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July 30, 2002, was a brutal day in Manhattan, air hanging like a hot, wet curtain over the city. Outside of Sotheby’s auction house on the East Side, limousines idled with the air-conditioning on. Cameramen climbed out of television news vans, sweat beads popping across their foreheads as they swung equipment onto their shoulders. Inside, on the seventh floor, where the auction was to take place, no one was eating the cookies or finger sandwiches Sotheby’s had laid out. All anyone wanted was bottled water. Barry Berke was cool, though, in a skybox overlooking the auction floor. All day, the Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel partner had been taking calls from people who wanted to bid on the only item to be auctioned that night: a legendary $20 gold piece, minted in Philadelphia in 1933 and never circulated publicly. This coin was the only 1933 Double Eagle known to exist outside of the Smithsonian Institution’s coin collection, and was expected to sell for more money than any numismatic item in history; bidding would start at $2.5 million. Sotheby’s, which was running the auction along with Stack’s, the famous rare coin house, had insisted that bidders present proof of their ability to pay in order to qualify for a paddle. Several coin collectors who’d been rejected called Berke to see if he could help. He couldn’t, but it’s no wonder they asked him. Berke, more than anyone else, was the man responsible for bringing the 1933 Double Eagle to auction. Berke is not a coin enthusiast. He’s a litigator, a former federal public defender now practicing white-collar defense at Kramer Levin. He had first heard of the Double Eagle in February 1996, when he got a call from a British coin dealer named StephenFenton. Fenton owned the 1933 Double Eagle. He’d brought it to New York to sell it, and had wound up in an unimaginable jam — him in U.S. Secret Service custody, his $1 million coin in a government vault. Berke got them both out, in spectacular fashion: Under the deal Berke struck with the government, Fenton would be splitting the proceeds of the auction with the U.S. Mint. Berke and Fenton had traveled to Sotheby’s together on the afternoon of July 30, along with Fenton’s wife and a group from Kramer Levin. When they stepped off the elevator on Sotheby’s seventh floor, they headed straight for the Double Eagle, displayed on a black stand behind thick glass. Fenton hadn’t seen the coin since 1996, when it was locked away by the Secret Service. Berke had seen it only once, briefly, in a dispute with the government over the coin’s storage conditions. A crowd milled around the display case, and when people realized who Fenton and Berke were, some asked the two to autograph their auction catalogs. In the six-year fight for the coin, Berke had become a numismatic hero, his tactics chronicled regularly in Coin World magazine. Good litigators say they win by telling compelling stories. Few have worked with raw material as rich as Berke’s in the Double Eagle case. That $20 piece has been involved in some of the greatest historical events of the last 70 years, as well as the pettiest of crimes. It’s been owned by an Egyptian playboy king and a shady Philadelphia jeweler. It’s been the subject of rumors and legends and diplomatic appeals across three continents, spawning a 1944 Secret Service investigation and a 1996 sting operation at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Now, thanks to Berke’s advocacy, the story of the 1933 Double Eagle would continue. About a half hour before the auction was to start, Berke, Fenton, and their group headed up to the box Sotheby’s had reserved for them. On the floor below, every seat was filled, and people were standing five deep around the rows of chairs. Sotheby’s vice-chairman David Redden opened the auction with a little joke about sales tax — there would be none — and explained that after the bidding there would be a ceremony in which the Mint officially issued the $20 gold piece, at last making it legal to own. Bidding began promptly at 6 p.m., and proceeded quickly from the $2.5 million opening. As the price crossed $4.1 million, the previous record for a coin, set in 1999, Fenton turned to Berke, standing beside him in the box. “The first time you stood next to me,” Fenton said to his lawyer, “we were at a bail hearing.” The Double Eagle was always a troublesome coin. