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1787 DBLN Brasher New York Style Doubloon. EB Punch on Wing. AU55 NGC....
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Obverse and Reverse
The obverse is much the same with strong central details. Most of the details of the mountain are well-defined, with some weakness on the northern slope, which assumes that the sun is rising over the mountain peak and that the viewer is therefore facing to the east. Alternatively, this may be a setting mountain with the viewer facing to the left, in which case the weakness of strike would be the southern slope.
The reverse has rich yellow gold surfaces that exhibit a touch of green, with nearly full luster. There appears to be a nearly complete circular guide line along or near the tops of all the letters. Much of the detail, especially including the letters, appears to be double struck to bring out the detail. The EB punch, in an oval, is countermarked in the eagle's right wing, to the viewer's left.
Breen Encyclopedia 981.
Weight: 26.41 grams (per Walter Breen).
Diameter: 29.8 mm. (per Walter Breen).
Die Alignment: 180 degrees, or coin-turn alignment.
The NGC Photo-Proof lists a different set of specifications, and they are recorded as the same for both specimens. As those specifications are the same as the general specifications recorded by Walter Breen in his Complete Encyclopedia, it is likely that they simply copied this information from his work.
Edward Cogan was born in England on January 5, 1803 and died on April 7, 1884. Cogan came to the United States in 1853, and he and his wife Louise had eight children. Cogan conducted 69 auction sales, with the first held in Philadelphia in 1855. Cogan was an important figure in the earliest numismatic activities in this country.
John F. McCoy was a collector active in the middle part of the 19th century.
Joseph N.T. Levick was born circa 1828 and died in October 1908. He was a captain with the New York Volunteers in the Civil War. It was Levick who proposed that the American Numismatic Society have a published magazine and the American Journal of Numismatics was begun in 1866. He served as treasurer of the ANS from 1867 to 1874. Levick advertised himself as a banker and broker of government securities, foreign and domestic specie, stocks, bonds, and gold. He also dealt in rare coins. His name appeared in conjunction with several 19th century auctions sales including W. Elliott Woodard's sale of October 1864 where the Brasher Doubloon was lot 1540.
Colin Lightbody was a collector active in the middle 19th century. His collection was auctioned by Woodward in March 1865.
George F. Seavey formed an extensive collection that was displayed at the Boston Numismatic Society meeting of February 4, 1869, and was described as a complete collection. At the time, mintmarks were not considered important, thus the collection would have been essentially complete by date. His collection was cataloged for auction sale to be held in 1873. Although 150 copies of the catalog were printed by W.H. Strobridge, the auction was canceled when Lorin Parmelee bought the entire collection intact.
Lorin G. Parmelee was born on May 27, 1827 near Wilmington, Vermont. He lived a brief time in Illinois but returned to the east. Parmelee was a bean baker in Boston until 1893. During the 1850s, as he received a number of copper cents, he garnered requests from collectors to search these for needed dates. He began selling some of those for 10 to 25 cents each, at the same time beginning his own collecting activities. Parmelee purchased several collections intact, including the Seavey Collection in 1873 for which he paid $15,000. He also bought the Bushnell Collection which he had the Chapman Brothers sell in June 1882. Much of his collection was sold by Harlan Page Smith of the New York Coin and Stamp Company in June 1890, including the Doubloon which was lot 451 and realized $415.
Andrew C. Zabriskie was born in New York on May 30, 1853 and married Francis Hunter on June 6, 1895. Zabriskie served as third vice-president of the American Numismatic Society from March 16, 1880 to March 18,1884, as first vice-president from March 18, 1884 to March 16, 1896, and as the society's president from that date until January 16, 1905. He was a member of the 7th regiment of the National Guard of New York from 1873 until 1898, and was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1908. Zabriskie had privately purchased gold coins from the collection of Augustus Humbert before it was offered for public sale. His death occurred at his home, Blithewood, in Barrytown-on-Hudson, NY. When his own collection was offered for sale by Henry Chapman in June 1909, private and territorial gold pieces brought the highest prices. He was the author of a book on Political and Memorial Medals of Abraham Lincoln. The Zabriskie Collection was sold by Henry Chapman in June 1909.
Virgil Brand lived from January 16, 1862 until June 20, 1926. His entire life was spent in the vicinity of Chicago, Illinois. He was employed in the brewery business of his father, the Michael Brand & Company Brewery. He worked into the office of President of the United States Brewing Company and opened his own Brand Brewing Company in 1899. Ten years earlier, he began his coin collecting activities. If numbers of coins is the criteria, Brand formed one of the most extensive collections in this country, numbering approximately 350,000 pieces. After his death, settlement of the Brand Estate took considerable time. In fact, one commentary suggests that an attorney passed the bar, went to work on the Brand Estate, and retired before it was completely settled.
Burdette G. Johnson was born in DeSoto, Missouri on January 2, 1885, and died in St. Louis on February 24, 1947. He was self educated and read a book a day after he learned to read. Johnson was never married. He and his partner, David A. Sutherland, operated St. Louis Stamp and Coin Company, which they bought from F.E. Ellis on July 7, 1907. Just over a year later, Johnson bought out his partner. Johnson conducted 36 auction sales from 1902 to 1915. He was a mentor of Eric Newman, and these two purchased all five 1913 Liberty Nickels from the Colonel Green estate in 1942. Johnson received numerous large consignments from Armin Brand, representing coins from the Virgil Brand estate. He died on a street car in St. Louis on his way to work.
Frederick C.C. Boyd was born in New York City on April 10, 1886 and died on September 7, 1958. He is visible to the numismatic world today through the sales of the John J. Ford Collection, the latter having acquired many numismatic items from Boyd. His employment was as an advertising manager of the American Tobacco Company in New York, later managing the Union News Company. During the 1930s, Boyd served as a board member of the National Recovery Administration, and later as a board member of the Office of Price Administration during the second World War. His numismatic interests were far reaching, from colonials to odd and curious, as well as political ribbons. In 1945 and 1946, Abe Kosoff and his Numismatic Gallery sold portions of the Boyd Collection under the non de plume "World's Greatest Collection."
Rev. William H. Owen was a curator of the Yale University Collection. Owen purchased his Brasher Doubloon and donated it to the University. After the donation, this Doubloon remained in the Yale University holdings until the decision was made to sell it for needed funds. Stack's offered the coin privately in January 1981 at $650,000. Later, the same firm offered it for sale in their January 1998 sale as lot 199, but it failed to meet the reserve at that time.
Donald Kagin and Jay Parrino joined forces to purchase this coin at a later date, before it found its way to the Gold Rush Collection.
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.
From The Gold Rush Collection. (PCGS# 487)
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