Appeal court to re-hear case of rare gold coins

Ten extremely rare gold coins worth millions of dollars that have been the subject of a decade-long fight between the federal government and the family that claims them will stay in the hands of the feds — for now.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesdayvacated a ruling ordering the government to turn them over after a majority of appeals court judges in the circuit voted toordera re-hearing of the case.

The case originates in Depression-era rules forbidding the ownership of gold. The U.S. Mint in Philadelphia madeabout 450,000 of the$20 “Double Eagle” coins in 1933 days before President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order banning the ownership of large amounts ofgold. They were never circulated, andlater melted down.

Just 22 of the coins were known to have been released from the mint through official channels. Two of them are currently in the Smithsonian as part of the official U.S. coin collection. The others were destroyed for testing.

But other coins made it out through other means.

The government contends they were stolen, though coin collectors have argued that U.S. Mint employeeswould let collectorsexchangeolder coins for new ones worth the same amountin informal transactions.

Ten 1933 Double Eaglessurfaced in the 1940’s, all of them tracedto Philadelphia jeweler IsraelSwitt, according to testimony fromDavid Tripp,the government’s chief witness in the case and the former head of the coin department at the auction house Sotheby’s.

Nine of those coins were destroyed in the 1950s, but one, thought to be the last,made its way into the private collection of Egypt’s King Farouk. When he was deposed and his collection sold, the coin disappeared, only to turn up in the possession ofBritish collector Stephen Fenton in the 1990s.

The U.S. Secret Service lured that collector to the U.S., where the coin was seized. The government later entered into an agreement with Fenton under which the coin would be sold the proceeds split between them.

It brought in $7.59 million.

When Switt died, his daughter claimed to have found 10 of the coinsin a safe deposit box and took them to the Mint to have them authenticated.

They were instead seized and the family sued.

At trial, the U.S. District Court originally approved the seizure, but that order was reversed in April.

Some accounts place the value of the coins at more than $75 million, based on the auction value of the single coin. Some dealers contend they are worth far less, because the collector who paid$7.5 million did so under the belief that it was the only specimen.

The double eagle coins, according to the Smithsonian, were designed by sculptorAugustus Saint-Gaudens, whose designs were first minted in 1907. Because $10 gold pieces were referred to as eagles, the $20 pieces got the name “double eagles.”