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt decided that the U.S. gold coins of the nineteenth century didn’t adequately reflect his exuberant vision of America, so he commissioned his friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the most famous sculptor of the day, to design a new coin. The sculptor eventually came up with a magnificent cast: on one side, a stalwart Liberty, hair flowing, olive branch in hand, surrounded by rays of light; on the other, a gimlet-eyed eagle flying over the sun. Saint-Gaudens’ design called for the coins to be minted in extremely high relief, to create the sculptural effect the artist intended. The process was so tedious, however, involving a series of strikes and heating-and-cooling treatments, that the Mint’s chief engraver complained to the president. Though Roosevelt was said to have replied, “I don’t care if it takes all day to produce one coin.” The engraver, Charles Barber, eventually prevailed, modifying Saint-Gaudens’ design so that the coin could be struck in a single cast. The $20 coins, which contained almost a full ounce of gold and were known as Double Eagles, began circulating in 1907. Twenty-six years later, they stopped. Immediately after his inauguration in March 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt placed an embargo on gold exports, both to protect the nation’s gold supply and to halt a run on banks. Over the next months, Roosevelt’s administration effectively removed the country from the gold standard, making it illegal, in most circumstances, for ordinary people to possess gold currency. The last shipment of gold coins left the Philadelphia Mint on March 6, 1933. No 1933 Double Eagles were in that $12.25 million shipment; none had yet been minted. But despite the gold embargo, engraving work at the Mint continued. Ten days after the last gold shipment, workers at the Philadelphia Mint began striking 1933 Double Eagles. In three series of mintings between March 15 and May 19, a total of 445,500 1933 Double Eagles were cast. Most of them never left the Philadelphia Mint. All but 466 coins were sealed into a Mint vault in June 1933. The others were sent out, some to Washington, D.C., and some to New York, for standard testing. Twenty-nine coins were destroyed in the testing. The rest were returned to the Philadelphia Mint, where they were locked into a cashier’s safe that could only be opened with two keys held by the Mint cashier. Two coins were eventually sent to the Smithsonian to be added to the museum’s complete collection of American coins. All of the other existing 1933 Double Eagles — the 445,034 coins held in the Mint vault and the 435 in the cashier’s vault — were, according to the records of the Philadelphia Mint, melted down between February 6 and March 18, 1937. But on February 15, 1937, a Philadelphia jeweler named Israel Switt sold a 1933 Double Eagle to Philadelphia coin dealer James MacAllister. Philadelphia was a hub of the gold trade in the early part of the century, with jewelers, coin dealers, and scrap gold traders clustered in offices near the Mint. Israel Switt had begun dealing in gold, mainly scrap gold, as a child. He spent a lot of time at the Mint, getting to know some Mint employees well enough that one official sent his watch to Switt for repairs. By the 1940s Switt had become a wealthy man, though he still did business with some unsavory characters in New York. His own record was spotty: He had been arrested in 1934 at the Philadelphia train station, carrying a suspiciously heavy briefcase. City police officers seized the briefcase and found it filled with old gold coins. Switt was charged with, and eventually convicted of, illegal possession of gold. MacAllister, a more reputable dealer, called Switt “a gold coin bootlegger.” MacAllister was not sufficiently concerned with Switt’s reputation, however, to refrain from doing business with him. Over the course of 1937 MacAllister bought five 1933 Double Eagles from Switt — three for $300 and two for $350. MacAllister quickly sold the coins, all at a nice profit, but stopped buying them when he decided Switt had too many for MacAllister to guarantee their rarity to buyers. Switt sold at least four more 1933 Double Eagles to two other coin dealers who, like MacAllister, resold the pieces quickly. The coins traded quietly among collectors, but some were publicly advertised; by the 1940s, 1933 Double Eagles had found their way into the collections of some of the country’s prominent numismatists. Then, in early 1944, one 1933 Double Eagle left the United States and joined one of the world’s great coin collections. Egypt’s King Farouk, known as the Playboy King, was a voracious collector of rarities that struck his fancy — stamps, jewels, art and, especially, coins. Farouk’s agents in Europe and the U.S. bought up more than 8,000 rare coins of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, putting together one of the finest collections in the world. Farouk bought secretly — he was spending money from Egypt’s treasury, so he was always careful to write checks for amounts that didn’t have to be reported — but with concern for the legal niceties. After Farouk bought the 1933 