$20 Double Eagles (Saint Gaudens 1907-1933)

$20 Double Eagles (Saint Gaudens 1907-1933)
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1933 Gold Double Eagle

Historically, the United States government has had a complicated relationship with Gold. No coin illustrates this point better than the 1933 Gold Double Eagle.

From the recovery period following the Civil War to the Great Depression, between 1879 and 1933, the use of Gold as a medium of exchange and store of value was an integral part of the American experience. The Federal Reserve held 40 percent of the value of the nation’s fiat currency in Gold. It allowed citizens to exchange paper currency for Gold. Americans were also free to store Gold in their own homes.

However, 1933 brought radical changes. In the depths of the Great Depression and an ongoing bank crisis, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that all Gold, excluding jewelry and collectible coins, must be turned into the U.S. Treasury in exchange for paper currency. Private ownership of Gold bullion was deemed illegal. The U.S. Treasury soon received millions of Gold coins, including a large portion of Saint-Gaudens $20 Double Eagles produced between 1907 and 1932.

The U.S. Mint had already produced 1933 Gold Double Eagle coins, but they had not been released into circulation. More than 400,000 of these uncirculated coins were melted into bars, but a small number escaped and were sold to private collectors at a relatively high cost. Twenty coins were initially known to have been stolen. Of these, 19 coins were eventually recovered by the Secret Service. Nine of these coins were later destroyed. The remaining 10 coins were stored at Fort Knox and are occasionally displayed at special events.

Americans were not permitted to own Gold bullion until Dec. 31, 1974, when legislation signed by President Gerald Ford went into effect. However, ownership of 1933 Gold Double Eagles remained illegal, as the coins were never officially circulated.

Controversy surrounding 1933 Gold Double Eagle coins reemerged in 2003 when family members of the late Israel Switt discovered 10 1933 Gold Double Eagle coins in a safety deposit box. Switt was a Philadelphia jeweler during the 1930s and had frequent dealings with the U.S. Mint. He had been twice investigated for illegal coin holdings and had previously admitted to selling 1933 Gold Double Eagles, which were later recovered.

Family members sent the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication. The mint confirmed the coins were genuine but refused to return them, claiming they were stolen government property. In a highly publicized nine-year legal battle beginning in December 2006, the Switt family sued for possession of the coins. A jury in 2011 ruled in favor of the United States government. In 2015, a U.S. Court of Appeals overturned this ruling, awarding ownership of the coins back to the family.

These 10 1933 Gold Double Eagles are estimated to be valued at $80 million in today’s market.

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