Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed, and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle
It is one of America's treasures -- the most valuable ounce of gold in the world, the celebrated, the fabled, the infamous 1933 double eagle. It shouldn't even exist but it does, and its astonishing, true adventures read like "a composite of The Lord of the Rings and The Maltese Falcon" (The New York Times). Illegal to own and coveted all the more, it has been sought with passion by men of wealth and with steely persistence by the United States government for more than a half century. In 1905, at the height of the exuberant Gilded Age, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned America's greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint- Gaudens -- as he battled in vain for his life -- to create what became America's most beautiful coin. In 1933 the hopes of America dimmed in the darkness of the Great Depression, and gold -- the nation's lifeblood -- hemorrhaged from the financial system. As the economy teetered on the brink of total collapse, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his first act as president, assumed wartime powers while the nation was at peace and in a "swift, staccato action" unprecedented in United States history recalled all gold and banned its private ownership. But the United States Mint continued, quite legally, to strike nearly a half million 1933 double eagles that were never issued and were deemed illegal to own. In 1937, along with countless millions of other gold coins, they were melted down into faceless gold bars and sent to Fort Knox. The government thought they had destroyed them all -- but they were wrong. A few escaped, purloined in a crime -- an inside job -- that wasn't discovered until 1944. Then, the fugitive 1933 double eagles became the focus of a relentless Secret Service investigation spearheaded by the man who had put away Al Capone. All the coins that could be found were seized and destroyed. But one was beyond their reach, in a king's collection in Egypt, where it survived a world war, a revolution, and a coup, only to be lost again. In 1996, more than forty years later, in a dramatic sting operation set up by a Secret Service informant at the Waldorf-Astoria, an English and an American coin dealer were arrested with a 1933 double eagle which, after years of litigation, was sold in July 2002 to an anonymous buyer for more than $7.5 million in a record-shattering auction. But was it the only one? The lost one? Illegal Tender, revealing information available for the first time, tells a riveting tale of American history, liberally spiced with greed, intrigue, deception, and controversy as it follows the once secret odyssey of this fabulous golden object through the decades. With its cast of kings, presidents, government agents, shadowy dealers, and crooks, Illegal Tender will keep readers guessing about this incomparable disk of gold -- the coin that shouldn't be and almost wasn't -- until the very end.
Reads like a novel but this one is a true story!!!
By Paul Tognetti "The real world is so much more... - December 21, 2004
If you are a fan of novels like "Topaz" and "The Maltese Falcon" then you are bound to enjoy David Tripp's "Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle". But this is not fiction. Rather it is a true story spanning more than 70 years and starring of all things a $20 gold coin!!!
You see when Franklin Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard immediately after his inauguration in 1933, he ordered that all gold coins in circulation be returned to the government. It was a monumental task of course but most patriotic Americans voluntarily complied. Likewise, any gold coins that had been minted and not yet circulated were also ordered to be destroyed. In early 1933, more than 445,000 double eagle coins had been struck by the U.S. Mint. Somehow, a tiny quantity of these coins managed to see the light of day. And this is what "Illegal Tender" is all about. You'll learn how these coins managed to escape the clutches of the U.S. Mint in... read more
Competent but Tedious
By Michael J. Raymond - May 9, 2005
Although hard core coin collectors will enjoy this book, those of us who enjoy reading non-fiction crime stories will be a little disappointed. The author does a good job in describing the history of the coin at stake but loses something in the translation. The sad fact is that this coin's history is checkered and unknown. Therefore, the reader is always left guessing and speculating about how it ended up at auction. There is very little that is "known" when it comes to how this coin escaped the melt-down. Perhaps this is not the author's fault as he is limited by his subject. The book is readable and grabs the reader at times with the description of the auction as well as the FBI investigation in the 1930's as they tried to track down where the coins came from and who had them. All in all, the author did a competent job but the subject, which could have been fascinating, is somewhat dull.
By Anthony B. Muller "ABM" - November 2, 2004
Rare coins, government fowlups, kings and presidents, big money, criminals, artists and a beautiful girl (on the coin)...all elements in this fascinating book. I am an avid reader of non-fiction and I have the collector gene, but I never expected this to be a one-night-read. Just great!
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