The Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle Gold Coin – From Humble Beginnings to Hands of a King
Mint History of the Gold Double Eagle Coin
In 1907, the US Mint released the Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagle Gold Coin. As a replacement to the Liberty Head Double Eagle (1849 to 1907) this coin, which is deemed the most beautiful coin ever created, was a product of the Teddy Roosevelt era. Roosevelt was dissatisfied with the United States coins of the time, a feeling that they were quite bland and did not reflect the greatness of the United States of America. He commissioned Augustus Saint Gaudens to redesign the entire offering of the Mint. Unfortunately, due to Saint Gaudens untimely death, only two coins were redesigned, the Ten Dollar Gold Eagle and the Twenty Dollar Double Eagle. The Saint Gaudens Double Eagle came in three variations, the MCMVII Ultra High Relief, MCMVII High Relief and the 1907 $20 Double Eagle Gold Coins. The third became the standard production series of the Mint, and was placed into circulation from 1907 and carried through to 1932. Given the difficulty at the time in minting the Ultra High Relief pattern, neither the MCMVII Ultra High Relief, nor the MCMVII High Relief were minted in significant quantity (as an aside, the Mint created the 2009 Double Eagle equivalent, the MMIX Ultra High Relief Gold Coin, to showcase its advancement in minting techniques since the old days).
The Gold Double Eagle enjoyed a great success throughout its life, but met with a somewhat controversial end in 1933.
The Great Depression and End of Gold Ownership in the United States
Numerous and regular bank failures during the Great Depression frightened citizens into hoarding gold, and until 1933, America had been on the Gold Standard – a monetary policy where each unit of currency was backed by a unit of real gold. On April 5, 1933 in an effort to stabilize the economy, Franklin Roosevelt, under Executive Order 6102, ordered all gold coins, gold bullion and gold certificates delivered to the Federal Reserve by May 1, 1933. The thought was that this would increase the supply of gold and thus increase the supply of currency. The US Government purchased the gold for $20.67 an ounce and the following year reset the price to $35 an ounce, booking a profit of 69 percent and allowing the government to increase supply of money given its healthier balance sheet.
During all of this, the Mint produced 445,500 1933 Double Eagle gold coins; however, they were never to be released to the public and were ordered to be melted. Although the 1933 double eagle coin never went into circulation, two were slated to survive and were legally delivered to the Smithsonian Institute for their National Numismatic Collection. The rest were stored and eventually converted to gold bullion, or so the government thought. . .
In reality, nineteen 1933 St Gaudens coins went missing from the Mint, and ended up with Israel Switt, a wealthy Philadelphia jeweler. Switt sold off nine, eight of which were later confiscated by the Secret Service. He put ten in a safe deposit box. In September 2004, one of Switt’s heirs innocently sent them over to the US Mint to have them authenticated, and was expecting them back – they of course were not returned.
The Coin of Kings
In 1944, the ninth was legally approved for export to the King of Egypt, King Farouk. Apparently it was only a few days later that the government realized its mistake, but could not recover the specimen through diplomatic methods.
Farouk, like many Kings, lived a lavish lifestyle. He lived in many palaces, had hundreds of cars, and traveled for pleasure extensively. King Farouk was a collector of many rare and unusual items including a beautiful collection of Faberge eggs, the world’s largest collection of postage stamps, a collection of rare scarabs, amulets, Amarna sculptures, and an 8500 coin/medal collection, comprised mainly of gold. This collection is where the 1933 Gaudens gold coin sat until he was ousted in a military coup d’etat on July 23, 1952. He fled the country, moving first to Monaco then to Italy where he remained until his death at the early age of 45 years old.
In 1954, most of King Farouk’s possessions were sold off, including the Gaudens gold coin. The coin then disappeared for forty years, and was recovered from Stephen Fenton, a British coin dealer. Fenton insisted that the coin was legal, and the Federal government struck a deal with him, agreeing to legally sell off the coin and split the profits. The new buyer had to“monetize” it – pay $20 to make the coin legal tender, and reimburse the US Mint for stolen property. This coin, including the $20 monetization fee, fetched the largest price paid for a single coin in history – an astounding $7,590,020 and is legal tender today.
To find out more about Double Eagle Coins, we recommend David Bowers excellent book, A Guidebook of Double Eagle Coins.