A narrative of events shaping the destiny of the 1933 U.S. gold piece that has become the world’s most coveted coin.
Frankel, a senior writer at The American Lawyer, covers much the same ground as David Tripp did in Illegal Tender (2004), which tracked the “last known” example of the famous $20 gold piece to its triumphant sale for more than $7.5 million during a July 2002 auction at Sotheby’s. Tripp, former head of Sotheby’s coin department, captures the intrigue that led to the coin’s 1933 recall just prior to public issue (hence its rarity) and the thrill of the chase as the Secret Service spent decades hunting down the few that were taken out of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia by presumably illicit means. Frankel’s effort touches those bases but puts a sharper focus on the fated coin’s design and creation, as well as the unique circumstances that produced a collectors’ frenzy from a government’s crisis. Readers will learn, for example, that terminally ill sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, approached by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 to design something that would uplift the stature of U.S. coinage, was primarily motivated not by presidential badgering but by the chance to thoroughly vanquish his artistic nemesis: the Mint’s chief engraver, Charles Barber. Revisiting the Sotheby’s auction, the author sets the scene with tightly wired tension that makes this chapter a gripping read despite the known outcome. Finally, in her account of developments following the auction, Frankel describes the chain of events that now, incredibly, put the U.S. government in contention with the heirs of Philadelphia jeweler and gold dealer Israel Switt for rightful ownership of not just one long-suspected remaining Double Eagle but ten of them.
Readable and authoritative history of a phenomenon for the numismatic ages.