'The World's Most Famous Coin'
1787 DBLN New York-Style Brasher Doubloon, EB on Wing, MS65★
NGC. CAC. W-5840. The New York-style Brasher doubloon is
arguably the world's most famous numismatic rarity, and the
Stickney-Ellsworth-Garrett-Partrick example is the finest of the
mere seven known specimens. It is a coin any collector would love
to own, but only one will be able to possess. Acquired by pioneer
numismatist Matthew Stickney in 1848, the present coin has been
offered publicly only twice in all the intervening years since its
discovery. On both occasions it set a world-record price for any
coin ever offered at auction. In its first appearance, in Henry
Chapman's sale of the Stickney collection in 1907, it realized
$6,200, shattering the record of $2,165 set by the redoubtable 1822
half eagle in the S.H. & H. Chapman sale of the H.P. Smith
Collection the year before. It also far-outdistanced the Stickney
1804 dollar, which sold for $3,600. This amazing record stood for
22 years. In its second offering, from the fabled Garrett
Collection in 1979, it realized an equally spectacular total of
$725,000, a record price that was not surpassed for a decade. Thus,
for longer than any other coin, the Stickney Brasher doubloon held
the title of "the world's most valuable coin." Heritage Auctions is
indeed privileged to offer the finest-known example of the
celebrated 1787 New York-style Brasher doubloon in this
1787 New York-Style Brasher Doubloon, W-5840, MS65★
The Finest-Known Example
For information on Ephraim Brasher's eventful life, accomplishments, and other private coinage, click here.
Importance of the Brasher Doubloon
In addition to their absolute rarity, the New York-style doubloons are among the most important issues in the colonial coinage series. Along with the 1786 Lima-style doubloons, they comprise the earliest of the few pre-federal, private gold coins produced in the United States for the purpose of circulation.
B. Max Mehl commented on the importance of the New York-style doubloons, in both the colonial and private gold coinage collecting disciplines, in his catalog of the James Ten Eyck Collection:
"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, the importance of the New York-style Brasher doubloon extends far beyond its popularity with colonial and private gold collectors. The coins were produced to a high standard of weight and purity that served as an example for the gold coinage of this country (Brasher was employed as a contract-assayer for the newly established United States Mint in 1792). Ephraim Brasher's artisanal expertise was recognized by next-door neighbor George Washington, who purchased his silverware for use on formal occasions and dinners of state. Washington and the designers of the first federal coinage system were undoubtedly aware of Brasher and his private coinage, and benefited from his example of using exacting standards of weight and fineness in an era when much of the available foreign coinage was debased and of questionable value as a medium of exchange.
Douglas Mudd, Curator of the ANA Money Museum, notes, "The Brasher Doubloons have a mystique and aura all their own among American coins." Their appeal transcends traditional numismatics, extending far into other realms of popular culture. The coins have been popularized in detective novels and motion pictures, like The High Window, by Raymond Chandler, and The Brasher Doubloon, produced by 20th Century Fox, 1946. To the average American citizen, the Brasher doubloon is the archetype of a rare and valuable coin and enjoys a lofty status in pop culture that is unapproached by any other coin.
|The High Window by Raymond Chandler.||The Brasher Doubloon, 20th Century Fox.|
Design of the New York-Style Brasher Doubloon
Renaissance man Ephraim Brasher created his numismatic masterpiece, the New York style Brasher doubloon, sometime in 1787. The metallic specifications for the coins were virtually identical to those of his earlier 1786 Lima doubloons. However, the design was new and distinctly American:
Obverse: The obverse was adapted from the state coat of arms of New York. The sun is rising over the peak of a mountain with a body of water in the foreground. Brasher's name is spelled out below the waves, in small letters. This central device is enclosed within a circle of beads. The legend, around: NOVA EBORACA COLUMBIA EXCELSIOR with each word separated by a rosette. This legend translates to New York, America, Ever Higher. Excelsior remains the state motto to this day.
