Man with a legally incorrect idea cannot get paid for that idea

Swoger v. Rare Coin Wholesalers, No. 13-56501 (9th Cir. Oct. 8, 2015).

A Brasher Doubloon (coined in 1787)

A Brasher Doubloon (coined in 1787)

“Brasher Doubloon” is not the name of a Vine star or a character in a late Henry James novel: it’s a much-prized coin with a face value of $15. Brasher Doubloons were minted by the New York goldsmith Ephraim Brasher in the late eighteenth century. William Swoger, a numismatist, told a rare-coin company that he had information proving that one of the company’s coins was a Brasher Doubloon—and not just any Brasher Doubloon. Swoger told the company that he could prove that the coin was the first legal-tender coin minted under an Act of Congress.

Swoger and the company started negotiations on an information-for-money deal, but the company insisted that it would pay only after Swoger proved that he really had information. So Swoger did. He told the company that its coin was minted under a 1793 federal law, and that under this law, Spanish and Spanish colonial coins worth $15 had to weigh 411 grains. Because the company’s coin weighed 410.5 grains, it was surely minted under this 1793 federal law.

The rare-coin company refused to pay Swoger for this information, so Swoger sued.

The Ninth Circuit points out the strangeness of Swoger’s reasoning. The part of the 1793 law to which Swoger pointed regulated which foreign coins could pass for legal tender in the United States, and at what weighs they could pass. But Swoger told the company that its coin was the first coin minted under an Act of Congress. And foreign coins were not, of course, minted under an Act of Congress. So Swoger’s information was worthless and he has no claim of any kind. 

I wonder if there’s yet another problem with Swoger’s theory. The 1793 law was not actually the first federal law providing for the minting of coins. That law, as far as I can tell, was the Coinage Act of 1792. So, even if the coin had been minted under the 1793 act, Swoger would seem to be wrong, since a coin minted under the 1793 act could not be the first legal-tender coin minted under an Act of Congress.