman, who is the senior legal counsel at the Mint, was there for it all.
He joined the Mint in 1997 after having served six years as senior attorney at the Internal Revenue Service specializing in public contracts and licensing.
The Mint has contended all along that the Switt coins were stolen.
However, one gray area existed because the Treasury granted an export license for one so Egyptian King Farouk could buy the coin in 1944.
Perhaps it was a World War II wartime expedient to keep a political leader happy. Perhaps it was a slipup.
However, the export license has allowed the Farouk specimen to be owned legally.
It was sold for $7.59 million in 2002, making the 10 Switt coins unbelievably valuable – a sufficient motive to try to legalize them.
The 2002 sale concluded a six-year legal wrangle that saw the proceeds divided between the government and British coin dealer Stephen Fenton, from whom the coin had been seized in 1996.
Many coin collectors rooted for the Langboard family to win the legal battle over the coins, but they did not prevail.
What will Weinman reveal that is new?
Those who go to his talks will be first to find out.
The broad outlines of the story are well known.
In March 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a Proclamation prohibiting payment of gold coin. This resulted in the melting of 445,500 1933-dated but never issued $20 gold pieces.
The Mint says only two pieces lawfully left the Mint. These were given to the Smithsonian Institution in 1934.
After a 1933 double eagle appeared at auction in 1944, a Secret Service investigation led to the recovery of nine stolen pieces that also were subsequently melted.
Another piece – the Farouk coin – was recovered in 1996, with that case ending in the unique settlement under which it was monetized and issued by the Mint.
Weinman will discuss and answer questions about the 1933 double eagles, the history, the litigation and the Mint plans for the preservation and display of these historic national treasures.
It is inspiring to know that these coins indeed will be preserved and will be put on display.
It is even more inspiring to see an organization like PAN take the initiative to provide such a talk for the benefit of all hobbyists who can attend.
Well done, PAN.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."
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