Double Eagle from Fort Worth dealer B. Max Mehl, the Royal Egyptian Legation took the coin to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, seeking permission to export it to Egypt under an exception to the Roosevelt-era gold embargo that permitted the export of rare coins. The director of the Mint, Roosevelt appointee Nellie Taylor Ross, had her assistant bring the coin to the curator of the division of history at the Smithsonian, asking whether the 1933 Double Eagle was, in fact, “of recognized special value to collectors of rare and unusual coins.” The curator, Theodore Belote, certified the coin’s value to collectors. On February 29, 1944, the Treasury Department duly issued the Egyptian Legation an export license, and the 1933 Double Eagle flew off to King Farouk via diplomatic pouch. At around the same time that Mint director Ross was forwarding Farouk’s 1933 Double Eagle to Belote at the Smithsonian, Ernest Kehr, the stamp and coin columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, noticed that Stack’s, the rare coin house, was promoting the sale of the “celebrated collection” of Colonel James Flanagan. The last item listed in the auction catalog was the “excessively rare” 1933 Double Eagle, which, the catalog noted, was “the first one that ever came up in any public auction.” Kehr sent a question to the Mint: How many 1933 Double Eagles had been released to the public? Kehr’s letter was the snowball that started an avalanche. The Mint’s acting director, Leland Howard, retrieved records indicating that none of the coins had been released; all were supposed to have been melted down. Howard notified Frank Wilson, the chief of the Secret Service, that at least one, and reputedly more, of the 1933 Double Eagles were circulating illegally. Wilson assigned the case to a Secret Service agent named Harry Strang, who spent the next several months tracking down 1933 Double Eagles, calling on agents from around the country to help. Why, particularly with the country at war in 1944, did the Secret Service pursue so passionately a handful of gold coins? When Barry Berke, the Kramer Levin partner who represented coin dealer Stephen Fenton, and Jane Levine, the last in a succession of assistant U.S. attorneys who represented the government in the litigation with Fenton, began researching the Secret Service investigation of 1944, they found that everyone who knew anything was dead; the last surviving Mint worker from the 1930s had died only weeks before a Kramer Levin paralegal tracked him down. Berke says there’s never been much explanation for the government’s fervor to repossess the 1933 Double Eagles. Levine, who worked closely with Mint officials and spent time in the National Archives looking for documents in the case, is perhaps more sensitive to government imperatives. Protecting the integrity of the nation’s money supply, she says, was an understandable priority: “This was about security at the Mint. That’s not a place we want gold disappearing from. It’s not surprising it was taken seriously. … This was all wrapped up in the gold regulation laws, taking the country off the gold standard. It’s hard for us to imagine, but in those days, this was a big deal.” For Levine, a college history major who specializes in forfeiture cases, the Double Eagle litigation was captivating. “I loved this case,” she says. “The story touches on the Depression, the gold standard, FDR, the Hundred Days. And Mint history — I kept picturing the cashier running around with a set of keys to vaults of gold.” Levine had never before had to recreate a 60-year-old criminal investigation. It turned out to be a rare pleasure. “Those reports,” she says, “were really well prepared, really well written. You could see that the agents were so well prepared.” Secret Service agent Strang, the agent in charge of the 1933 Double Eagle investigation, was a dogged and meticulous man, bullying his way into the world of high-priced coins and regularly reporting his findings all the way up to the chief of the Secret Service. Strang’s inquiries quickly led him to Israel Switt, and then to a onetime Mint cashier named George McCann. Like Switt, McCann was a man with a past. Not only did Strang hear stories from McCann’s former Mint colleagues about his conspiring to hide the theft of $10,000 in scrap gold, Strang also found that McCann had served time in prison for stealing coins (though not Double Eagles) from the Mint. Strang concluded that McCann, who had had access to the 1933 Double Eagles locked in the cashier’s vault after standards testing, had stolen the coins and passed them to Switt. Nevertheless, when Strang took his evidence to the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, the U.S. Department of Justice said it couldn’t prosecute McCann or Switt. Too much time had