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Counterfeiting a Mid 20th Century Story, Part 2

Leland Howard became the czar of the Office of Gold and Silver Operations and imposed regulations in 1961 which limited importation of all gold coins without a license from the O.G.S.

It created a hardship, as the application for import approval (or disapproval) took from three weeks to several months, while the coins in question had to stay where they were. Collectors and dealers had to pay the sellers, and never knew what would be licensed and what could not be licensed.

In late 1963, Stack’s was offered a splendid collection of world gold coins assembled by a client and collector in The Netherlands, and we applied for a license to bring it into the United States and sell it at public auction. The collection contained many coins of the 16th through the 19th century and, as I recall, about 50 or so were struck or dated after 1933. The whole collection contained close to 1,000 different coins.

After months and months inquiring when we would get the license, the O.G.S. denied a number of coins. The collector in The Netherlands said he would not break up his collection because of the regulations “without explanation” in place. But he did promise to hold the collection for us and give us the opportunity of getting an administrative hearing at the Treasury Department. In late 1966 we presented our case.

First of all, the Office never listed or gave its criteria for an import license. They ruled as the coins were presented, accepted or denied, without explanation. At the hearing I was the main witness for our case (with a prominent Washington, DC, attorney at my side). I explained that the rules were not evident and that the actions by the Treasury were arbitrary and capricious. Backing my claim was Henry Grunthal, who was director of the American Numismatic Society, together with both Stefanellis, who were joint curators of the Smithsonian. After a lengthy hearing, Stack’s won the case. The examiner felt that the Office of Gold and Silver Operations’ actions were arbitrary and capricious.

However, the Office of Gold and Silver Operations denied the license, I believe because of the longstanding of Leland Howard in the Department. We were going to take the case higher, but our attorney advised that if we let it go for a few months there was evidence that things would change. In late 1967 Leland Howard retired from the department (with all the bells and whistles for long service) and within one month the rulings were rescinded.

Unfortunately, the client had earlier in 1967 lost patience with the United States’ rulings and regulations and sold the collection overseas. Stack’s won the battle but lost the war, but as it made the import of gold coins easier, I guess it was worth it!

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