Recently the record for the most expensive ancient coin in the world was broken again. It seems that the numismatic market is moving very strongly and some pieces reach astronomical prices.
Just a few weeks ago I had published this text about what I considered (together with other people) the most expensive coin in the world at that time.
Although I did not imagine it would happen so soon, what was bound to happen at some point has happened. A new record has been created for the most valuable old coin, now held by a gold Double Eagle, $20 from 1933.
How much is the new record? What is the history of this fantastic coin, and why is this ancient coin so valuable?
Here you will find all the answers that will surely impress you as much as it did me, while I was researching about the most expensive coin in the world right now.
New record for the World’s Most Expensive Coin
The new record for the world’s most expensive coin amounts to 18 million dollars, which was paid for “The Mona Lisa of Coins”, the gold Double Eagle, 20 dollars from 1933.
This piece has held this title on several occasions, competing with other American coins such as the 1794 Dollar Silver and the gold Brasher Doubloon.
The 1933 Double Eagle coin, with a face value of 20 dollars, was auctioned at Sotheby’s for 18.9 million dollars , which almost doubles the previous record. On this occasion, the important American auction house offered three different pieces, all of which sold in the millions of dollars.
The current owner of the 1933 Double Eagle is a telephone buyer who bid $16.75 million , a bid that no one else beat. Finally, adding taxes and auction house commissions, the coin ended up selling for approximately $18.9 million .
Now, let’s analyze why this 1933 $20 coin is so valuable.
Why is the 1933 $20 Coin so expensive?
The 1933 $20 coin meets the three factors that make a coin valuable to numismatic collectors and investors. These are conservation, availability and rarity.
The 1933 gold Double Eagle coin is in a perfect state of preservation, as it never circulated freely. In fact, according to Sotheby’s the coin would be equated to an MS 65 grade, even though it is not officially credited. Even so, in this case, although this factor is important, it is not precisely the one that determines the high value achieved at auction.
It is precisely the availability and rarity of this 1933 $20 specimen that makes its price so high.
The availability of this coin is very scarce, in private hands there is only 1 known specimen. This one that has just been auctioned. This means that anyone wishing to own a 1933 Double Eagle will have to buy this one, when it comes up for sale again, for whatever price it fetches.
On the other hand, the 1933 Double Eagle is an extremely rare antique coin. Which drives its value through the roof. The rarity of this coin lies in its history, worthy of a Hollywood movie.
History of the 1933 Gold Double Eagle
Okay, let’s talk about the history behind the most expensive ancient coin in the world today.
Antique Double Eagle coins were minted in the United States from 1849 until 1933. The denomination was always $20, and they were minted in an alloy of 90 percent gold and the rest copper.
It is important to note that the name Eagle is not a nickname, but the official denomination of this type of gold coin according to the monetary law of 1972. Under this law, an Eagle was equivalent to 10 dollars, a half Eagle to 5 dollars and a quarter Eagle to 2.5 dollars. Therefore, the Double Eagle has a face value of 20 dollars.
In 1933, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Order 6102 on April 5, 1933. It prohibited individuals from accumulating gold beyond a certain limit set by law.
Destruction of $20 Double Eagle coins
One consequence of Roosevelt’s provision was that all gold coins minted at that time were retained by the government. All gold Eagle coins were later ordered melted down without the public being able to purchase them.
In theory, all but two of the 445,500 1933 $20 Double Eagle coins were melted down and given to the Smithsonian Museum to become part of the U.S. Numismatic Collection. It is precisely at this time that the bizarre adventures of the world’s most expensive coin begin.
Stolen 1933 $20 Coins
As the 1933 US $20 coins were never issued to the public, owning one is illegal, and prosecuted by the US justice system.
Today, only the 2 that the U.S. Government preserved for historical purposes should exist. But the reality is that at least 20 pieces were stolen from the Mint in 1933, and sold to collectors through Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt.