passed since the theft; the statute of limitations had run. The coins themselves were another story. Strang’s investigation had proved, at least as far as the government was concerned, that all nine of the 1933 Double Eagles known to be in circulation had left the Mint illegally, and so belonged to the U.S. Strang had already seized three coins, which were being held by the Secret Service in New York. Four more owners surrendered their 1933 Double Eagles to Secret Service agents in 1945. One collector, L.G. Barnard, refused to turn over his coin, arguing that since he’d bought it from a reputable dealer without knowing it had been stolen, he shouldn’t have to give it back. The government sued for title in federal court in Tennessee. Evidence consisted largely of Mint records and Strang’s findings, which were persuasive enough to convince the court of the government’s case. In a reported decision in 1947, the Tennessee judge ruled that Barnard’s 1933 Double Eagle belonged to the U.S. “Since the gold piece was stolen, or, through fraudulent breach of trust, taken from the Philadelphia Mint,” the judge found, “[Barnard] … cannot maintain ownership.” Barnard decided not to appeal, and turned his coin over to the Secret Service. Once the Barnard case established the government’s title to the 1933 Double Eagles, the Treasury Department determined, in a decision American gold coin expert David Akers calls “a crime against numismatics,” to melt down the eight 1933 Double Eagles in its possession. When a ninth coin suddenly turned up in 1952, in the famous collection of Louis Eliasberg (who had the only complete collection of American coins outside of the Smithsonian), the government melted it down as well. Until 1996, no other 1933 Double Eagle ever surfaced in the United States. But one coin was still out there. The only 1933 Double Eagle known to exist outside of the Smithsonian was in Egypt, in the collection of King Farouk. The Secret Service knew about the export license issued by the Treasury Department to the Egyptian Legation from almost the beginning of Strang’s 1944 investigation. The government, however, did not at first attempt to recover the king’s coin. In 1945 the general counsel of the Treasury Department advised the Secret Service that Farouk’s 1933 Double Eagle did not “present a problem which this department should consider at this time.” A few years later, in 1949, the Treasury Department did draft a letter asking the U.S. Department of State to seek return of the coin, but State decided it was “politically inadvisable” to ask Farouk to give the Double Eagle back. In 1952 Gamal-Abdel Nasser, the leader of an insurgent group of officers from the Egyptian army, overthrew King Farouk, who on July 26 departed Alexandria on his yacht. In late 1953 the Nasser government announced that there would be a grand auction of Farouk’s coin collection. This was huge news in the numismatic world. The auction, conducted by Sotheby’s, was to last nine days, and would contain treasures guaranteed to attract coin dealers from all over the world. Sotheby’s predicted that the auction would “rival the great sales of the past [and] will take its place in the bibliography of numismatics.” Farouk’s 1933 Double Eagle was listed in Sotheby’s catalog as part of Lot 185. In December 1953, under pressure from the Secret Service, the U.S. State Department instructed the American Embassy in Egypt to request the coin’s return. “The Treasury Department,” it noted, “is seriously concerned at the possibility of the sale of this coin.” Sometime before the start of the auction in March, the Egyptians did agree to withdraw the 1933 Double Eagle from the auction, but they didn’t give it to the U.S. government. Despite requests from American diplomats for the coin, the Egyptians never turned it over. After the auction, Farouk’s 1933 Double Eagle — the only remaining 1933 Double Eagle to have traded publicly — simply disappeared. In the years after the Farouk auction, stories of 1933 Double Eagle sightings regularly circulated among coin collectors. There were reports of the coin surfacing in Switzerland, or maybe France. Secondhand accounts were ubiquitous; hard evidence was elusive. “There were always rumors it was around,” says California dealer Ronald Gillio, “but no one ever saw it.” Stephen Fenton, like every other serious, high-end coin dealer, knew something of the coin’s legend. Fenton is the proprietor of London’s Knightsbridge Coins and a lifelong numismatist. He had first heard of the 1933 Double Eagle in the late 1970s, when he began trading American coins. Fenton didn’t know all the details of the saga — few did — but he was aware that a 1933 Double Eagle was supposed to be out there somewhere, and that if it were found it would be the most valuable of U.S. coins. In partnership