One of the last gold coins ever struck for circulation in the US sold for a record $18.9 million in New York on Tuesday.The exceptionally rare 1933 “Double Eagle” is now the most valuable coin ever to appear at auction, almost doubling the previous world record, according to Sotheby’s, which organized the sale.
Featuring Liberty on one side, and an eagle in flight on the other, the coin has a face value of $20. The 1933 edition of the “Double Eagle” never entered circulation, and nearly all of them were returned to the US government and melted down.
Only a handful of the coins were spared this fate, and a small number entered the market. But in 1944, a Secret Service investigation declared that any of them found in collectors’ hands would be considered stolen, according to Sotheby’s.
Sotheby’s auction hosue has dubbed the 1933 Double Eagle “the most famous coin on the planet.” Credit: Courtesy Sotheby’s
The specimen sold on Tuesday is the only one that can be legally possessed by a private individual, following a legal battle between the United States Treasury and a former owner. The sale marks the second time it has broken the auction record for a coin, having last done so in 2002, when it fetched $7.6 million.
The coin was one of three valuable items put up for sale by the shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. The other two — a stamp from a former British colony and a sheet of US postage stamps printed with a unique error — also attracted bids in the millions of dollars.The oldest of them, a 165-year-old One-Cent Magenta, had been described by Sotheby’s as the world’s “most famous” stamp. Hailing from British Guiana, now known as Guyana, it sold for $8.3 million.
At the time of its creation, the colony’s stamps were all imported from Britain. But a shortage in 1855 prompted British Guiana’s postmaster to commission a new series from a local newspaper printer, according to Sotheby’s. The specimen sold on Tuesday is the only one known to have survived.
The last of Weitzman’s three items — which Sotheby’s had collectively dubbed the “Three Treasures” — was a sheet of the very first US airmail stamps, dating back to 1918.
The stamps are famous for an unusual mistake: Due a to a printing error, images of a plane on the front of the stamps appear upside down.
Known as “Inverted Jennies,” a reference to the nickname of the airplane featured in the design, only 100 of the stamps were produced before the error was discovered. The block of four stamps sold for $4.9 million to set a new auction record for a US philatelic item.
A printing error causes the planes to appear upside down on 100 of these 1918 airmail stamps. Credit: Courtesy Sotheby’s
“Today’s sale marked a historic moment in the history of stamp and coin collecting — and one that I think will not be surpassed for a long time, if ever,” said global head of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, Richard Austin, said in a press release.
Collector Weitzman meanwhile said in a press statement that it had “been an honor to be a custodian of these three legendary treasures.”
“I started coin collecting to pass the time in a full leg cast at the age of 12, and later became interested in stamps when my older brother left behind the stamp book he’d started when he went to college. The passion for collecting took root immediately, and today truly marked the culmination of a life’s work,” he said, adding that proceeds from the sale will “help support a number of charitable causes and educational endeavors that are near and dear to me.”
By Oscar Holland