Note: Although NGC has designated the date side of the coin as the obverse, we have followed numismatic tradition in describing the landscape side as the obverse (per Crosby, Bowers, and the 2021 Guide Book).
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. These devices are similarly used on the Great Seal of the United States. As on most coins of this era, the denomination was not specifically expressed.
On one example of the New York style doubloon, Brasher impressed his counterstamp on the shield on the eagle's breast. On the other six known coins, the counterstamp was placed at slightly varying locations on the eagle's left (facing) wing. The specifications for the issue were:
Weight: 26.41 grams (per NGC).
Diameter: 29.8 mm (per NGC).
Die Alignment: 180 degrees, or coin-turn alignment.
Composition: gold 89.3%, silver 6.4%, copper approximately 3%, remainder trace elements (per Michael Hodder).
"The Brasher Doubloons have a mystique and aura all their own among American Coins."
-- Douglas Mudd, Curator of the ANA Money Museum.
The composition is interesting, as it varies from the earlier Spanish doubloons, which were approximately 90% gold, 8% silver, and 2% copper. Later U.S. gold coins reversed this ratio of silver to copper, keeping the gold at 90%. These measurements show that Brasher must have assayed his gold, probably from jewelry or other non-numismatic sources, and refined it himself to meet his unique standard of fineness, rather than simply melting a cache of older Latin American gold pieces to use in striking his doubloons. The different alloy for the later federal gold coinage proves that the doubloons were not fantasy pieces, struck at a later date from melted down U.S. coinage. At least one example of a half doubloon exists, now in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Many believe it was struck on an undersized planchet weighing half as much as the larger coins, from the same dies as the regular doubloons. A lesser-known theory suggests that it was a full-size doubloon cut down at a later date to disguise its prior damage from clipping.
Numismatic Discovery of the Brasher Doubloon
The Brasher doubloon was discovered by early numismatists long before the hobby became widespread in this country. It is commonly believed that Adam Eckfeldt rescued an example from a consignment of gold coins turned in for recoinage at the Philadelphia Mint before 1838. Because the Mint Cabinet was officially formed in that year, the date of accession is traditionally given as 1838, or circa 1838. This particular piece remains in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. However, there is no specific mention of its presence in the Mint Cabinet until 1846, when William E. DuBois penned his Pledges of History. The 1858 inventory of the Mint Cabinet records a "New York doubloon, history unknown." (References provided by Len Augsburger, Roger W. Burdette, and Joel J. Orosz.)
It is possible that wealthy Baltimore merchant and pioneer coin collector Robert Gilmor, Jr. acquired his example of the Brasher doubloon prior to that of the Mint Cabinet. Lyman Low's 1887 lot description of the Gilmor coin said that it had been " ... in one family (in Maryland) for over fifty years ...," but there is no supporting documentation. It is certain that Gilmor possessed it by early 1840. A March 18, 1840-dated letter from American numismatist W.G. Stearns to British collector Dr. Bowditch states:
"There is also a gold coin of New York, of the value of about ten dollars, but I know nothing of its place of coinage or its history. Obverse, the arms of New York. Reverse, the arms of the United States. The only specimen within my knowledge, is in the possession of Mr. Gilmor, of Baltimore. I have not seen the coin, and do not know even its date."
Stearns' letter is the earliest surviving mention of the Brasher doubloon in print. (Thanks to Joel J. Orosz for the above information relating to the Gilmor coin.) The letter was published in the July 1840--January 1841 volume of the Numismatic Chronicle and reprinted in the October 1872 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics.
