Coin Specifications

Category: Early American - Post-Declaration (1776-1820)
Mint: Philadelphia
Obverse Designer: Ephraim Brasher
Reverse Designer: Ephraim Brasher
Composition: Gold
Weight: 26.4100g
Diameter: 29.8mm
Edge: Plain
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Description & Analysis

Various theories have attempted to explain the purpose of the various Brasher Doubloons. Don Taxay suggested that they were struck from the dies intended for copper coinage, but that the gold version were intended as bribes for the New York State legislators who would favor Brasher and Bailey with a contract for the copper coinage. Taxay's comments probably came from Robert A. Vlack, in Early American Coins: "There is every reason to believe he [Brasher] contemplated expanding his profession to that of coinage as he filed a petition on February 11, 1787, with John Bailey, for the privilege of coining copper. It is reasonable to assume then, that these original dies were cut to serve more for a copper coinage for New York, than for a gold issue. This is supported by the fact that the dies were of the same size as that for the copper state coinage."

Another theory suggested that these coins were produced as souvenirs to visitors of Washington, who lived next door. The cataloger for RARCOA, in Auction '79, stated: "The logical conclusion, then, is that the coins were minted by Brasher to be sold as souvenirs. Brasher's shop was located at 1 Cherry Street (as listed in the 1787 New York Directory), directly next door to the 'first White House' where George Washington lived from his inauguration in April 1789 until February 1790. When important persons came to town, Brasher now had something to offer (other than his expensive hand-made silverware) that had a real, tangible value. For about $16, they could purchase a gold piece, complete with the famous and treasured hallmark of a well-known craftsman, that was a true souvenir of their visit to New York. This might account for the fact that at least three of the seven known Doubloons were discovered in Philadelphia." This souvenir theory suggests that the EB hallmark was famous and treasured. Today, we consider the hallmark to be famous and treasured as suggested. However, in the late 1700s, the hallmark was probably not all that famous. Although a number of gold coins had been stamped with the EB hallmark, it is doubtful that their continued circulation had reached enough people to make the hallmark famous. Even though the Doubloons contained about $16 worth of gold, this seems to be an expensive souvenir of a late 18th century visit.

In support of the theory that these coins were, in fact, intended to represent a gold coinage issue is the weight (and almost certainly the composition), which is virtually identical to that of the Spanish Doubloons in circulation at the time. The Doubloon was one of the most widely used of all circulating gold coins in America, according to Risk (p. 754): "Banker's lists of gold coins acceptable for receipts and payments show quite clearly that the pieces were largely the issues of Brazil and Portugal, Britain and France, and, possibly the most important, Spanish Mints in Mexico and Peru. It was in all these mints that the familiar single and double Pistoles and, above all, the Doubloons were struck. The latter were large coins, somewhat greater in diameter than the U.S. $20.00 gold piece, but thinner and worth about $16.00 in terms of the old United States gold coinage. The Doubloon was probably the most common gold trade coin used in Colonial America, and one with which every merchant of substance was on intimate speaking terms." Of all the theories created to explain the existence of the Brasher Doubloons, the gold coinage theory seems to be the most credible.

Importance of Brasher Doubloons

The Brasher Doubloons were the only colonial gold coinage issues produced with intent for circulation, and therefore, must be considered among the most important of all colonial coinage. A case can certainly be made that these are the most important American coins, bar none. In the Ten Eyck catalog, B. Max Mehl discussed these coins: "This celebrated coin has the unusual distinctive importance of being rightfully included in the American Colonial Series, and, as it is the first issue of a private gold coinage, is also included in that important series. For historical interest and numismatic rarity, this great coin is second to none. It is rightfully recognized as one of the greatest numismatic rarities of the world." Of course, Mehl was not above a little extra promotional effort as he continued, "As the other five of the six known [in 1922] specimens are in all probability out of the market for all time, the one offered here is undoubtedly the only purchasable one." In 1922, the others were owned by the Smithsonian Institution, the Garrett family (two), Virgil Brand, and Waldo Newcomer.

Today, two of the seven known specimens are in museums, including the aforementioned Smithsonian specimen and the Waldo Newcomer specimen that was donated to the American Numismatic Society by the Norweb family.

Obverse and Reverse Design

Obverse: The sun is rising over the peak of a mountain with a body of water in the foreground. Brasher is below the waves, in small letters. This central device is enclosed within a circle of beads. The legend, around: NOVA EBORACA COLUMBIA EXCELSIOR has each word separated by a rosette. The legend translates to New York, America, Ever Higher. Excelsior remains the state motto to this day.

