One of the most notorious coins in numismatic history recently crossed the auction block at Sotheby’s to smash all-time record prices. This coin is none other than the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, which was initially intended to be a regular-issue coin struck into the hundreds of thousands — possibly millions — before a Depression-era executive order by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for an end to private gold ownership in the United States, effectively bringing a close to the Gold Standard.
All 1933 United States gold coinage was subsequently recalled by the U.S. government, and most of that year’s batch of gold coins had not been released to the public. But a few pieces already entered circulation, including one that was en route to Egypt’s King Farouk, who was a fastidious coin collector with an appetite for the rarest and finest coins. After he was deposed, his belongings were dispersed and his 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle disappeared for decades. That is, until 1996, when a British coin dealer named Stephon Fenton turned up with the coin.
The rarity, illegal to own as it was officially revoked by the U.S. government, was confiscated by the Secret Service, at one point residing in a World Trade Center vault in New York while the coin’s legal status was ascertained. A deal was brokered monetizing this one specimen of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and permitting its sale to the public. This is the only such deal the U.S. government has made concerning the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, other specimens of which have turned up during intervening years but have been confiscated by the U.S. government with no indication they will ever be granted similar legal status as the specimen once belonging to King Farouk.
When the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle crossed the auction block in 2002, it sold for $7.59 million to become the most expensive individual coin ever sold in public auction. The coin remained cloistered away in the collection of famous shoe designer Stuart Weitzman until 2021, when it made media rounds on its way to auction. The coin, certified but not encapsulated, was graded MS65 by Professional Coin Grading Service. It then went on to Sotheby’s, where it sold on June 8, 2021, for an outstanding $18,872,250 — well above the coin’s presale estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Beating a previous numismatic price record of $10 million, the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle reigns once again as the world’s most expensive coin.