The 1933 Double Eagle: Random Thoughts

by David Enders Tripp

The 1933 Double Eagle is very likely to join the 1804 Silver Dollar and the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel in the Pantheon of coins struck by the United States Mint.

Despite its remarkable history as a coin of clandestine ownership, and its only recently revealed journey beyond the walls of the Mint, it stands apart from the other two Classic rarities in one very important, and amusingly ironic way. It is the only one of the three that was actually made for general circulation.

The 1804 Dollar has always been a curiosity in this regard. The Class One examples are, to be sure, officially made, but solely for diplomatic purposes. The justification for their inclusion in sets struck in 1834 was with the intent of circumventing, but not breaking, the then current United States currency laws (although as Eric Newman has noted it was in fact unlawful). They were never intended to be spent. Certainly the Class Two and Three issues are nothing more than cabinet coins โ€” made for profit by enterprising employees of the Mint, from 1858 to 1876, to line their own pockets.

So too, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel owes its existence to what can only be termed cloudy circumstances. There are no records authorizing its production, and a letter from the Mint Director to the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint dated December 13, 1912, specifically states, “Do nothing about the 5ยข coinage until the new designs are ready for use.” This blunt letter makes the coin’s very existence tenuous. But whether officially or “legally” made or not, the 1913 Nickels, like the 1804 Dollars were not made as money, but as collectibles.

In this regard the 1933 Double Eagle stands apart. While Americans were returning gold coins and gold certificates to the Government and after the Treasury Department had wired the Mints to stop the pay out of any more gold, 1933 Double Eagles were being struck. They were made, not as collector or presentation pieces, but as circulating coin of the realm. Certainly the mintage, 445,500 pieces, exceeded that of many other Doubles Eagles which are today considered “common” by collectors.

Thus in an ironic twist of fate, although the 1933 Double Eagles had been produced legally; they were instantly held under the embargo of the Treasury Department, and forever remained the Property of the United States Government.