with a friend, another London rare coin dealer named Andre de Clermont, Fenton began acquiring coins from a rather mysterious source, beginning in the early 1990s. De Clermont had developed a relationship with an Egyptian jeweler who occasionally surfaced in London with coins that, de Clermont deduced, were remnants of the Farouk collection. Over time, de Clermont learned that the jeweler, whose name neither he nor Fenton has revealed publicly, was a family friend of a colonel in Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s army. The colonel was a coin collector, and after the Farouk auction, he had acquired some of Farouk’s unsold holdings. After the colonel’s death, his family, through the jeweler, was selling off his coins. Through 1994 and 1995 de Clermont purchased coins the jeweler brought him. He always checked, and the coins always matched unsold lots from the 1954 Farouk sale. De Clermont was making good money when he resold the coins, but as the jeweler offered him pieces of higher value, he couldn’t afford to buy them on his own. He brought Fenton in to provide financing and split the profits. Fenton also, as de Clermont testified in his deposition in the Double Eagle litigation, provided advice about the value of the jeweler’s coins. After more than a year of doing business with the jeweler, de Clermont dared to ask about the 1933 Double Eagle. “I said, ‘There is a ’33 $20 — a rare one — in the Farouk collection,’ ” De Clermont testified. The jeweler, de Clermont said, knew that the 1933 Double Eagle was extremely rare; he had looked it up in a book that listed the value of American coins and had seen the entry describing the coin as uncirculated. The colonel’s family had also told him it was valuable. The colonel supposedly kept the coin in the original envelope from the Sotheby’s 1954 auction, which he had marked “ Rare.” The jeweler told de Clermont, however, that the colonel’s family was making the decisions about which coins to sell. Of the 1933 Double Eagle, de Clermont testified, “He just said, ‘Well, if it comes, it will come.’ “ It came to London in the late summer of 1995. According to de Clermont, the jeweler called to say he was in town with coins to sell. When de Clermont got to his hotel, the jeweler took out the 1933 Double Eagle and said, “Here it is.” De Clermont went straight to Fenton. The jeweler wanted $325,000 for the Double Eagle and some other coins, and Fenton would be putting up all of it. Fenton told de Clermont the price was too high. De Clermont shuttled between Fenton and the jeweler until they arrived at a price, $220,000 for the Double Eagle and the other coins. Under the informal agreement between Fenton and de Clermont, Fenton would sell the Double Eagle and give a percentage of the profits to de Clermont. Fenton stored the coin in a safe deposit box and began to look for a buyer. Some deals in the coin world are entirely straightforward. A collector buys a piece at a coin show. A numismatist sells off his collection at auction. A dealer calls a client when he finds a coin the collector wants. But other transactions, particularly at the high end of the business, are less transparent. Dealers guard connections to clients and sources of coins. Shrewd collectors work through agents. Middlemen try to match buyers and sellers. So it was in Fenton’s sale of the 1933 Double Eagle. He got in touch with Jasper Parrino, a dealer based in Kansas City, Missouri, who is known for trading the rarest of rare coins. (Parrino did not return calls for this story.) After talking to Fenton, Parrino, in turn, discussed the possible sale of a 1933 Double Eagle with a man named Jack Moore. Moore was a peripheral character in the high-end coin world, a sometime exhibitor at coin shows who worked with at least one important collector. He was also, as it turned out, a government informant. When Moore heard that Parrino had a link to a 1933 Double Eagle, he contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which sent him to the Treasury Department. The Secret Service has a long memory: The United States wanted the last 1933 Double Eagle back. Moore agreed to cooperate with the Secret Service in a sting operation to recover the coin from Parrino’s unidentified source. Over the next few weeks Moore taped his conversations with Parrino. The two would talk about family, the weather, business, always circling back to the Double Eagle. Parrino told Moore that the seller — whom he didn’t name — had told hardly anyone about the coin, but wasn’t willing to negotiate on the asking price: $1.5 million. The seller wanted to be paid via wire transfer, and also wanted the deal done in Europe. Moore eventually agreed to the asking price and the wire transfer, but said his buyer wouldn’t go to Europe. “He will wire the money anywhere you