Piece is very unlikely an authentic Brasher Doubloon
Dear Helaine and Joe:
Please review attached photographs of a 1787 Brasher Doubloon and give us your opinion of the value. Any information you can provide would be appreciated. Thank you, N.L.A.
Dear N. L. A.:
Just like the literary Peter and his proverbial principal, this letter raises us to our level of incompetence. But we do have a few thoughts on this subject.
Our first piece of advice is: Get thee to an expert.
N. L. A. needs a coin specialist of impeccable credentials, reputation and ethics. Avoid most coin dealers — except the most experienced, knowledgeable and reputable — and concentrate on the international auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Heritage and such.
Our research suggests to us there are fewer than 10 genuine 1787 Brasher Doubloons known (we could find seven). The odds of this one being real, of the period and by the maker are about the same as the odds of walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City and simultaneously getting hit by lightning and run over by a flying saucer. But stranger things have happened.
There is some debate as to which side of the coin is the obverse and which the reverse, so we will just refer to the two sides. One side has the seal of the state of New York, a landscape with a sunrise over a mountain peak and the ocean in the foreground surrounded by the words “Nova Eboraca” (Latin for “New York”), “Columbia” and “Excelsior.”
The other side has a spread winged eagle facing right with its head surrounded by 13 pointed stars. There is a shield at the eagle’s breast, the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“one from many” or “out of many, one”), and the date 1887. The initials “EB” for maker Ephraim Brasher (1744-1828) are located either over the eagle’s wing just above the shield, or on the eagle’s chest (there is just one known example of this type).
The first thing that N. L. A. should check is her coin is made from gold (about 22 karat), and should weigh in the neighborhood of 409 to 412 grains. We should mention that the last genuine Brasher Doubloon to turn up was in 1897 when a crew discovered one while digging up a sewer in Philadelphia.
Reproductions of the coin — technically, we discovered that it was not so much a coin as a pattern for a proposed coin — far outnumber the originals and have been made for a very long time. Examining the photographs supplied by N.L.A., we doubt the piece is made from gold, and we notice the stars are essentially raised hobs and do not have points.
The workmanship seems to be crude (at least to our eyes), but this may have something to do with what appears to be significant wear. Again, get thee to an expert. Yale University and the American Numismatic Society all have examples of genuine pieces. Value if genuine? Probably north of half a million dollars.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at treasuresknology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.