By the late 1850s, when coin collecting first became popular in the United States, several more examples of the 1787 New York-style Brasher doubloon had surfaced. Although the issue was well-known to serious collectors, its early history remained somewhat nebulous. Numismatic writers, like William E. DuBois (1846), John H. Hickcox (1858), and Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson (1859), all cited the Brasher doubloon. In his American Numismatical Manual, Dickeson provided an illustration of the piece and reported that he knew of four examples, including the coin in the Mint Cabinet. The other three must have been: the piece discovered by Edward Cogan around 1858 that later became known as the Parmelee coin; the unique punch-on-breast example in the collection of Charles Ira Bushnell; and the present coin. These were the only examples known to the numismatic community at the time. The Gilmor piece (originally discovered by 1840) had faded from numismatic memory, the Jackman coin was not discovered until 1897, and the duPont Brasher was unknown until 1967. Dickeson's census was accepted as complete for almost 30 years. Indeed, when Sylvester Sage Crosby wrote his masterful Early Coins of America 16 years later, he too knew of only four examples:
"Four of these doubloons have come to our knowledge; they are owned by Mr. Bushnell, Mr. Parmelee, Mr. Stickney, and the United States Mint at Philadelphia; the first has the punch-mark on the breast of the eagle."
Seven examples of the 1787 Brasher doubloon are known to numismatists today. The present offering is the Matthew Adams Stickney coin, one of the four mentioned by Crosby above. The Gilmor coin resurfaced in 1887 as lot 524 of the John T. Raymond Collection (Lyman Low, 6/1887), bringing the number of known pieces up to five, and a sixth coin (Jackman) was uncovered in a Philadelphia excavation in 1897. A final example was discovered by B. Max Mehl in the 1930s, but it remained unknown to the numismatic community until 1967, when it was reported stolen from the collection of Willis duPont (see the roster below for a detailed history of the various coins).
The first auction appearance of a New York-style doubloon was in lot 1540 of the Fifth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1864). The coin was consigned by J.N.T. Levick, a prominent collector who was the treasurer of the American Numismatic Society from 1867 to 1874. It was purchased by Colin Lightbody for $400, a staggering price for any coin at the time. Of course, the fame and prestige of the Brasher doubloon have only increased over the years, and prices realized have grown exponentially. The most recent sale of a New York-style doubloon showcased the MS63 NGC example in lot 5100 of the FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), which realized a record price of $4,582,500. It resold in 2018 for more than $5 million to a private collector via Heritage Auctions. The unique punch-on-breast coin in AU50 condition as certified by PCGS reportedly sold privately for $7.4 million in December 2011.
History of the Present Coin
The first owner of record of the present coin was Matthew Adams Stickney, of Salem, Massachusetts. Stickney began collecting coins sometime around 1820, long before a large-scale numismatic community was organized in this country. There were no full-time coin dealers or hobby organizations and only a few isolated coin collectors, mostly located in the New York, Philadelphia, or Boston areas. As Stickney reported in a letter to Edward Cogan dated July 2, 1867:
"I have been for nearly fifty years a systematic collector of coins; and for a very long period, almost without a competitor; and very many of the rare coins which now enrich other cabinets were, by great solicitation, obtained from me. My facilities for collecting coins were remarkably good, through the friendship of Beebee & Parshall's Bullion Exchange, 22 ½ Wall St., N.Y. I received from them quarterly, from 1843, rare coins I was in search of, at par; and under all the changes of the firm, they continued to favor me till 1854, when, in consequence of ill health, I gave up my business."
Stickney's statement should not be taken to mean that he stopped collecting in 1854; he merely retired and stopped getting shipments from Beebee & Parshall's at that time. He had a strong relationship with the Mint, and his collection included silver proof sets of most years from 1843 to 1879, with minor proof sets continuing to 1889. He also saved gold dollars and three dollar gold pieces up to 1889, along with scattered dates of most silver denominations throughout this period. Stickney did not participate heavily in the major coin auctions that became a prominent feature of the numismatic scene from the 1860s onward. He acquired most of his notable coins at an early date, especially his extraordinary collection of colonial coins. The biggest part of his collection was assembled from over-the-counter transactions at his busy store, trades with other collectors, purchases from the U.S. Mint, and from his connections with bankers and bullion brokers (such as Beebee and Parshall's) in the days before coin collecting became a popular hobby.