Reverse: An eagle with wings displayed, and a shield covering its breast, has a bundle of arrows in its sinister claw (to the observer's right) and an olive branch in its dexter claw. Thirteen stars surround the eagle's head. This central device is enclosed in a continuous wreath. Around, the legend: UNUM E PLURIBUS with the words separated by stars. This legend translates to One of Many. Below, the date 1787 is flanked by rosettes.

In The Early Coins of America, Sylvester S. Crosby provided the following descriptions of the obverse and reverse designs:

"Device [obverse] - the sun rising from behind a range of mountains; at their foot, in the foreground is the sea; BRASHER underneath, a beaded circle around. Legend - NOVA EBORACA COLUMBIA EXCELSIOR."

"Device [reverse] - An eagle, displayed, on his breast a shield argent, seven pales gules, a chief azure; in his right talon is an olive branch, and in his left, a bundle of arrows; about his head are thirteen stars, and on his right wing is an oval punch-mark with the letters E B. The device is encircled by a wreath of leaves. Legend - UNUM E PLURIBUS 1787."

Crosby's description of the obverse device takes on a geographical difficulty, suggesting that the sun is rising over a mountain, which would necessarily be east of the sea.

Roster of the Brasher New York Style Doubloons

Six Known With Hallmark on Wing

  1. Mint Specimen. Adam Eckfeldt (pulled from a deposit of gold coinage at the Mint in 1838); Mint Cabinet; National Numismatic Collection; Smithsonian Institution. 26.36 grams.

  2. Parmelee Specimen. Edward Cogan; John F. McCoy; J.N.T. Levick (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1864), lot 1540; Colin Lightbody (W. Elliot Woodward, 3/1865); George F. Seavey (W.H. Strobridge descriptive catalog); Lorin G. Parmelee (New York Coin & Stamp Co., 6/1890), lot 451, $415; Andrew C. Zabriskie (Henry Chapman, 6/1909); Virgil Brand; B.G. Johnson; F.C.C. Boyd; Rev. William H. Owen, curator of the Yale University Collection; Yale University (stolen May 1965, recovered 1967); Stack's (offered privately, 1/1981); Stack's (1/1998), lot 199, not sold; later, Donald Kagin and Jay Parrino; Gold Rush Collection. 26.41 grams.

  3. Newlin Specimen. Gilmor family; J.T. Raymond; Harold P. Newlin; Robert Coulton Davis (New York Coin & Stamp Co., 1/1890), lot 2342; John G. Mills, privately; James Ten Eyck (B. Max Mehl, 5/1922), lot 374 $3,000; Virgil Brand; Robert Friedberg; RARCOA (Auction '79), lot 1433; Walter Perschke. 26.40 grams. Carl W.A. Carlson found a letter from William G. Stearns to a numismatist in England, written in 1840, that discussed this piece and noted that it was in the Gilmor family collection in the 1830s, prior to the Eckfeldt discovery, thus this coin would actually be the "discovery specimen" of the Brasher Doubloon. The Newlin Specimen was displayed at the 1964 World's Fair in New York through courtesy of the coin and stamp department at Gimbel's Department Store. The concession was operated by Robert Friedberg.

  4. Stickney Specimen. Matthew A. Stickney (Henry Chapman, 6/1907), lot 236, $6,200; J.W. Ellsworth; Wayte Raymond; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 603. Illustrated on plate 10 in the 1914 ANS Exhibition Catalog. 26.43 grams.

  5. Philadelphia Sewer Specimen. Found by unidentified laborers in a Philadelphia Sewer in 1897; S.H. & H. Chapman (1897); A.W. Jackman (Henry Chapman, 6/1918); Waldo Newcomer; Col. E.H.R. Green; William Randolph Hearst; B.G. Johnson; F.C.C. Boyd; New Netherlands Coin Company; Mrs. R. Henry Norweb (1969); American Numismatic Society. 26.63 grams.

  6. DuPont Specimen. B. Max Mehl (1933); Lammont duPont; Willis H. duPont (stolen October 1967, recovered July 1968). 26.45 grams. Although known to B. Max Mehl in 1933, this piece was essentially unknown to the numismatic community until it appeared on a list of material stolen from the duPont family in 1967.

Additional Notes

Raymond Chandler novel The High Window (1942) and the film adaptation The Brasher Doubloon (1947), predated the theft of this piece by 20 years. The piece that actually appeared in the movie was a non-genuine prop piece. When Stack's offered the Yale University specimen, they prepared a booklet to accompany the coin. The text was reprinted in The Colonial Newsletter, September 1981, sequential page 753.

Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.


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Total Graded: 2
Low Grade: 55
Average Grade: 60
High Grade: 63

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