Of these, most were recovered over the years by the Secret Service. They were either placed in safekeeping or destroyed after their recovery.
However, in 1944 a Texas dealer sold one of the Double Eagle to a foreign buyer who left the country with it, leaving freely, without being stopped by customs.
A king and an “illegal” coin
The buyer was King Farouk of Egypt, who also requested through his ministers an export certificate, which he obtained without a hitch. All this, before the theft of the pieces from the Mint was made public.
The United States tried to recover the 1933 $20 gold coin through diplomatic channels, but the outbreak of World War II complicated the matter.
In 1952 King Farouk was deposed by a coup d’état and his extensive collection was put up for sale at auction. Again the United States tried to recover his lost coin, but it disappeared without its fate being known.
More than 40 years passed and in 1996 the coin reappeared. The United States Secret Service arrested Stephen Fenton in New York, an antique coin dealer who was staying at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. In his possession was the lost Double Eagle.
Fenton claimed that he had purchased it legally in Egypt, and that it was therefore his property.
The 1933 Double Eagle is legalized
The case went to court and finally in 2001, after an out-of-court settlement, the coin was returned to the U.S. government, which undertook to sell it legally by auction to the private party that paid the highest bid. In this way, the coin (singular) was issued and monetized, to become a legal tender gold coin.
That is, only this particular piece is legal. If someone had another 1933 Double Eagle they would be committing a crime by possessing it and would be prosecuted by the United States.
A not minor fact is that from the moment of its seizure in 1996, the 1933 Double Eagle was kept in the World Trade Center (The Twin Towers), until July 2001, when the agreement I just mentioned was made. Then it was moved to Fort Knox for safekeeping, and just two months later the 9/11 attack that destroyed the World Trade Center took place.
We can say that luck has always been with the current most expensive coin in the world.
Auction of the 1933 20 dollar coin
On July 30, 2002, the 1933 $20 was auctioned, and in less than 9 minutes an anonymous buyer got the piece for the sum of 6.6 million dollars . Half of the money went to Stephen Fenton and the other half to the U.S. Government.
Adding the commission of the Stacks Bowers Auction House, it ended up paying 7,590,020.00 dollars for this Double Eagle, becoming at that time the most expensive coin in the world.
This record was broken in 2014 when a collector paid $10 million for the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar, which I show you below.
But the unthinkable has happened.
First, we have learned that the anonymous buyer was an American shoe designer named Stuart Weitzman, who decided to auction it this 2021.
Second, the 1933 Double Eagle coin has been put up for sale at auction at Sotheby’s and has regained the record for the most expensive coin in the world in a resounding way, as you knew at the beginning of the article. The interesting sum of 18,872,250 USD was paid for this coin.
Can the record for the most expensive coin in the world be broken again?
In my opinion it is very likely that the record for the most valuable coin in the world will be broken, and at some point we will see when someone buys this or another piece for a higher figure.
I do not intend to position myself as a numismatic expert. This digital magazine on coin collecting has a recreational purpose, but even so I dare to say that the tendency to pay ridiculously higher sums for coins and other numismatic objects will increase.
Some specialists say that the market for ancient coins is consolidating, which is why we see and will see sales like this one.
I think the phenomenon is more comparable to the early stages of the financial bubble that the art world has been facing for some time. Coins, some of them, lose their playful or investigative appeal, and are transformed into objects to invest and get high returns from them. In other words, in pieces that facilitate financial speculation.
Which pieces could break the record for the most expensive coin?
It is difficult to determine exactly. However, I believe that the candidates to break the record are the mythical Flowing Hair Dollar of 1794 or the “Brasher Doubloon” about which I have already written in this blog.
This piece recently sold for $9.48 million , and I don’t rule out that its value will skyrocket after what just happened to the 1933 $20.
What do you think my fellow reader?
I hope you liked my article on the world’s current most expensive currency. If you did, let me know in a comment below as I read them all and they are a source of inspiration to generate new content.
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