Displayed here are two objects of exceptional rarity in the fields of numismatics and philately: the 1933 Double Eagle Gold Coin and the “Inverted Jenny” 1918 Postage Stamp. Both owe their extraordinary value to historical flukes. In 1933, a half-million of the $20 coins were minted, just as the payout of gold was legally banned. All but a handful of the coins were melted down. The rest were never circulated. On display is the only 1933 Double Eagle that is legally owned by an individual. Similarly, only one sheet of 100 “Inverted Jenny” 24-cent stamps—featuring the image of an upside-down biplane—was mistakenly sold to an astute collector on the day of their issue in 1918. Commemorating the first official airmail flight, the stamps gained immediate notice for the printing error that created them. Separated and sold, the rare stamps became the target of both collectors and thieves. The fascinating backstories of these examples of the Double Eagle and the Inverted Jenny further enhance their distinctiveness for collectors and museumgoers alike.
The Unique United States 1933 Double Eagle Gold Coin
In 1934, two Double Eagles were sent to the Smithsonian Institution for preservation, but in 1944 the U.S. Secret Service determined that in 1937, a U.S. Mint employee had stolen a number of the coins destined for destruction. In 1996, the coin on display here—allegedly owned by King Farouk of Egypt—reemerged and in an out-of-court settlement was permitted to be sold at auction in 2002. In 2004, ten additional 1933 Double Eagles resurfaced, presented by attorneys representing the daughter of the Philadelphia dealer who had sold all the known stolen 1933 Double Eagles beginning in 1937. After drawn-out litigation in federal court, a 2011 jury unanimously declared the ten coins to be the property of the United States. The remarkable history of the 1933 Double Eagle has inspired four books, a documentary produced for the Smithsonian Channel, and an episode of the popular TV show The Closer.
The Unique United States “Inverted Jenny” 1918 Postage Stamp
In May 1918, the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp to celebrate the nation’s first airmail flight. Produced in haste before the inaugural run, the two-colored stamp featured a biplane, the Curtiss JN-4, or “Jenny.” First used in World War I, the plane was the nation’s first airmail carrier. The post office clerk who sold the only misprinted sheet of 100 stamps claimed ignorance, having never seen an airplane. The buyer rebuffed appeals by USPS inspectors to return the stamps, instead selling the sheet for a large profit. The new owner sold off individual stamps and groups, while retaining some for himself. The stamps on view here are known as a plate-block—stamps still attached to the original sheet and including the serial number of the printing plate, also inverted. The stamp memorializes the birth of airmail, which not only created a speedier mail service but also laid the groundwork for commercial aviation.
Designed by the renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the coin features the figure of Liberty striding before the Capitol building on the obverse and an eagle in flight on the reverse. The Double Eagle design was first minted in 1907.