The family of Israel Switt is suing the US Mint claiming that the government illegally seized ten 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold coins found in a safe deposit box where Switt stored the coins. The coins were found by Switt’s surviving daughter, Joan Langbord, in 2003. Langbord reported the find to the Mint to “attempt to reach an amicable resolution of any issues that might be raised.” When Langbord gave the coins to the Mint to be authenticated, the Mint confiscated the coins.
Knowing the history of these coins, it was curious as to why Langbord gave the coins to the Mint. With the exception of the two examples held by the Smithsonian Institute and the one that was once owned by King Farouk of Egypt that was sold in 2002 for $7.59 million, other 1933 double eagles were confiscated and subsequent law suits upheld the Mint’s actions.
The suit was filed in US District Court in Philadelphia by Barry H. Berke on behalf of Langbord and her sons Roy and David. Berke is no stranger to these types of law suits. He represented the plaintiffs in the case that resulted in the sale of the Farouk coin in 2002. But the Farouk coin was different. King Farouk purchased the coin using an emissary in the United States from an unnamed dealer. The emissary applied for an export license with the State Department in order to allow the coin to be shipped to Egypt. Even though the coin was not formally issued by the Mint cashier, a requirement for coins to be circulated, the papers issued by a federal agency. Legally, this allowed the owner to consider the coin as legally owned and made the government’s case questionable. The case was settled with the parties involved agreeing to split the proceeds from the sale.
Unlike the Farouk coin, the ten coins that were confiscated from the family of Israel Switt, who has been accused of illegally obtaining the coins in 1934 probably from the cashier or his assistant, does not have any legal paperwork or other proceedings to declare the coins legal in any way. In fact, the precedence of the at least dozen confiscated coins prior to the Farouk coin strengthens the government’s case.
Unless congress intervenes, the Langbords are likely going to loose these coins the way others have done. Case law is replete with precedences acknowledging the government’s right to follow it’s procedures even when not codified in law or via the Code of Federal Regulations. In fact, the Mint’s coining and distribution policies and procedures extend beyond the law and into policies that now date to the reforms of James Ross Snowdon in the mid 19th century.
The story of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle gold coins has to be one of the strangest and most entertaining in the history of the US Mint. This chapter should add to that legend!