Monday, July 20, 2009

Coin Monday: 1933, the Golden Endgame

July 20, 2009
Posted by John Dale

Production of gold coins for circulation in the United States ended in 1933. Though the Mint continued to strike eagles and double eagles through the last days of the Hoover Administration – hundreds of thousands of each – a new President transformed the nation’s money and banking systems.

On April 5, 1933, just a month after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in, he signed Executive Order 6012, which drastically reduced the amount of gold Americans could own, barring exceptions for professional or numismatic purposes (the latter exception thanks to then-Secretary of the Treasury William H. Woodin, himself a coin collector).

In conjunction with the executive order, the Treasury halted the release of gold coins from the Mint and its own stores; millions of coins, mostly double eagles, were melted later in Roosevelt’s tenure. This included almost the entirety of the 1933 mintages, which were held back from release while there were coins of earlier dates still awaiting distribution. There is considerable controversy over whether the 1933 double eagle was ever officially issued and thus legal to own, enough to fill two nonfiction books and many hundreds of pages of legal documents arguing both sides. Even today a court battle over a set of 10 1933 double eagles is ongoing.

The legal-tender status of the 1933 eagles, however, is not in doubt, and the few known survivors, such as this MS65 example in Heritage’s upcoming August Los Angeles U.S. Coin Auction, are eagerly sought-after. Not only are they rare, with only 30 to 40 pieces known according to the catalog description, but they also represent the end of the circulating gold coin, not only in the United States but throughout much of the Western world; in response to the Great Depression, a number of European nations, including the United Kingdom, moved off the gold standard in 1931 or 1932.

For a coin of such quality as this Gem, aesthetics cannot be overlooked, either. From the sharp strike to the vibrant luster and the nuanced colors that enliven each side, every facet of the piece reinforces its aura of beauty. That beauty has entranced a series of prestigious owners, including Phillip H. Morse and Jim O’Neal. Ownership of any 1933 eagle has long been a sign of an advanced collection, and possession of a Gem such as the present piece especially so. With the auction of this lot, the final Saint-Gaudens eagle could be the final addition to a memorable collection of the series… or it could be just the beginning.

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-John Dale Beety

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