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Final papers filed in 1933 $20 court fight

Circling the wagons, both sides put their final papers before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as the U.S. Mint defended against an action brought by Joan Langbord, daughter of deceased Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt to recover 10 1933 double eagle gold coins authenticated by the Mint and then seized by the government.

It will take the judge months to sift through them and then to decide whether to grant summary relief to either party in the lawsuit. The papers, though, offer some interesting reading.

On Jan. 14, Langbord, who is in her late seventies, and her two adult sons, on behalf of their respective ownership interests, asked for and received permission from the court to reply to the government’s motion papers – and bombarded the court and their adversaries with over 100 pages of exhibits and legal arguments.

These include the last will and testament of Israel Switt who died at age 95 in 1990; the will of his wife (and Joan Langbord’s mother) who predeceased her husband in 1985. Also included: a listing of assets. Not among them: mention of any 1933 double eagle gold coins. Present in detail: lots of stocks.

All of it centers on whether the 1933 double eagles, which Langbord found in her mother’s safety deposit box, were lawfully removed from the U.S. Mint and entered into commerce or whether they were stolen and wound up in Switt’s hands during the time that he was in the numismatic and jewelry business in the 1930s.

The December 2008 and January 2009 filings reveal a Pennsylvania inheritance tax return of Elizabeth (received Dec. 31, 1985), showing $146,000 in stocks and bonds and $106,000 in cash and personal property.  Roy and David Langbord (grandsons, and co-litigants with their mother, Joan) each received half the residue of the $239,000 estate.

Israel Switt’s will is done in the firm hand of an octogenarian. The value of his estate, as per inheritance tax returns of Pennsylvania, is $943,000 (in 1990), including almost half set aside as the value of his stock in the partnership of Switt & Silver.  Cash and personal property was valued at $109,000 – again no mention of the 1933 double eagle.

Stocks, bonds and real estate exceeded $170,000; son-in-law Stanton Langbord was named as executor. A Fifty percent (50%) interest in the general partnership Switt & Silver located at 130 S. 8th St., Philadelphia, PA. Value based on Partners’ equity on Dec. 31 1989, was $630,643.00; less the stated figure on Dec. 31, 1989 for property and equipment, ($16,247); appraised value of such property, $265,000; for a total partnership value of $879,396.

No mention, here, of one (no less 10) 1933 double eagles – unless it was miscellaneous personal property (item 11), listed at $500.

In 2003, or 13 years after her father’s death and 18 years after her mother’s, Mrs.  Langbord, now 78, the daughter of Switt claims that she discovered the coins in a safety deposit box that had belonged to her parents. Langbord, acting through her lawyer, voluntarily notified the Mint of the extraordinary discovery of 10 double eagles, all dated 1933. She asked that they 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.

Presently, the coins have been shipped to Fort Knox, Ky., where they are in the secure gold depository facility there. They periodically  emerge to be displayed at the numismatic conventions  encased in plastic.
With the coins in custody, the Langbord family’s remedy was either to acquiesce,  or to sue the government. Lawyer Barry Berke, who litigated the King Farouk specimen seizure from 1996-2001, claims his clients did the right thing in notifying the government of the hoard and is equally adamant that they are entitled to keep the coins. Hence the lawsuit.

Actually, there could have been two lawsuits. The government, which seized the coins, could have sought a declaratory judgment to justify its actions. They’ve done that before – several times, in fact-– ironically involving the same described 1933 $20 coins. Berke’s legal papers make that point.

Berke’s clients brought several different counts, including a federal tort claim for the value of the goods seized. That sets off numerous battles, not the least of which is how much the 1933 Saints are worth.
As a single specimen rarity, $7.59 million was its price. What 10 more are worth, apiece, is anyone’s guess, though experts could reason through analogy. The coin is so famous that it could be a higher price, or a lower one.

In the midst of all this, experts Q. David Bowers and David Tripp have faced off as deposition witnesses, each attacking the credibility of the other side. Tripp’s deposition is available on the government’s Web site; Bowers is not.  Requests to Berke for a copy have gone unanswered.

Now the wait begins for the court’s decision in a request by both sides for summary relief. Under federal rules, the judge may take as long as he likes to decide. A written decision is anticipated in late winter or early spring.

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