Hi fellow numismatists!
Double Eagle: The Epic Story of the World’s Most Valuable Coin by Alison Frankel is one of the most fascinating numismatic books I have ever read. Alison Frankel, a respected legal journalist, masterfully weaves the stories of the 1933 Double Eagle’s designs, history, and political intrigue in a way that lets me sit back and truly enjoy this book.
The book starts with the historical context of both politics, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens personal life. As it follows the narrative of the coin, it quickly shows the hidden motives behind President Roosevelt's intentions and Chief Engraver Barber's antagonism as the designing of the coin took place. When FDR declared gold illegal to own, a few 1933 Eagles had gotten out of the mint legally, but no 1933 Double Eagles had. We quickly see that there was much controversy from the start. A few of these coins had been smuggled out of the mint and sold to collectors willing to pay the price, including Congressman George McCann. These coins were quickly found out and laboriously pursued by the Secret Service. But one escaped their net, going to the rich and powerful collector and ruler of Egypt, King Farouk.
As it had been legally exported, even going through the mint’s hands, nobody dared to request for the coin, risking hostilities with a tumultuous country. The coin disappeared until King Farouk was overthrown in a coup. The coin came to auction along with his outrageously large numismatic collection, some of which went for paltry, and even laughable sums to famous dealers and collectors. When the Secret Service convinced the auction company to withdraw the coin from the auction,everybody expected that it had been melted until it mysteriously surfaced in the hands of the broker of a wealthy Egyption family, who had been involved in the auction.
Andre de Clermont, a London coin dealer, bought this 1933 Double Eagle and it changed hands to Staphen Fenton, until John Groendyke asked Jack Moore, a no-name dealer, to assemble a complete collection of Gaudens Double Eagles. Jay Parrino asked Moore if he was willing to buy the coin for his client. Hearing this, Moore, who had always disliked Parrino, contacted the FBI. Moore quickly became one of the best informants the FBI ever had, and through sly dealing and the (not so honest) tricks he had picked up over his years, he finally brought Parrino to justice. Fenton and Parrino fought the coin in court and finally won and sold the coin under very specific circumstances, with a staggering price tag of around $7 million- with an extra charge of $20 because of the complex instructions of the mint.
The book ends with conversations with many of the main characters, and ten more of these coins surfacing. While there are many different story threads, Alison Frankel brings much, much more clarity to the debacle than I could ever hope to. Overall I would give this book a five star rating, although it would be nice if she came out with a second edition covering until today, as the copyright is 2006.
Thanks for reading and again, tips, questions, and corrections are all welcome.