On August 1st the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit filed their decision against the Langbord family and their goal of successfully legitimizing ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles. This is but the latest chapter in a long-fought saga over these infamous rarities that trace their roots back to the days of their mintage. For all practical purposes this story is about theft and statutes of limitations on theft. The 1933 Saints were obviously struck in 1933 but, prior to their official mint release President Franklin Roosevelt suspended the issuance of gold coins. As a result, mint officials melted all gold coinage on hand, including the entire production run of the 1933 Saints. According to David Tripp in his reference “Illegal Tender”, the coins were never officially monetized or issued by the U.S. Mint and, therefore none are legal to own.
There is much confusion because a single coin managed to be exported by then-coin-collector King Farouk of Egypt. According to Tripp, Farouk purchased the illicit coin unwittingly and, in an effort to have it shipped home, was granted an export license for it by the U.S. Government. It would be several years before the Secret Service was tipped off that someone was leaking 1933’s out the back door of the mint at the time so it’s understandable that the authorities granted this export without much deliberation. The coin later found its way back to the United States (another story altogether) and after years of litigation was sold at Sotheby’s for $7.59 million!
The Langbord family, descendants of 1930’s Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt, discovered ten examples of the very same 1933 Saints in their family lock box within a year of the publicity surrounding the Farouk specimen. The family hired the same attorney who had experience with the prior case and decided to submit all ten examples directly to the government in the hopes they would be legitimized. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. Over the next 10 years court rulings have consistently found in favor of confiscation by the Feds on the basis, ultimately, that these coins were never monetized, and therefore have never been, as Tripp said, “legal tender.”
The next and final chapter for the Langbords is to hope for a hearing by the Supreme Court. Experts feel the chances for an appeal to be heard is a long shot at best. Even if the case is heard, of course, the highest court in the land has to be sympathetic to their cause — not likely given the preponderance of evidence against these troubled artifacts.
From a numismatic perspective, it’s easy to be sympathetic with the Langbords in this case. We’d love to see these rarities enter the market. Their appearance would generate much excitement and drama to the highly regarded Saint Gaudens series. On the other hand, it would be nearly impossible to fairly assess the value of these ten coins. While a single example sold in a stronger market for over $7.5 million, what would ten examples be worth individually? Additionally, many of us feel that there are more 1933 twenties out there in the shadows. If these are legalized one would have to be concerned that possibly dozens more are out there. Additionally, if there were eleven legitimate examples in the marketplace, this issue would immediately become a rarity on par with the 1927-D, of which approximately 12 are in private hands.
If nothing else, the story of the 1933 Saint Gardens remains one of the greatest water-cooler topics in numismatics and never ceases to delight non-collectors and collectors alike. Our hobby benefits from such publicity – good or bad – and we anxiously await the next chapter in this long saga.
All signs are pointing to a relatively strong coin market as many dealers board their flights to the ANA World’s Fair of Money. A couple of large wholesalers we’
On August 1st the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit filed their decision against the Langbord family and their goal of successfully legitimizing ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens double
*BY JOHN FEIGENBAUM, PUBLISHER & PATRICK IAN PEREZ, EDITOR*
One of the prime attractions of the annual convention of the American Numismatic Association has always been the exhibits and displays of rare coins, currency, and medals. This year’s show is no exception, and one of the displays is a collection that is being exhibited for the first time in public. This collection, known as the Horseneck Collection, is a complete 46-coin set of Type One gold $20 Double Eagles.
The double eagle is, of course, the largest gold coin struck for circulation by the United States, and the Type One design was struck from 1850 to 1866. Many Type One double eagles were struck of gold mined in California during the Gold Rush, so their display in California is all the more appropriate. This series features many famous dates in the pantheon of U.S. coinage, and a complete set is no small task. Additionally, the Horseneck collection features many finest known or tied for finest known specimens, and 12 of the coins were recovered from well-known shipwrecks, including the S.S. Central America and the S.S. Brother Jonathan.
When we heard this collection would be displayed this month, we felt this would be an opportunity to reach out to the collector directly and ask about his motivations and journey in building the set. After all, there is so much to be learned here from dealers to collectors about the mindset of the advanced collector: what motivates him; how did he feel about the process; and so on.
With the help of Adam Crum, of Monaco Rare Coins, and Donn Pearlman, we were able to pose a series of questions to the collector, with his responses published here.
**CDN:** What are the origins of your coin collecting? We know you made your first gold purchase from Monaco but did you have any history of coin collecting as a youth?
**Horseneck Collector:** I started collecting coins from my allowance and stamps from the family mail when I was quite small. When I became a little older, my grandfather, who had worked as a bank teller in the 1890s, gave me a number of unusual coins that he had purchased when they came through his cage: quarters and half dollars from the 1830s and 1840s, two and three cent pieces, and lots of Liberty nickels. This really got me excited. I bought all the blue Whitman folders and began collecting sets of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and halves. By the time I got to high school, I had arranged to pick up a $50 bag of pennies from the local bank branch and pedal them home on the back of my bike to look through over the weekend. I slowed down a lot when the treasury began pulling all the coins with real copper or silver out of circulation.
**CDN:** After your initial purchase, what motivated you to build an entire set of double eagles?
**Horseneck Collector:** My first double eagle was a lovely 1857-S from the Central America shipwreck. I was amazed at its wonderful preservation after all those years on the bottom of the Atlantic. My set started slowly, but after a few years I began to realize that with patience and a good partner like Monaco Rare Coins that I could eventually put together a pretty nice set. I guess I was pretty lucky to snag the two really rare dates in the set (1854-O and 1856-O) in such nice condition. But eventually, after about a dozen years, my set was complete.
**CDN:** Now that you’ve achieved a huge milestone in your collecting, do you think you will expand into collecting other coin series?
**Horseneck Collector:** It would be nearly impossible to match the thrill of completing this set with another. Since my kids have grown up and I’ve retired, my interests have changed somewhat. Now my emphasis is on spending what time I can with my children and grandchildren.
**CDN:** Do you have any other hobbies or collectibles?
**Horseneck Collector:** I have always loved the outdoors. When my kids were small, my wife and I began volunteering as Scout leaders for them and their friends. What a great decision that was. It helped them to grow up strong and principled, and provided untold hours of pleasure for my wife and me. I have continued as a Scout volunteer all these
years, and look forward to serving my grandchildren as well.
**CDN:** What advice can you offer to other collectors who may be contemplating starting a significant collection?
**Horseneck Collector:** Have a lot of patience. Choose a good partner or partners to work with you on finding candidates for your set. Adam Crum and Neil Sharkey of Monaco Rare Coins were wonderful to work with and I appreciate their patience and willingness to
locate the very best coins for my set. Buy the best specimens you can afford.
The Horseneck collector has followed a similar path to many others who don’t necessarily share the same budget. Many collectors started out with their hobby as kids building sets in Whitman folders. (How many times have you heard this story?) Often the advanced collector took a hiatus from collecting after childhood while he/she attended school, raised a family and was otherwise quite distracted. It is usually only after some years in the workforce, or in retirement, that the collector re-emerges with time on their hands and disposable income – often seeking a hobby that can double as an investment. I often hear conversations among dealers lamenting the aging population of our collector base, but this is the most natural progression of our collectors. It’s simply not reasonable to assume that 30-year olds are going to have the time, resources or inclination to seriously collect and invest in rare coins. As an industry, we should instead embrace this reality and understand our demographic better and work to better attract and suit the needs of these buyers.
The Summer months are typically quiet in the rare coin business, and while this season has been fairly representative of years past, we are still finding plenty to report on