The circumstances surrounding Stickney's acquisition of his Brasher doubloon have long been a mystery to numismatists, but recent research has uncovered a record of his purchase of his most important coin. Many letters addressed to Stickney from Beebee & Parshall's (or Beebee, Ludlow & Co., as the firm was known after December 31, 1845) have survived in Stickney's papers at the Peabody Essex Museum. Heritage numismatist David Stone discovered the following important missive in 2015 (see letter below):
"New York March 16th 1848
We received your letter enclosing $25 two weeks since but delayed answering until we would have some coins to send for your selection. We now send a bag contg. [containing] fourteen gold coins with prices marked. You can select what will please you and send the remainder back. We have not at present any silver coins.
Beebee, Ludlow & Co.
1848-Dated letter to Matthew Stickney from Beebee, Ludlow & Co.
A list of 14 gold coins from different countries was appended below, with the price for each piece included. The first item on the list was a $16 coin labeled "U.S. Nova Eboraca." Since the only gold coin ever produced in this country with the words Nova Eboraca in the legend was the 1787 New York-style doubloon, this offering must have been the source for the celebrated Stickney-Partrick specimen. The contemporary Spanish doubloons were worth eight escudos, or 16 Spanish milled dollars, so the price listed is an accurate evaluation of the doubloon's intrinsic value at the time. A number of calculations are sprinkled about the margins of the letter, possibly recorded by Stickney himself as he pondered the cost of various combinations of coins from the list. It is likely that he placed an X beside the items he decided not to purchase and paid Beebee, Ludlow & Co. $41.22 for the remaining items on the list, minus the $25 he had sent in his previous letter, but we cannot confirm that exact sequence of events. It seems overwhelmingly likely that this previously unknown transaction did result in Stickney's acquisition of the doubloon whether he purchased other coins on the list or not. Unfortunately, we have no information on the history of this coin before it turned up in Beebee, Ludlow & Company's coffers in 1848, and can only wonder that it survived in such pristine condition outside of numismatic hands for more than 60 years before Stickney acquired it.
Stickney, well known as an elite collector, assisted Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson in preparing his 1859 American Numismatical Manual, providing information about his unique "Janus Head" copper and several other coins. He retained his Brasher doubloon, along with the rest of his collection, until his death in 1894. Stickney's daughters held on to the collection for another 13 years, before consigning it to Philadelphia coin dealer Henry Chapman for sale in June of 1907. The Stickney sale was a monumental affair, as the collection included colonials, pioneer gold, patterns, Washington pieces, and federal issues, with great rarities in abundance. "Colonel" James W. Ellsworth was the most prominent buyer at the sale, bidding under his pseudonym of "Hercules." He purchased the 1776 Massachusetts "Janus" copper, the 1804 dollar, and the 1787 Brasher doubloon for record prices, the copper for $1,050, the dollar for $3,600, and the doubloon for a staggering $6,200. Chapman advertised the prices realized at the sale as "The Greatest Total of any Coin Sale ever held in America, $37,859.21." Thus, the price Ellsworth paid for those three coins ($10,850) accounted for nearly 1/3 of the value of the most lucrative U.S. coin sale ever held up to that time. The previous record price realized for any U.S. coin was the $2,165 paid for the extremely rare 1822 half eagle in lot 210 of the Harlan Page Smith Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1906). The Stickney Brasher doubloon nearly tripled the previous record. It would be 22 years before the record was broken again, by a couple of rare Territorial gold pieces in the George Alfred Lawrence Collection (Thomas Elder, 6/1929).
