Friday, August 26, 2011
Coin collecting does not make it in to Business Week very often, so when it does we notice. In this case, it involves one of the longest investigations in the history of the Secret Service:
The most valuable coin in the world sits in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in lower Manhattan. It’s Exhibit 18E, secured in a bulletproof glass case with an alarm system and an armed guard nearby. The 1933 Double Eagle, considered one of the rarest and most beautiful coins in America, has a face value of $20—and a market value of $7.6 million. It was among the last batch of gold coins ever minted by the U.S. government. The coins were never issued; most of the nearly 500,000 cast were melted down to bullion in 1937.
Most, but not all. Some of the coins slipped out of the Philadelphia Mint before then. No one knows for sure exactly how they got out or even how many got out. The U.S. Secret Service, responsible for protecting the nation’s currency, has been pursuing them for nearly 70 years, through 13 Administrations and 12 different directors. The investigation has spanned three continents and involved some of the most famous coin collectors in the world, a confidential informant, a playboy king, and a sting operation at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. It has inspired two novels, two nonfiction books, and a television documentary. And much of it has centered around a coin dealer, dead since 1990, whose shop is still open in South Philadelphia, run by his 82-year-old daughter.
“The 1933 Double Eagle is one of the most intriguing coins of all time,” says Jay Brahin, an investment adviser who has been collecting coins since he was a kid in Philadelphia. “It’s a freak. The coins shouldn’t have been minted, but they were. They weren’t meant to circulate, but some did. And why has the government pursued them so arduously? That’s one of the mysteries.”
The story is inherently fascinating and well-worth reading, but it does raise the usual question: With law enforcement priorities like these, have we really cut "discretionary spending" to the bone?
No. Next question?
On the other hand, I think if had a little extra budget money sitting around, this case might be an important one to pursue. Were the coins stolen, from the US Mint? There was a mathematics student who was given an unsolvable problem and wasn't told it was unsolvable, so he found the answer. Perhaps this case serves as some kind of test for each generation of Secret Service agents to see if they can add to "known-knowns" about the case. I would cut the budget for stupid anti-Christian art first. Of course, with the state of our economy and the budget, thousands of things are going to cut, permanently.
I would cut the budget for stupid anti-Christian art first.
I'd rather cut the budget for art critics, and then for Federal funding of the arts altogether. The economy, technology, communications, usw are a whole lot better today than they were centuries ago when royal patronage of the arts was a useful thing.
But the situation demands a broadaxe, rather than a scalpel: a 10% cut across the board. Including the nominally off-budget items.
On the matter of gold, the problem of which these gold coins are a part (narrowly, theft is theft, and it may be that these particular coins need to be returned to the mint) began with FDR's Executive Orders 6102 and 6261. These and any related legislation outlawing serious private ownership of gold need to be got rid of. The government needs to be got out of people's private property generally.
The more I learn about FDR, the more convinced I am that was a tyrant in the making. He got halfway there as it was. And many of his policies have haunted us for decades since (not least of which include Social Security and the stacking of the Supreme Court for the explicit purpose of expanding the Commerce Clause to mean whatever he wanted it to mean; by the time of his death, 8 of 9 Supreme Court Justices were appointed by him, not counting his 'Court Packing' scandal).
The 1930's saw a gathering of double eagles. Gene Sarazen's spectacular two on Augusta National's par-5 15th led to Sarazen's win in the 1935 Masters. The double eagle is the rarest shot in golf, and the 1933 Double Eagle is "the most valuable coin in the world." A coincidence of history and terminology.
Perhaps the point of the ongoing search and investigation is that the government knows there are more out there. As a coin collector (with a modest collection but hoping to complete morgan and peace sets), I don't consider this a legitimate coin at all, and more than for example, the 1913 liberty nickel, the 1804 dollar or the 1895 morgan, morgan die varieties or VAMs people collect. If it didn't truly circulate ...
If you mint a 'token' of precious metal and walk out of the mint with it, you are stealing from the feds and they should put you in the pen. And if you can do that once ...