The Brasher Doubloon

The Brasher Doubloon is one of the most enigmatic coins in American numismatic history. We know when it was minted, who minted it, and approximately how many pieces were minted. But why was the coin minted? What were the intentions of its creator, Ephraim Brasher? Did he seek to render a public service, providing a new gold coin based on an old model: the onza, or doubloon of Spanish America?


The First Presidential Mansion on Cherry St

Ephraim Brasher was a prominent New York City gold and silversmith who was often asked to weigh and verify the authenticity of foreign gold coins for customers. Several examples of foreign gold have been discovered counter-stamped with the initials EB in an oval. Apparently his stamp on a coin was taken as proof the item was of the proper weight and fineness. Brasher’s address in 1789-1790 was listed as number five Cherry Street in New York City, which was next door to George Washington’s residence. It has been reported that in Washington’s now lost household accounts there was an entry under April 17, 1790 stating Washington purchased four silver skewers from Brasher for £8 8s6d in New York currency. In November of 1792 with the assistance of David Ott he assayed several varieties if gold coins for the new federal government, thereafter we know Brasher assisted assaying gold for the U.S. Mint.

In 1787 Brasher appears to have joined with the New York silversmith and noted swordmaker, John Bailey in requesting a franchise to produce copper coins for the State of New York. The legislative record for February 12, 1787 stated, “the several petitions” of Brasher and Bailey were filed with the state. Because of the ambiguous wording it is not know if the petitions were joint ventures or simply individual petitions that just happened to have been submitted on the same day. Their petitions, along with the petition of their competitors, were denied a few months later when state decided to refrain from the minting of coppers. Soon after the unfavorable judgment Ephraim Brasher turned his attention from coppers back to designing and minting a few pattern gold doubloons. Apparently he had been working on a Lima style gold piece the preceding year.

The obverse of the gold doubloon displayed the state seal, depicting the sun rising over a mountain with the sea in the foreground surrounded with the legends: “NOVA EBORACA,” “COLUMBIA” and the state motto “EXCELSIOR” (Higher). Brasher also signed the coins by added his name below the scene. The obverse displayed the US eagle with shield and the unusually worded national motto “UNUM E PLURIBUS” (One from many) as well as the date 1787. After making the coins Brasher counterstamped his initials on the reverse, six examples survive with the stamp on the wing and one survives with the stamp on the shield. The example long held by Yale University was offered at auction but went unsold (with an $800,000 reserve) during a January 1998 Stack’s auction.


The first documentation of the doubloons was when a deposit of foreign gold pieces was made to the Philadelphia Mint in 1838. The depositor simply wished to have his metal restruck into federal coins or ingots, and it was the sharp eye of Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt that spotted the significance of the unknown gold piece. For some years, Eckfeldt had taken it upon himself to set aside interesting coins which came into the Mint for re-coining, paying for them from his own pocket. To this assemblage he added proof coins of the current year’s federal coinage, and these items formed the nucleus of the U. S. Mint’s own coin collection, since relocated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The first mention of the Mint Collection’s Brasher Doubloon appeared in 1846, when the Mint’s unofficial historian and numismatist, W. E. DuBois, described it as “a very remarkable gold coin, equal in value to a doubloon, coined at New York in 1787.” When published in 1858, J. H. Hickcox’s seminal book An Historical Account of American Coinage included a written description of this coin’s distinctive design. An even more influential and widely disseminated work was Professor Montroville W. Dickeson’s The American Numismatic Manual, and it too made reference to this curious rarity, tentatively labeling it a pattern. This coin was finally illustrated in Sylvester S. Crosby’s classic The Early Coins of America, which remains today the primary source of information about colonial and confederation coinage.

Collectors eagerly anticipated their first opportunity to bid on a Brasher doubloon in 1873, when one was cataloged by W. H. Strobridge as part of the George F. Seavey Collection. Unfortunately for collectors, the Seavey Collection was purchased all together by Boston bean tycoon Lorin G. Parmelee, and the public sale never occurred.

Only four examples were then known, of which one was unique from the others with Brasher’s EB hallmark stamped into the eagle’s breast. Its existence within the enormous collection of Charles Bushnell was revealed to the numismatic fraternity in 1864. This coin was the first of the Brasher’s to be sold to the public; the year was 1882, and the prize of securing the Bushnell Collection for auction had gone to the young upstart partnership of Philadelphia brothers Henry and Samuel Chapman. The unique Bushnell coin sold for the then very impressive sum of $505. Its purchaser was the prominent New York dealer Edouard Frossard, who quickly placed the doubloon with one of the greatest collectors of that or any time, T. Harrison Garrett of Baltimore.


John Work Garrett

Garrett’s enjoyment of his treasure was brief, however, as he perished in a boating accident on Chesapeake Bay in 1888. His collection of coins remained at his family’s home, Evergreen House, and it passed to his son Robert. More than 30 years later, Robert, who had added only a few recent pieces to the collection, traded his coins to brother John Work Garrett in exchange for artworks, which were more to his liking. John Work, on the other hand, possessed a deep passion for numismatics, and he filled countless gaps in the family coin collection, making it one of the greatest ever assembled.