1773 Spanish doubloon, images courtesy of NGC.
Salem Courthouse, circa 1790, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Ellsworth displayed a number of his most important coins at the 1914 ANS Exhibition, including his Brasher doubloon, which was pictured on Plate 10 in the catalog of the exhibition. He continued collecting until 1923, when he sold his collection to a partnership of Wayte Raymond and John Work Garrett for the tremendous price of $100,000, nearly three times the price the Stickney Collection had realized in 1907. This was the largest numismatic transaction on record up to that time, and Raymond and Garrett split the collection between themselves, with Garrett acquiring the colonials (including the Brasher doubloon) and pioneer gold issues, and Raymond retaining most of the federal coins. Garrett valued the Brasher doubloon at the same $6,200 Ellsworth had paid for it, for purposes of splitting up the collection.
John Work Garrett had acquired full interest in the family coin collection from his brother Robert about four years before the blockbuster purchase of Ellsworth's collection. The Garrett Collection had been started by John's father, T. Harrison Garrett, when he was attending Princeton in the 1860s. The elder Garrett was a shrewd businessman and an astute collector who had dealings with many of the most important coin dealers and collectors of his day. He built possibly the finest U.S. coin collection of the 19th century before his unfortunate death in a boating accident in 1888. The collection passed to his sons after his death. Since John Work Garrett, the older son, was a career diplomat and frequently out of the country, the younger son, Robert, initially acted as administrator of the collection. Robert preserved it well and added some later issues to the gathering, especially proof sets. He was a careful buyer, perhaps less interested in numismatic matters than his father or brother, and his additions to the collection were relatively modest. He traded (or sold) his interest in the collection to his brother around 1919. T. Harrison Garrett had acquired the unique punch-on-breast Bushnell Brasher doubloon from Édouard Frossard around 1883, so after the purchase of the punch-on-wing Stickney coin in 1923, the Garrett Collection included an example of both types. The Garretts were technically not the first to accomplish this feat, as Lorin G. Parmelee had briefly owned both the punch-on-wing piece that he acquired from George Seavey and the punch-on-breast Bushnell example in the interval between buying the Bushnell Collection and selling it through the Chapman brothers in 1882. This was just an incidental occurrence for Parmelee, however, and John Work Garrett was the first collector to own both varieties as the result of a conscious collecting decision.
Garrett carefully preserved and expanded the collection until his death in 1942, after which it was bequeathed to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The coins were displayed and studied there for many years, under the curatorship of Carl Carlson and Susan Tripp, among others, before security concerns prompted the university to deaccession them in the 1970s. The collection was dispersed in a series of memorable auctions held by Stack's and Bowers and Ruddy Galleries between 1976 and 1981.
The Stickney Brasher doubloon was offered as lot 607 of the Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979). The event was held at the St. Moritz Hotel in New York City, and well-known colonial collector Donald Groves Partrick attended the auction, hoping to acquire the coin for his collection. In Abe Kosoff: Dean of Numismatics, Partrick recalled how he was encouraged to buy the coin by Kosoff and planned to acquire it months in advance of the sale:
"I remember that one night several collectors and dealers were having a general discussion in the lobby of a Chicago hotel. It was the summer of 1979. The discussion turned to the 1787 Brasher doubloon that Bowers & Ruddy Galleries would be offering as part of the Garrett Collection sale in New York City the following fall. As a collector I had always fantasized that someday I might be able to own the Brasher doubloon, but I had never truly expected that the opportunity would be offered to me, much less the opportunity to bid on the finest known example of this legendary rarity.
"That night, I remember Abe's comment was that in his opinion the numismatist who was fortunate enough to own a Brasher doubloon would have a treasure he would contemplate for the rest of his life."
Inspired by Kosoff's unselfish advice (he had no connection with the coin and would not profit from the transaction in any way), Partrick became determined to acquire the Stickney-Garrett Brasher doubloon. On the night of the auction, which was attended by Mr. Milton Brasher, a descendant of the famous Ephraim, Martin Monas acted as an agent for Partrick and secured the 1787 New York-style doubloon for a world record price of $725,000. It has remained the highlight of his remarkable collection for more than 40 years.
