Last week, it was reported that a 220-pound gold coin worth over $4 million dollars was stolen from the Berlin Bode Museum. The 20.9 inch diameter coin was minted in 2007 at the Royal Canadian Mint. While it holds the record for purity of gold, listed as “unmatched’ in the Guinness Book of World Records, it is not the world’s most expensive gold coin. That record is held by a far smaller coin right here in New York City, in the collection of the New-York Historical Society: the Double Eagle coin. It was last sold at auction in 2002 for $7,590,020, which would be $10.28 million in 2017 dollars.
As the display in the New-York Historical Society notes, the Double Eagle in the collection is “one of the most famous and storied coins in the world.” At the commission of Theodore Roosevelt, the coin was designed by renown sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who also designed the interior of the Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion. It shows Liberty, in the form of a woman, in front of the Capital building in Washington D.C. on one side, and an eagle flying on the other. The coin does not have two eagles, as the name might indicate, but rather, the “double” references the fact that it was worth two times the $10 coin when minted.
445,000 Double Eagle coins were minted in 1933 but were never supposed to end up in circulation, because Franklin D. Roosevelt “banned the payout of gold, weaning the country off the gold standard,” in one of his first Executive Orders as President off the United States.
Only two were supposed to have been retained and were given to the Smithsonian Institution as a record in 1934, while the rest were melted down at Fort Knox and reshaped as gold bars in 1937. But in 1944, a Double Eagle from the 1933 production showed up in a New York auction and the Secret Service traced it to a Mint employee who had stolen a batch of coins in 1937. Nine were “surrendered or seized” but one had a rather fantastic ride. As the Historical Society reports:
One [coin], however, which had been purchased by King Farouk of Egypt, was beyond reach, and after 1954 it disappeared. In 1996, as part of a Secret Service sting at the Waldorf Astoria, a British coin dealer was arrested while trying to sell a 1933 Double Eagle which swore had formerly been King Farouk’s.
Out of court, it was settled that this particular coin could be sold, although all other versions from 1933 were the property of the U.S. government. The $7.6 million sale at auction was double the previous world record for gold coin sales. The coin is now part of a private collectio, and like the Canadian coin, is on loan to the Historical Society. As the museum writes, the coin on display is the “only 1933 Double Eagle which may be legally owned by an individual.”
Another ten 1933 Double Eagle coins surfaced in 2004. The daughter of Israel Switt, a Philadelphia dealer who had sold other Double Coins, found them in a family safe deposit box. The daughter showed the coins to the government for authentication reasons, at which point they were promptly seized. Several court cases later, it would be reaffirmed that the coins were property of the U.S. government.
Next, check out 6 underground vaults in NYC including the Federal Reserve Bank.