PENNSYLVANIA – In yet another example of why it’s kind of crappy to be a grownup, the rule of “finders, keepers” doesn’t work beyond the playground’s boundaries. A federal judge ruled recently that 10 rare gold coins valued at about $80 million that had disappeared from the Philadelphia Mint decades ago belong to the U.S. government, and not a family that found them in a safety deposit box. Bummer.
Courthouse News says the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is like the be-all end-all for awesome coins. They were originally valued at $20, but one recently sold for more than $7.5 million at auction. There were 445,500 double eagles struck during the Great Depression, but the Philadelphia mint took them back weeks after they were in circulation when U.S. banks abandoned the gold standard. Most were melted into gold bars, and the Smithsonian was of the view that there were only two left.
But it turns out a sneaky cashier at the Philadelphia Mint managed to smuggle some out to a local coin dealer. In 2003 that dealer’s grandkids drilled open a safety deposit box and found the 10 valuable coins wrapped in tissue paper. The family did what anyone would likely do in that situation — they handed them over to the Mint for authentication. Instead, the government took them and said “Gee, thanks for finding our valuable coins, we’ve got it from here,” without handing over a dime in compensation.
Since then the family has been battling the courts, saying that it wasn’t their fault the coins were taken from the Mint and besides, it could’ve been during a legitimate transaction. They tried to prove as such, but jurors sided with the government.
“The Mint meticulously tracked the ’33 Double Eagles, and the records show that no such transaction occurred,” the judge wrote. “What’s more, this absence of a paper trail speaks to criminal intent. If whoever took or exchanged the coins thought he was doing no wrong, we would expect to see some sort of documentation reflecting the transaction, especially considering how carefully and methodically the Mint accounted for the ’33 Double Eagles. The jury saw no record of a legitimate ’33 Double Eagle release, and from this lack of documentation one may reasonably infer that the responsible party appropriated the coins in secret, knowing full well the wrongfulness and illegality of his actions.”
If there was ever a time to shake a fist in frustration at an ancestor, now would probably be the time.