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that's about it."
"How come?"
"Very simple, Detective. After the Mint creates the coins-all coins-they have
to be 'monetized.' That's the process the Treasury Department has to go
through with every kind of currency, or else-like the Double Eagle-it never
becomes legitimate money. It's the process of monetizing the coins that makes
them legal tender." Stark sighed. "This particular value is all in the history
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of this piece, the uniqueness of it."
"You wanna tell me about that?"
"Certainly. If I entertain you enough, perhaps I can charm Ms. Cooper out of
some of these other little treasures," Stark said, referring to Queenie's
stash. "I'd like to see everything you found in the lady's closet."
He started after the Gold Rush of the 1840s, which placed the young American
nation among the wealthiest in the world. "The United States Mint needed a new
denomination for the growing economy, something more than the original
one-dollar gold piece. The highest value of currency that had been available
until then was the ten-dollar coin. So a bill was introduced in Congress to
create a twenty-dollar piece, cast with nearly a full ounce of gold."
Stark went back to his glass tagre and brought several coins back to us.
"Plenty of these twenty-dollar gold pieces to go around," he said. "They were
minted almost every year between 1850 and 1933."
I looked at the older version that he handed to me. "This one isn't nearly as
elegant as yours, is it?"
"You can thank Teddy Roosevelt for the improvement. While he was president, he
had a chance encounter with the man most people considered America's greatest
sculptor."
"Who was that?" Mercer asked.
"Saint-Gaudens. Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Roosevelt complained to him that the
U.S. coins lacked artistic qualities. Old Teddy wanted something to rival the
ancient Greeks, with brilliant design and high relief. He had found the man
capable of designing it. This new golden Double Eagle became the symbol of
American wealth and power, a very desirable object from the first moment it
went into circulation."
"There's only one bird on this thing," Mike said. "Why call it a Double
Eagle?"
"Because it was twice the amount of the old ten-dollar piece, which had been
nicknamed the Eagle."
"What ended the Eagle's flight?" I asked.
"Another Roosevelt, Ms. Cooper. Teddy's cousin, Franklin. By the time he was
inaugurated in 1933, the country was in the depths of the Great Depression.
You could buy a daily paper for two cents and a pack of cigarettes for a
quarter. The only thing that held its value during this crisis was gold
itself."
"So there was a run on the banks, and people began to hoard gold coins,"
Mercer said.
"And two days after he was sworn in, President Roosevelt closed all the banks,
embargoed the export of the very precious metal, and took America off the gold
standard. After March of 1933, never again was the United States Mint to issue
gold coinage."
"So Farouk's piece was made before FDR's proclamation?"
"Ah, the heart of the matter, Mr. Chapman. The Treasury Department prohibited
the Mint from monetizing, or legitimatizing, any gold coins from that point
on. But it neglected to forbid the actual production of the coins themselves."
"Farouk's Double Eagle was struck after we went off the gold standard?" I
asked.
Stark nodded his head. "The Mint was just a factory, after all. The engraving
for the coin had already been completed, the bullion was prepared, and within
a month after the embargo, one hundred thousand 1933 Double Eagles had been
cast. The Treasury realized the gaffe and immediately told the Mint not to
license this particular coin."
"So the Double Eagles existed& "
"Yes, Mr. Chapman," said Stark. "But they had only the value of a small gold
medallion. They were never legitimized."
Mike sat back in his chair. "That's an awful lot of gilded birds in the nest.
How could anybody account for them all?"
"There are wonderfully arcane regulations that have been in existence since
this country's birth," he answered. "Romans had their Trial of the Pyx, so our
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forefathers set up an assay commission. Samples of the strike were submitted
in locked boxes to be weighed and tested-a laborious series of
examinations-and while this was being done with just a few hundred coins, all
the others were kept in storage at the Mint."
"What became of the one hundred thousand?"
"In 1937, the order finally came from the Treasury-right from the president-to
melt down the entire strike. As far as the government knew, not a single coin
was left."
"So when did the Eagle fly out of the cage?" Mike asked.
"I'm afraid that's the first time our company came into this mix," Stark said.
"Nineteen forty-four. My father had been in business about ten years, doing
quite well, when a great private collection came on the market which he bought
for auction. The owner was a Colonel James Flanagan."
Stark took another sip of coffee. "Papa put an advertisement in all the
papers, announcing the sale. And for the final lot, the biggest prize, the ad
read, 'The Excessively Rare 1933 Double Eagle.' He was quite thrilled about
his coup."
"I guess that let the cat out of the bag," Mike said.
"Needless to say, that wording caught the attention of a few giants in the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]