A New Coin for an Old Coin?

by David Enders Tripp

“Visitors to the Mint invariably find their way to the cashier’s office before leaving the building. The visit is not complete unless some newly-minted coins are carried away as ‘souvenirs,’ the bright cent generally catching the eye of the stranger…Occasionally a happy-looking young male asks for ‘a bright new double eagle.'” (James Rankin Young, The United States Mint at Philadelphia, 1903)

This, of course, was a tradition. Many collections got their start, or were richly augmented (such as the John H. Clapp collection) by such exchanges/purchases at the Mint. An old worn coin for a newly struck uncirculated one of the then current year. Indeed, this has been one of the oft-repeated theories behind the survival of the 1933 Double Eagles—but, of course now we know otherwise.

In the early part of 1933, up until Friday or Saturday, March 3rd or 4th, a visitor to the Mint at Philadelphia could indeed have exchanged an old gold coin for a new one. But, the only 1933 gold coins available would have been Eagles (the last ones were actually struck on March 3), and the Double Eagles had not yet been made.

The Mint kept meticulous records, and an April 7, 1944 Secret Service report regarding the stolen 1933 Double Eagles illustrates just how specific these records were. For the 1933 Eagles, the only 1933 gold coins to be legally issued, the breakdown is remarkable.

Briefly:

  • 312,500 were struck (six delivery dates from January 19-March 3, 1933);
  • 100 were sent to the Treasury (effectively issued for circulation);
  • 21 were destroyed during Assay;
  • 1 was “Paid for deposit or exchanged for currency” (meaning someone bought a new coin with an old coin—on March 1, 1933);
  • The remaining 312,378 were all accounted for on September 13, 1934 as available for melting.
  • No 1933 Double Eagles could have been obtained in this manner; Roosevelt’s edicts forbade pay-out of gold coins from Monday March 6th onward (and as we’ve seen the first 1933 Double Eagles were not even struck until March 15th).