One of my favorite numismatic stories goes like this:
The last Gold Certificates issued for circulation were Series 1913 and Series 1922. On April 5, 1933, as part of his New Deal financial measures, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order requiring the public to turn in Gold Certificates (as well as gold bullion and coins) by May 1st. The deadline was extended and on December 28, 1933, FDR further instructed private holders of Gold Certificates to deliver them to the U.S. Treasury Department for redemption and cancellation. On Jan. 17, 1934, Gold Certificates actually became illegal for individuals to own.
On December 13, 1935, a fire broke out in the Old Post Office Building in Washington DC. The building was constructed in 1899. The structure was the largest office building in the country at that time. Despite its size, the Post Office had outgrown the building within 15 years, and it moved to an even larger facility nearby.
The Old Post Office was scheduled for demolition, but the Depression left little money in the federal budget for such projects. So the building was designated as ?over-flow? and storage space for a variety of federal bureaus and departments. One of the departments utilizing the storage space was the U.S. Treasury Department.
Hoping to save records from the fire and water damage, clerks began to heave file boxes and documents out the windows. Lo and behold, included in the boxes thrown out were redeemed and canceled $10,000 Gold Certificates. They rained down from the sky on firefighters and bystanders. Can you imagine standing there watching the building burn, then $10,000 gold certificates start falling out of the sky, fluttering through the air like golden butterflies and landing on the ground. What a thrill that must have been! Do you know how much $10,000 was worth in 1935, during the Depression? Bystanders presumed they had a huge windfall, only to find out the notes had been canceled and could not be redeemed a second time.
Hundreds were salvaged by bystanders, though, and over the years it is believed as many as 500 have worked their way into collectors? hands. Since the federal government regarded these certificates as ?stolen? government property subject to seizure, it was illegal to possess them. Today these notes are sold quite openly in auctions and elsewhere. In addition to being canceled, some examples have water and/or fire damage, while others are nearly pristine except for their cancellation.
On April 24, 1964, ownership of Gold Certificates came full circle. On that date, Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon rescinded restrictions on ownership of Gold Certificates issued prior to Jan. 30, 1934. Could the $10,000 Gold Certificates that came raining down on bystanders during the Old Post Office Building fire of 1935 still be considered stolen property? Buyers beware!!