Published: August 6, 2002
Anonymous Buyer Pays $7.59 Million for the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Coin-Collecting World
By Steve Sundlof
NEW YORK CITY – Sotheby’s and Stack’s made auction history with the sale of the most valuable gold coin in the world, the elusive 1933 Double Eagle twenty-dollar gold coin, for the price of $7.59 million, a record for any coin sold at auction.
There was repeated applause as more than 500 spectators in Sotheby’s salesroom watched eight bidders battle for over five minutes driving the price from an opening bid of $2.5 million to the final world record, a price that swept away the old record for a coin of $4.1 million paid for an 1804 Silver Dollar.
The successful buyer, who has asked to remain anonymous, bid over the phone through Sotheby’s Books and Manuscripts specialist Selby Kiffer. The sale, which was conducted on behalf of the United States Government, marked the first time that the United States Government has authorized private ownership of a 1933 Double Eagle. At the conclusion of the auction, Henrietta Holsman Fore, director of the United States Mint, signed a Certificate of Monetization turning the coin into legal United States tender, the first time the United States Government has ever monetized a coin in this way. The coin had been estimated to bring $4/6 million.
The 1933 Double Eagle achieved its status as one of the great rarities of world coinage due to the fact that in 1933, President Roosevelt, in one of his first acts as President, took the United States off the gold standard in an effort to help the struggling American economy out of the Great Depression. All of the 1933 Double Eagles were ordered destroyed, but ten specimens are known to have escaped into private hands. As they had never been officially “issued” as United States coinage, however they could not be legally owned.
As a result, nine of the ten specimens were seized by, or turned in to the United States Secret Service in the 1940s and 50s and were subsequently destroyed. The remaining 1933 Double Eagle had surfaced in 1996 and been seized by the United States Secret Service. It was returned to the United States Mint as a result of the Department of Justice’s settlement of a forfeiture action, and in that landmark legal settlement, this one coin became the only 1933 Double Eagle now or ever authorized for private ownership by the United States Government.
“With today’s sale, one of the great numismatic rarities of all time enters another stage in its remarkable history, becoming legal tender after having intrigued the world of collectors for more than 70 years,” said Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore.
David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby’s said, “With today’s record price, the famed 1933 Double Eagle has transcended its position as one of the most sought-after numismatic treasures of all time to become one of the great objects of Americana ever sold at auction. It was an enormous privilege to have been asked by the United States Government to undertake the sale of the ‘Holy Grail’ of the coin collecting world.”
Redden added, “The sale was highly symbolic and has significant meaning, the entire numismatic field shares a total feeling of pride. The sale has shown that a coin can be as desirable as a jewel, painting, or other great work of art.”
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