want,” Moore told Parrino, “as long as we can pick up the goods right here in the United States. Because he is not leaving the United States.” Parrino finally agreed to Moore’s terms. On February 8, 1996, Stephen Fenton was at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City with the 1933 Double Eagle. Parrino and Moore met him at the hotel. Parrino didn’t know it, but the two men with them, supposedly a buyer and a coin expert, were really a pair of Secret Service agents. Fenton agreed to bring the coin to the room of the buyer, not realizing, of course, that the Secret Service had set up hidden video cameras there. As Fenton handed over the coin, agents rushed into the room, seized the coin, and arrested Fenton and Parrino, taking them downtown to the Secret Service offices, where they were placed in custody. Fenton and Parrino were charged with conspiring to embezzle and convert to their own use property of the United States. Fenton didn’t know any criminal lawyers in New York. He was at first assigned a public defender, but when he said he could pay, he got a list of private lawyers from his public defender. Barry Berke was on it. When Fenton, who’d been released from custody but ordered not to leave New York, first met Berke at Kramer Levin’s offices, the two hit it off. “I liked his straight talking,” Fenton says. “He gave me confidence.” Berke’s first order of business, after a bail hearing that won Fenton back his passport, was to convince the government that Fenton wasn’t a criminal. Along with Parrino’s lawyer, Alan Mansfield of Greenberg Traurig, he quickly educated himself about the 1933 Double Eagle and Fenton’s involvement with it. The government had some evidence suggesting that Fenton knew the coin belonged to the U.S. — principally his initial reluctance to bring the Double Eagle to this country to sell it — but Berke and Mansfield lobbied the U.S. attorney’s office hard. Mansfield regards the case as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “You had to learn the history in order to evaluate the legal issues,” he says. “Why did Roosevelt do what he did? What about the foreign governments? How many coins were there? How do you recreate the disappearance from the Mint? This case was something few lawyers get to do in everyday practice.” In April 1996 prosecutors dismissed the criminal complaint. The government still had the coin, locked in a Secret Service vault at 7 World Trade Center, and the U.S. intended to keep it. After prosecutors dropped the criminal case, assistant U.S. attorney Jane Levine brought a forfeiture action, eventually adding a claim for title to the 1933 Double Eagle. The government had precedent on its side: The old Barnard case from 1947 had established the United States’ rights to 1933 Double Eagles stolen from the Mint. If Berke was to maintain Fenton’s title to the coin the government now held, he had to show that Fenton’s coin was somehow different from L.G. Barnard’s — that it hadn’t left the Mint illegally, as Barnard’s had, or that it had somehow been made legal. Berke needed to know, in other words, everything about the minting, storage, disappearance, and reappearance of every 1933 Double Eagle that ever existed so that he could prove that his client deserved to keep his coin. Says Mansfield: “Lawyers, unlike historians or collectors, have to convert the story into advocacy.” Like Mansfield and Levine, Berke has a fondness for history. He, associate Justine Harris and a Kramer Levin paralegal dove into old Mint and Secret Service records. (Berke also, through a lawyer named David Krassner who was a friend of Parrino’s, hired R.W. Julian, a onetime math teacher who has become a numismatic historian; noted coin authority Q. David Bowers was another of Berke’s experts.) The coin community was in an uproar over the government’s seizure of the 1933 Double Eagle, and Berke used his celebrity as Fenton’s lawyer to hunt down rumors about 1933 Double Eagles. Berke’s investigation bolstered Fenton’s contention that his coin was the Farouk coin — which was crucial to his case once Berke obtained the records of Farouk’s export license. If Fenton’s coin was the 1933 Double Eagle from the Farouk collection, Berke argued, the government had forfeited its claim to the coin in 1944, when the Treasury Department had given the coin and an export license to the Egyptian Legation. The government had authorized Farouk’s ownership in 1944, he argued in a February 2000 motion for summary judgment, and by failing to seek the coin’s return for several years thereafter, the Secret Service had implicitly acknowledged Farouk’s title. Though the judge denied Berke’s summary judgment motion — too many facts were in dispute — the government had several problems in its case. Levine had argued that Fenton’s coin was not definitively