I ran out of time to prep this article for last week's issue, but here's the next part of the story of the Farouk 1933 Double Eagle, courtesy Sotheby's. Thanks!
A REMARKABLE CASCADE OF COINCIDENCE(?)
After two and a half years the great gold melt was nearing an end. By the time the task was finished, a purpose-built home for the newly made ingots had been completed: Fort Knox.
On February 6, 1937, the seal was broken on Vault F, Cage 1, which included 1933 Double Eagles; when its contents were poured into the crucibles and rendered into gold bar, the books on the last gold coins produced by the United States were officially closed . . . but coincidentally(?):
MY FIRST RECOLLECTION OF HAVING BOUGHT AND SOLD 1933 DOUBLE EAGLES WAS ABOUT THE BEGINNING OF FEBRUARY 1937.
ISRAEL SWITT, SWORN STATEMENT TO UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE, MARCH 30, 1944
. . . THIS COIN WAS THE FIRST 1933 DOUBLE EAGLE TO MAKE ITS APPEARANCE AS A COLLECTORS ITEM . . .
COIN DEALER JAMES MACALLISTER TO UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE, REPORT, APRIL 28, 1944 (REGARDING HIS FEBRUARY 17, 1937 PURCHASE OF A 1933 DOUBLE EAGLE FROM ISRAEL SWITT)
IT HAS BEEN REPORTED THAT A FEW [1933 DOUBLE EAGLES] HAVE ESCAPED THE MELTING POT AND . . . ARE BEING HELD AT A FANCY PRICE.
NUMISMATIC SCRAPBOOK, APRIL, 1937, P. 75
AND THEN IT GOT INTERESTING
The Col. James W. Flanagan collection was to be sold at auction by Stack’s on March 25, 1944. Lot 1681 was highlighted:
The excessively rare 1933 Double Eagle . . . the first one that ever came up in any public auction. A record price was anticipated.
Curious, Ernest Kehr, the stamp and coin editor at the New York Herald Tribune, contacted the United States Mint to verify the accuracy of the catalogue description.20 The inquiry was fielded by Assistant Mint Director Leland Howard who sent a telegraph to the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint asking:
DOES YOUR RECORD SHOW THAT DOUBLE EAGLES MINTED IN 1933 WERE EVER PAID OUT.
The summary response indicated that the official record accounted for every example struck; the United States Treasurer’s office concurred, and Howard’s clipped wire to Kehr concluded:
NO DOUBLE EAGLES FOR 1933 RECEIVED IN TREASURER’S OFFICE. CONSEQUENTLY NONE PAID OUT.
Howard took this information to the Chief of the Secret Service, Frank J. Wilson, who got things rolling: Special Agents James Haley and Harry W. Strang arrived at Stack’s the day before the auction. There, to the proprietors’ dismay, the 1933 Double Eagle was seized as being potentially stolen property. The Stacks provided the agents with the name of another owner, Max Berenstein, whose example was also seized. The next day, Strang and Haley confiscated a third example, identified the whereabouts of a fourth, and had accumulated a passel of names and leads that pointed the investigation to Philadelphia.
FILE NUMBER CO-10468
The case number was assigned on March 27, 1944. The prefix,
CO indicated that the chief was in charge. Frank J. Wilson, considered one of the fathers of modern forensic accounting, began his career in the IRS intelligence unit where he had been at the forefront of putting Al Capone behind bars and tracking down the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapper, and since 1936 had been Chief of the Secret Service. Wilson was, by all accounts, a formidable individual:
You could no more shake him nor reflect on his honesty or his sureness of facts than you could melt an iceberg with a blow torch, wrote Adela Rogers St. John.
Special Agents Strang and George Drescher started working Philadelphia where the investigation unfolded quickly. James G. Macallister, a highly respected coin dealer, informed them he had bought his first 1933 Double Eagle on February 17, 1937 for $500 (he resold it the next day for $1,600), and that prior to that purchase
no 1933 Double Eagle had been circulated.
During 1937 Macallister had purchased five 1933 Double Eagles, all from a man called Israel Switt, who gave conflicting stories as to where he had got them. But,
in light of Switt’s reputation . . . as a gold coin bootlegger, Macallister placed little credence in his tales and by year’s end had stopped buying 1933 Double Eagles. Macallister later told the agents that Switt had told him that he and his partner
had kept 25 of the 1933 Double Eagles, 14 of which they disposed of.
To read the complete lot description, see:
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
THE FAROUK 1933 DOUBLE EAGLE
THE FAROUK 1933 DOUBLE EAGLE, PART 2
THE BOOK BAZARRE
RENAISSANCE OF AMERICAN COINAGE
: Wizard Coin Supply is the official distributor for Roger Burdette's three volume
series that won NLG Book of the Year awards for 2006, 2007 and 2008. Contact us for dealer or distributor pricing at www.WizardCoinSupply.com
Wayne Homren, Editor
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