Why is the 1933 Double Eagle illegal?
The 1933 double eagle is a coin that is not supposed to trade in the market. None of those coins were ever authorized for use, and almost all of them were melted a couple of years after they were made. This melting occurred because after they were struck, the new U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- in one of his first significant actions -- forbade payment in gold and the hoarding or exportation of gold coins or bullion on March 6, 1933. Then on April 8 that same year, he issued his famous Executive Order 6102, which "forbade the hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States by individuals, partnerships, associations, and corporations."
On August 4, 1934, following the passage of the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, U.S. Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross gave the order for all branches of the U.S. Mint to begin melting down all gold coins those mints had on hand. However, two weeks later, two of the 1933 coins were transferred by Ross' order to the Smithsonian, where to this day they are a significant highlight of the National Numismatic Collection.
Between February and June 1937, almost half a million gold double eagles from 1933 were melted down, yet some coins somehow left the Mint. Most of them are believed to have done so through an alleged collaboration between Mint cashier George McCann and Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt.
To this day, the U.S. government continues to maintain that all 1933 gold double eagles remain the property of the government and are subject to confiscation except for one coin – the one that Weitzman purchased in 2002 in an unusual legal settlement.
The other examples of the coin, including about 20 that openly traded in the 1930s and 1940s, were later almost all seized by the government or voluntarily surrendered and melted down. A 1944 Secret Service investigation found that all those coins should not have left the Mint and were considered stolen.
In 2004, the heirs of Israel Switt discovered another hoard of 20 coins in a safety deposit box that was later seized by the government and stored at Fort Knox. The family went through 11 years of litigation to keep the coin that reached the Supreme Court, but in the end, judges ruled that they too were government property.
In 2018 another example of the coin was voluntarily surrendered by an anonymous collector.