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Rare Double Eagle Coins Worth $75M Are Gov't Property, 3rd Cir. Says

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

Unless this nation's highest court grants cert to the Langbord family, ten very rare and highly prized 1933 Double Eagle $20 (face value) gold coins are -- and always have been -- the property of the United States of America.

By the way, that's not $200 that's at stake: it's at least $75 million. No wonder there was such a fight!

Super Rare Golden Eagles

The coins in question have some pretty interesting history. Back in the early 30's, the U.S. government minted nearly a half million 1933 Double Eagle gold coins -- none of which were ever officially put into circulation. The public was never intended to possess these coins, ever. In the words of the Third Circuit court, "no 1933 Double Eagle ever left the mint through authorized channels."

Officially, only two even survived being melted down. But coin-crazed collectors have tracked down a scant handful of them. Nineteen of these coins have been seized over the years and have been destroyed, making the remaining supply of these coins increasingly small. In 2002, one of these coins was sold for $7.6 million -- one of two that were spared the melting pot.

Joan Langbord

The coins in question were just recently in the hands of Joan Langbord, the daughter of a Philadelphia merchant who acquired ten specimens of the rare coin from the Mint's then-cashier, George McCann. McCann apparently stole the coins from the mint before they met their fate in the furnace. Many years later, Langbord found them in her father's safe deposit box. What a find.

Then, Langbord made a move that some feel was a mistake. Eyeing the 2002 sale of one of the original coins for $7.6 million, she contacted the U.S. government, looking to cut a deal. She turned her coins over to government officials to have them authenticated -- and that was the last she ever saw of them.

Civil Forfeiture?

Since then, Langbord's case has bounced back and forth between courts. Langbord sued the government under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. At the district level, she lost. At the Circuit, however, the government was ordered to hand the coins back to Langbord. However, a rehearing en banc vacated the panel ruling and affirmed what the lower district court had ruled all along: the coins were originally U.S. property and Langbord had no rights of ownership.

Langbord's attorney, Barry H. Berke, has vowed appeal up the Supreme Court.

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