Following the death of John Work Garrett in 1942 and that of his wife some years later, the immense Garrett Collection of coins was willed to the Johns Hopkins University, along with Evergreen House in which to store the coins, books and other valuables it contained. As the years passed, the growing value of the coin collection made it an insurance liability, and it was removed from public display during the 1970s. In 1976, a portion was sold at auction, while the core of the collection remained inside a vault. Shortly thereafter, the University determined that having a valuable coin collection did not contribute to its primary mission, and the decision was made to sell the remaining items.

A monumental, four-part sale was staged at the height of the coin market in 1979-81, and Sale 1 witnessed the offering of the finest known example of the “EB on wing” variety. Sale 4 was even more memorable, for it provided what was only the second opportunity since 1787 for collectors to bid on the unique “EB on breast” variety of the Brasher doubloon.

There are seven Brasher Doubloon’s known to be gracing numismatic collections across the nation. With it’s widely unknown history, it is the rarity and beauty of the coin that makes it so desirable to collect.

The 1787 Brasher Doubloon

One of the rarest coins in the world was made when a goldsmith and silversmith was denied a petition to mint his own coins.

A man named Ephraim Brasher wanted to mint his own copper coins, but ran into a roadblock: the State of New York did not want to mint copper coinage.

But Brasher already had skills applicable to creating his own coins, so he set out to making his own. At the time he was already well known for his skills and his hallmark (his initials ‘EB’), which was stamped on his own coins and any coins that he proofed. Brasher had already established his name, to the point that he was nationally recognized.

So, against the wishes of New York, Brasher made his own coins. Perhaps his high status in the numismatic industry made him a little too confident.

So why are Brasher doubloons the rarest in the world? Few were made, and very few survived, and the rarest of the doubloons are the few that were made in 22-carat gold. The coins made in copper were more common, so they don’t sell for as much.

What do these rare coins sell for? In 2005, Heritage Auction sold all three varieties of the doubloons, where the most valuable, the New York Style EB Punch on Wing, sold for $2,990,000. That wasn’t the highest price paid for a Brasher Doubloon, however. A Wall Street investment firm bought a Brasher Doubloon for the whopping price of almost $7.4 million. Now that’s a valuable coin!

Top 5 Most Expensive Coins in the World

These top five coins are the most expensive coins out there.

Currency is a funny thing — sometimes, thanks to government mishaps or indecision or even rogue goldsmiths, currency turns out to be worth much more than its original value.

Here we present to you the five most valuable coins (as determined by public auctions) in the world.

FlowingHairObverse1. The Flowing Hair dollar
The Flowing Hair dollar was the first coin to be issued by the U.S. Federal government. At the time, the Spanish dollar was a popular piece used for trade in the Americas, and so the U.S. based the Flowing Hair dollar’s size and weight on the Spanish dollar. In 1795, five years after the Flowing Hair dollar had been started in production, the “Draped Bust” dollar replaced it.

Where’s the money?: In 2013 a 1794 coin sold for 10 million dollars.

Double Eagle Obverse2. 1933 Double Eagle
The 1933 double eagle is a 20-dollar coin, with the second-highest price paid at auction for one U.S. Coin. A 1933 act in the U.S. called for people to trade in their gold coins for other currency, as gold coins were declared to no longer be legal tender. Most of these 1933 Double Eagle coins were melted down in the same year.

Where’s the money?: A 1933 Double Eagle sold in 2002 for 7.5 million.

brasher doubloon3. The 1787 Brasher Doubloon EG on Breast
In 1787, a goldsmith and silversmith named Ephraim Brasher petitioned New York State to mint copper coins. New York did not want to get into minting copper coinage, but Brasher himself had the skills to strike his own copper coins. He made his own copper and gold coins over the next few years.

Where’s the money?: A 1787 Brasher Doubloon sold for 7.4 million.

doubleleopard4. Edward III Gold Florin
In the 1340s, the English Parliament petitioned Edward III for the creation of gold coins for international trade. The new coins were florins of fine gold, worth six shillings, with designs of French influence.
The coin’s face value was higher than the value of its gold weight, and the six shillings value was not a good fit for England’s currency system. Soon the gold florin was replaced by the noble, worth a third of a pound and half of a mark – a much more useful ratio. Only three coins of this type have been known to survive the centuries, making them extremely valuable.

Where’s the money?: A 1343 Gold Florin sold for 6.8 million.


5. 1804 Class I Silver Dollar
The 1804 Silver Dollar (also known as the Bowed Liberty Dollar) had limited production in the 1830s and 1860s, long after its face date. It was not uncommon at the time to mint coins from older dates. Only fifteen genuine 1804 Silver Dollars exist.
There are many replicas and counterfeits of this coin, some made to trick collectors, some made as cheap substitutes.
According to legend, King Rama IV of Siam gave a 1804 silver dollar (produced in 1834) to Anna Leonowens as seen in the film The King and I. Anna’s family kept the coin for several generations until a pair of British ladies claiming to be her descendants sold the coin, where it found its way to the “King of Siam” collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

Where’s the money?: An 1804 Silver Dollar sold in 1999 for 4.14 million.