From the collection of popular footwear designer Stuart Weitzman comes the 1933 Double Eagle coin. It was sold to an undisclosed party at a special auction held by Sotheby’s. The coin was expected to fetch between $10 million and $15 million but was sold for an eye-popping $18,872,250.The price beats the previous record holder for the most expensive coin, the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar, sold back in 2013, by $10 million.
Considered the “Mona Lisa” of coins, it was originally cast as a $20 piece, and is under an ounce of pure, 21.6 carat gold. However, when President Franklin Roosevelt came to power in 1933, he decided to take the US off the gold standard. At the same time 4,45,500 of these gold coins were already produced by the Philadelphia Mint. Had it not been for the President’s order, the coins would have been in circulation and not at all rare. As it was, the coins were ordered destroyed in 1934, but a small number, including this one, survived. Only two other samples were legally transferred from the Philadelphia Mint to the Smithsonian Institution. They were the last American gold coins struck for circulation.
In February 1937, an old gold dealer called Israel Switt started selling 1933 Double Eagles. Over the next couple of years, ten of these coins, priced at $500 found their way into different collections. But in 1944, one of them appeared at an auction, alerting the American Secret Service who seized it, declared it stolen property and recalled them from their respective buyers and collectors. Though one of these coins, two weeks before the investigation started, had left the country. It reached the collection of King Farouk, an Egyptian royal who was an avid collector of stamps and coins. Farouk, though, was overthrown in 1952. The new government asked Sotheby’s to auction his coin collection. The Secret Service heard about Farouk’s 1933 Double Eagle coming up for auction and proclaimed it stolen property; however, other weighty matters came into play and the coin disappeared. It resurfaced almost half a century later, in 1995 in London, when a coin dealer got the rare gold coin via an Egyptian jeweller.
This English coin dealer, Stephen Fenton, endeavoured to sell it to a Texas coin collector and dealer. This Texan knew the coin was disputed, and got in touch with the Secret Service, who set up a sting operation at the Waldorf Astoria. Fenton got arrested, but eventually reached a settlement with the government. They decided to sell this one 1933 Double Eagle and split the proceeds with Fenton 50-50. The US government mentioned that this particular coin is the only one of its kind that they would allow being privately owned, the rest are the property of the United States Government and would be seized if found elsewhere.
The coin was designed by great American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens who was commissioned to work on it by President Theodore Roosevelt himself.
In a 2002 auction, the coin was bought by Weitzman for a then-record $7.9 million.The Double Eagle was part of Sotheby’s special “Three Treasures” auction of Weitzman’s collectibles. Other items included a 165-year-old British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp and a sheet of “Inverted Jennies,” both extremely esteemed in the stamp world. Those items sold for $8.3 million and $4.9 million, respectively. In total, Weitzman’s lots sold for $32.1 million. All of the seller’s proceeds will go to charity, including the Weitzman Family Foundation, which supports medical research and higher education.