Gold Eagle Coins: Their Meaning and Value

The realm of hobby coin collecting is full of interesting stories. Each type of coin generally has its own important facts and a tale to tell. The artwork featured on the coin, the artist who designed it, and the year it was minted are usually the most relevant facts. Coins are often sold based on a short profile of features and facts about the history, meaning, and value of a particular edition.

For example, the American gold eagle coin is an official gold bullion coin of the United States. It features the artistic design of Augustus Saint-Gaudens that was used for the classic $20 Gold Double Eagles issued from 1907-1933. Its value is generally fairly close to the weight of the gold from which it is made. The coin depicts Lady Liberty carrying an olive branch and a torch. American gold eagles were minted in 1986 to compete with world bullion coins like the Canadian Maple Leaf, the South African Krugerrand, and other popular coins.

But unlike the many common stories similar to the one outlined above, there is one coin story that is sure to peak the interest of any collector. This is the story of the actual double eagle coin that was last minted in 1933. With so many twist and turns to the story of this coin, its no wonder it has become the highest priced coin ever auctioned at a value of over six million dollars. So how does a coin with a face value of $20 become so rare that it is sold for millions of dollars? Read on to find out!

The Amazing 1933 Double Eagle Coin Story

The 1933 double eagle was designed to be a new gold bullion coin to be used as legal tender. But the USA’s impending bank crisis required some national fiddling with the economy. Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to make it illegal to use gold as tender and instead to print paper bills. The 1933 Double eagle coins were to be melted down  in accordance with the ‘gold reserve act’ with only two coins saved and presented to the U.S. National Numismatic Collection as historical trinkets.

After the meltdown, there should have been just those two coins left. It seems that at least 20 coins were stolen by a Mint Cashier and were sold to a jeweler in Philadelphia. From there the coins were sold to collectors who then had their hands on some very rare coins that were assumed to be destroyed. Years later, the secret service began to piece things together. Before the investigation began a man from Texas sold one of the Double Eagles to a foreign collector to be exported out of the country on February 29, 1944. This coin was known about but its location remained a mystery.

After a year of investigation, seven coins were returned to the Secret Service to be destroyed at the mint. An eighth coin was found a year later and was also destroyed. In 1945 a thief was identified and admitted to selling the nine known coins, but could not recall how he obtained them. The Justice Department tried to prosecute the offender and his accomplice but the efforts failed. A tenth coin was found in 1952, and again destroyed nearly 20 years later than it’s siblings were melted down.

A Coin For the King of Egypt

Here is where things get really interesting. This missing coin that has been sold to a foreign collector was later acquired by King Farouk of Egypt. He collected many rare items and was excited to find an American Double Eagle in great condition. He even applied to the United States Treasury Department for an export license and had received one before the stolen coins were being investigated. This meant that King Farouk had mistakenly, but legally been given permission to own a stolen coin from the US government.

When The US government found out they kindly requested the coin to be returned but efforts failed due to higher priority issues with World War II. There was another attempt by the government to get the coin back and the Egyptian government agreed but the coin disappeared again and was no where to be found in Egypt. The coin had a way of evading all efforts to be taken back for meltdown.

In 1996, now over forty years later, a Double Eagle a was found when British coin dealer Stephen Fenton was arrested during a sting operation in New York. He initially told them of buying the coin over the counter at his shop but later changed his story. He later insisted the Double Eagle had come from the collection of King Farouk, but there was little proof of this.

Charges against Fenton were  dropped, and he tried to defend his ownership of the coin in court. The case was finally over in 2001 when it was decreed that the ownership of the Double Eagle would revert to the US, and the coin would be legally auctioned to effectively monetize on the whole ordeal. The single Double Eagle coin was then transferred to a holding place though to be safe: the Treasury vaults of the World Trade Center. In 2001, just two months before the Twin Towers were attacked, the coin was shipped to Fort Knox for high security safekeeping.

Ready For 50/50 Auction

The court settlement had decided that half of the auction price would go to the US treasury while the other half would go to Stephen Fenton who had a fairly legitimate ownership story. On July 30, 2002, the Double Eagle was put up for an auction lasting only nine minutes.

It was sold to an anonymous bidder at a New York auction for $6.6 million, plus a 15-percent buyer’s premium, and an additional $20 needed to legally monetize the face value of the coin so it would become legal currency. This brought the total tab to $7,590,020.00, or nearly double the previous record price for a coin at auction. There have sense been numerous fakes and replicas in addition to the appearance of 10 more authentic coins making the double eagle on of the strangest and most impressive coin stories around.

The interesting thing is, the popularity and media attention that the double eagle brought about created a greater interest in coin collecting in recent years, thus also effecting the going rate for other gold eagle coins like the American eagle coins.

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