proved to be the Farouk coin, so the export license was irrelevant. Some of the government’s own documents, however, identified the seized coin as the Farouk specimen. And even if a federal judge on a summary judgment motion didn’t find the export license dispositive, a jury might. Moreover, who would testify for the government at the trial? With the key witnesses to the 1944 Secret Service investigation dead, Levine had to figure out how to introduce into evidence the old Secret Service documents. She also had to find a coin expert, no easy task in this case. The litigation was followed intently by the coin collecting world, and, as Levine puts it, dryly, “we heard a fair amount of sentiment from some members of the numismatic community [who were] not enamored of the government position.” With only weeks remaining before jury selection was to begin, Levine revived a proposal Berke had made earlier in the case. It was a Solomonic settlement: Neither the government nor Fenton would retain possession of the coin; instead, the two would split the proceeds of a sale of the 1933 Double Eagle. The Mint and Fenton would both have a say in every aspect of the sale, which, Berke knew, would be a signal event in the history of coin collecting. The Treasury Department would, of course, have to declare the coin legal. But the integrity of the nation’s coinage was hardly in continuing danger from the existence of a single 1933 Double Eagle, even if it had been stolen 68 years before. Levine added a nonnegotiable caveat: Fenton would have to agree to cede title to the Mint. (Levine was protecting the government’s rights to any other 1933 Double Eagles, in the event any others ever surfaced.) Berke agreed to the deal. Over the next year, Mint officials and Fenton selected Stack’s and Sotheby’s to conduct the auction — fitting choices, since those were the houses that had lost chances to sell 1933 Double Eagles in the past — and the Mint promoted the sale. The coin traveled to the Long Beach, California, coin show, one of the biggest in the world, where thousands of coin enthusiasts had a chance to see it. Sotheby’s produced a lush 60-page catalog that included numismatic expert David Tripp’s detailed history of the coin. The auction was scheduled to coincide with the annual convention of the American Numismatic Association, assuring that the sale would be well attended. And so it was. Jane Levine was there, as were the director and the general counsel of the Mint. Hundreds of dealers and collectors, in town for the convention, turned out. So did a clutch of reporters covering the sale. About a dozen bidders qualified for paddles, but by the time the price passed the previous record for a coin — when Fenton reminded Berke that they’d first stood up together at a bail hearing — only two bidders were left: a tall man standing in the back, talking into a cell phone and the head of Sotheby’s books and manuscripts division, bidding on behalf of a client on the phone. The audience clapped when the price of the coin passed $5 million. At $6.6 million, the bidder with the cell phone dropped out. Auctioneer Redden gave fair warning, then banged his gavel. The 1933 Double Eagle had sold for $6.6 million, plus the 15 percent seller’s premium, bringing the total price for the coin to $7.59 million — almost twice the previous record for a coin. The whole auction took less than nine minutes. “It was a pretty exciting nine minutes,” says Berke, who cheered when it was over. Adds Fenton: “I thought it was important that it stay in the marketplace. At least somebody has it. If they keep it in good condition, I’m happy.” Downtown Manhattan was muffled and quiet on December 5, a gray, icy day. It was a couple of weeks after the record-breaking 1933 Double Eagle had arrived at the Federal Reserve Building, not to be locked in a vault but to go on exhibition to the public. Whoever bought the coin at the auction in July has remained anonymous — Sotheby’s has revealed only that the buyer is a U.S. collector — but he agreed to display the coin at the Federal Reserve through 2003, along with several rare coins from the collection of the American Numismatic Society. Up close, the 1933 Double Eagle — behind heavy glass protection — is beautiful, but not as beautiful as its high-relief 1907 ancestor, which is displayed nearby. Theodore Roosevelt was right: Saint-Gaudens’ original design is imperial indeed. By comparison, the 1933 Double Eagle looks subdued. Still, the guard on duty, a member of the Federal Reserve Police, says the 1933 Double Eagle is what brings people to the display. “They come in, they say, ‘Oh, there it is,’” the guard says. “You know the story? King Farouk and FDR and everything?” He shakes his head. “It’s a hell of a story.”

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