Blast From the Past: The Mystery of the Missing Eagles

It all started with very good intentions.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office as the 32nd President of the United States in March of 1933. It was a very dark time in our country’s history – we were in the middle of the worst economic depression we had ever seen or would see. One of the many things President Roosevelt did to calm the panic and stimulate people’s interest in investment was to take the country off the gold standard. He gave an Executive Order declaring that all individuals must sell their gold back to the U.S. Treasury.


The Treasury had just minted about 445,000 $20 Double Eagle gold coins when the Executive Order had been signed, but they immediately melted them down, with the exception of two coins which are in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum. (It’s called the Double Eagle because it’s value is twice the $10 gold coins already in circulation.)

The thief had an accomplice – a Philadelphia jeweler named Israel Switt – who began to sell them to private collectors. Over the next decade, the Secret Service learned of this illegal activity and was able to recover most of the coins.But this is when the mystery begins. Someone in the Treasury stole a number of the coins before they were melted down!

One coin, however, escaped the country. King Farouk of Egypt was very fond of collecting. He collected many things, including paperweights, Imperial Fabergé eggs, antique aspirin bottles…and coins. He purchased the Double Eagle and actually went through the appropriate channels in order to export it to Egypt. He applied for and was issued an export license from our government. Just days after the coin left for Egypt, the Treasury Department realized what had happened. But this was 1944, right in the middle of World War II, and the dilemma would have to wait.

In 1952, there was a coup d’etat in Egypt and King Farouk was deposed. All of his possessions, including the valuable and rare coin, were put up for auction. The U.S. government asked that the Egyptian government return the coin instead, since it had been stolen. Egypt complied, but before it could be sent back to the United States, the coin disappeared AGAIN!


For more than 40 years the mystery of the missing coin would go unsolved – until 1996, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel right here in New York City, when British coin dealer Stephen Fenton was caught trying to sell the coin to a collector. Initially, Mr. Fenton told investigators that the coin was sold to him at his shop, but then he elaborated and, under sworn testimony in court, said that the coin was the one owned by King Farouk of Egypt.

While the case against Mr. Fenton was active, the Double Eagle coin was locked in the Treasury vaults of the World Trade Center.  When the case was settled, the coin was transferred to Fort Knox in Kentucky…just two months before the Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001.

The United States Treasury issued a special document declaring that this particular coin was the only 1933 Double Eagle which could be legally owned by an individual. In 2002, it was sold at an auction for $7,590,020 (the $20 is the amount needed to monetize the coin), which was the highest amount ever paid for a coin at that time. Half the money went to Mr. Fenton and half went to the U.S. Treasury, which also received the $20.

So, the Mystery of the Missing Eagles has been solved. And now you can see the coin in person! The buyer of the coin has decided that it should continue to be available for the viewing public so the New-York Historical Society is it’s present home. Come visit and see the World’s Most Valuable Coin!


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