U.S. Mint seizes 10 rare coins from jeweler who vows to get them back

The U.S. Mint seized 10 Double Eagle gold coins from 1933, among the rarest and most valuable coins in the world, that a jeweler says she turned in so the Mint could determine their authenticity, the Associated Press reports.

Joan S. Langbord plans a federal lawsuit to try to recover them, according to her attorney, Barry H. Berke. Langbord found the coins among the possessions of her late father, longtime Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt, who had acknowledged selling some of the coins decades ago. She now operates her father’s business.

David Lebryk, acting director of the Mint, said in a news release that the rare coins, which were never put in circulation, had been taken from the Mint “in an unlawful manner” in the mid-1930s and now have been.

“They are, and always have been, public property belonging to the United States,” he said. “We are pleased that these 10 Double Eagles have been recovered.”

The coins, which are reportedly so rare that their value is almost beyond calculation, are public property, he said.

Berke reportedly said that Mint officials could not prove the coins had been stolen or that they were subject to forfeiture. But Mint officials said yesterday that the Double Eagles could not have been taken legally from the Mint.

In 2002, Sotheby’s and numismatic firm Stack’s auctioned off a 1933 Double Eagles coin for $7.59 million, the highest price ever paid for a coin. That Double Eagles, believed to have been part of a collection belonging to King Farouk of Egypt, surfaced when a coin dealer tried selling it to undercover Secret Service agents.

After a legal battle, the dealer was permitted to sell the coin at auction and the Mint took $20, the face value of the coin. The Mint declared that one coin to be issued as U.S. currency, saying that it would set no precedent for any future Double Eagles that appeared.

In its statement, the Mint said officials were still deciding what they would do with the seized coins, which are being held at Fort Knox. They said they had no plans to auction them but would consider saving “these historical artifacts” for public exhibits. Other Double Eagle coins seized in the past were melted down.

Langbord reportedly declined to discuss how the coins might have wound up with her father, who operated an antiques and jewelry shop for 70 years and died in 1990 at 95.

The Mint contends Switt obtained a cache of the gold coins from his connections at the Mint just before they were to be reduced to bullion in 1937.

Switt admitted in 1944 that he had sold nine Double Eagles, but he was not charged in connection with those transactions, according to the Mint.

The family attorney reportedly said the coins had been found recently, and Langbord and her son, Roy, notified the Mint of the discovery last September. Mint officials asked to authenticate the coins, then confiscated them after doing so, Berke reportedly said.

He contended that Langbord and her son never relinquished their right to the coins.

But Mint officials reportedly said that Berke was told from the beginning that the coins would not be returned because they were the government’s property.