Legal battle begins over ultra-rare US coins

An unusual legal case has begun proceedings in the USA, centred on the supposedly dubious ownership of a cache of ultra-rare US coins discovered in Philadelphia by the Langbord family in 2003.  The coins in question are ten 1933 $20 Gold Double Eagle coins – minted but never released into circulation, due to an executive order by President Franklin Roosevelt prohibiting the payout of gold from banks.

Though 450,000 of the coins were struck at the US Mint, the majority were melted down in 1937 and no coins were legally issued to the public.  Only a minute number of coins have surfaced previously, making the Double Eagle ultra-rare – one from the coin collection of King Farouk of Egypt sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $7.6 million in 2002.

The legal case therefore centres on how the coins came to be in a safe-deposit box in Philadelphia– the US Federal government claim that the grandfather of the finders, an Israel Switt, obtained the coins unlawfully from a source within the US Mint.  Mr Switt stood trial in 1944 for the same offence, after selling several Double Eagles – but was not prosecuted due to the statute of limitations having expired.  When the Langbord family presented their haul of Double Eagles to the US Mint to have the coins verified, the US Mint confirmed that they were genuine – then seized the coins as unlawfully obtained government property.

Given that the Double Eagles would be expected to reach $1 million apiece, should they even reach an auction house, the Langbord family are unsurprisingly keen to regain ownership.  Both sides now face a difficult legal battle.  The Federal government must prove that the coins were taken illegally from the Mint, using records from 1933 – whilst the Langbords must prove that their grandfather came into possession of the coins through legal means.

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