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The last time a 1933 gold “double eagle” sold, it went for $7.6 million.

That was nine years ago. Now the heirs of late coin dealer Israel Switt want to sell ten of the coins they found in a Wanamakers department store bag after Switt died.

The U.S. government, asked by the family to verify the coins’ authenticity, instead seized them — saying they were never supposed to have been released. All were ordered melted down on the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the height of the Great Depression.

So, argues the government, these ones must have been stolen.

The family indignantly disputes the claim. They want their coins back.

“In a case that began on Thursday, jurors are getting an unusual lesson in Depression-era history,” writes John Schwartz in the New York Times. “Each side explained in opening arguments that, for all of the history and complexities of 1930s Mint procedures and records to come, the case is quite simple.

“They disagreed, however, about what the simple point of the case was.”

Schwartz writes:

Assistant United States Attorney Jacqueline Romero, presenting the government’s case, told jurors, “You are going to hear a remarkable and intriguing story about gold coins that were stolen from the U.S. Mint.”

“Israel Switt was somehow involved” in the theft, she said, probably with the help of a corrupt cashier at the Philadelphia Mint. The government will prove, she pledged, that the heirs knew that the goods were not legitimately theirs, and so the jury should return the coins “to their rightful owner, the people of the United States of America.”

Barry Berke, a lawyer arguing on behalf of Mr. Switt’s heirs, the Langbord family, told the jury that the case was, simply, about power and government overreach. Washington should not be able to seize property from citizens “unless it can prove it is entitled to — and not just powerful enough to take it,” he said.

In 2004, Joan Langbord, Mr. Switt’s daughter, and her sons contacted the United States Mint to say they had discovered the 10 coins tucked away in a safe deposit box, within a folded Wanamaker’s department store bag, and asked for help in authenticating them. Instead, the government seized the double eagles.

Treasury agents said that since the coins had never been circulated, they undoubtedly were stolen.

The Langbords say that’s ridiculous. They want their coins back.

The 10 double eagles are estimated to be worth somewhere between $72 million and $150 million.

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