$20 Gold Coin Sells For...A Mere $18.9 Million

Em Unravelling

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Double Eagle coinBBC News

It's a gold coin, shiny like pirate treasure. Shiny as a chocolate coin at Christmas. The sort of gold coin you might bite on, to prove it's real gold. It has a face value of $20...and it's just sold at Sotheby's for a cool $18.9m.

You see, it's the last gold coin that was ever minted in the United States for general circulation. That alone makes it fairly special, but added to the fact that it never actually made it as far as circulation - because President Franklin D Roosevelt removed the US from the Gold Standard, as he tried to drag the country out of depression - and it becomes more special still. Not least because, once Roosevelt had made his order, it became illegal to own the coin.

Most of the coins were destroyed - returned to the US government and melted down. But not this one. Despite the fact that in 1944 it was declared by the Secret Service that any of these coins found with collectors would be deemed stolen, it's somehow managed to remain in collectors' hands til today.

It's a beauty, all right. Called the Double Eagle, it has an American eagle on one side and Lady Liberty on the other, along with its year of issue - 1933. But it's still just a coin. A coin with a value, at creation, of just $20. Why, even given its rarity, would it be worth such a very large amount of money today?

One reason might be that the coin has an exciting historical past. Owned for a while by Egypt's King Farouk, it was part of a haul seized by a New York City sting operation and eventually made its way into the hands of its most recent owner, the shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. Weitzman sold it on Tuesday, but the new owner's name has not been revealed. The coin's value has gone up significantly since it last passed through Sotheby's, in 2002, when it changed hands for a mere $7.59m.

Another reason for its desirability might be that this Double Eagle coin, following a previous lawsuit between a past owner and the US Treasury, is not just rare - it's in fact the only one of its kind that is permitted to be owned by a private individual. So it's not just rare, it's unique. And that kind of uniqueness, it seems, comes with a nearly 19 million dollar price tag.

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