Garrett Library, Evergreen House, Baltimore, Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Although Heritage has offered three examples of the 1787 New York-style doubloon in the past two decades, it should not be assumed that the opportunity to acquire one of these iconic coins will come again any time soon. Only five examples are known in private hands, and they are always tightly held in long-term collections. There were no Brasher doubloons offered publicly from the time of the Ten Eyck sale in 1922 until Auction '79, a stretch of 57 years. Louis Eliasberg, one of the greatest collectors of all time, began collecting around 1925 and continued to add to his collection until his death in 1976, assembling the only complete collection of United States federal issues by date, mintmark, and major variety. Eliasberg also collected colonial, territorial, and world coins but, because his collecting life coincided with the long hiatus of public offerings, he never had the chance to purchase a Brasher doubloon. The fact that the coin offered here has been off the market for more than 40 years is typical, not exceptional, for examples of this issue.
The present coin is a star-designated Gem, the finest-known example of America's most famous coinage issue. The well-preserved surfaces retain much original mint luster and show only a few scattered, minor contact marks, with pleasing antique-gold patina throughout. An engraver's line was inscribed around the obverse periphery, providing a base for the date and a guide for the placement of the letters in the legend. The edges are smooth and slightly irregular, as often seen on coins of this vintage, which were struck without a confining collar. The design elements are sharply detailed in most areas, but some letters in EXCELSIOR and the tips of the feathers on the eagle's left (facing) wing show a touch of softness. The EB punch is bold and the position is slightly angled, halfway overlapping the wing and extending across the adjacent field, almost to the encircling wreath. Placement of the EB countermark was not standard, and the differences in its location are one way to easily tell the various examples apart. Overall eye appeal is terrific, technical quality is the finest available, and the historic importance of this issue is profound. We expect nothing short of a new world record when this remarkable lot is called.
Roster of 1787 New York Style Brasher Doubloons
Note: Heritage Auctions has now offered four of the five known New York-style doubloons outside of institutional collections (numbers 1, 2, 3, and 7 below). This is a record for any single auction firm, although the Chapman brothers did handle one specimen jointly (number 7 below), and Henry later handled three examples while operating his own firm (numbers 1, 3, and 5 below).
Punch on Wing Type
1. Stickney, MS65★ NGC CAC, 26.43 grams. Beebee, Ludlow & Co., Bullion and Exchange Bankers; sold to Matthew Adams Stickney for $16, per a letter dated March 16, 1848; Stickney Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1907), lot 236, realized $6,200; James W. Ellsworth, exhibited at the 1914 ANS Exhibition and pictured on Plate 10 of the catalog; John Work Garrett (with Wayte Raymond), via Knoedler Galleries in 1923; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 607, realized $725,000 to Martin Monas, acting as an agent for Donald G. Partrick. Former Guide Book plate coin. Plate coin for the 1914 ANS Exhibition Catalogue. The present coin.
2. Gilmor, MS63 PCGS, 26.40 grams. Robert Gilmor, Jr. by 1840; Gilmor family; Lyman Low; possibly John T. Raymond; John T. Raymond Collection (Lyman Low, 6/1887), lot 524, bought in by Low; purchased privately by Harold P. Newlin; Robert Coulton Davis; R.C. Davis Collection (New York Coin & Stamp Co., 1/1890), lot 2342, sold privately; John G. Mills, before February of 1895, per The Numismatist; James Ten Eyck, privately before 1910; James Ten Eyck Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1922), lot 374, realized $3,000; Virgil Brand (Brand Journal ID number 120069); Horace Brand; Robert Friedberg; Jack Friedberg, after Robert's death in 1963; Auction '79 (RARCOA, 7/1979), lot 1433, realized $430,000 to Walter Perschke; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5100, realized $4,582,500; Monaco Rare Coins (Adam Crum and Michael Carabini); sold to a private collector in 2018 for more than $5 million, via Heritage Auctions.
3. McCoy, AU55 PCGS, 26.41 grams. Edward Cogan; John F. McCoy; J.N.T. Levick; Fifth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1864), lot 1540, realized $400; Colin Lightbody; Sixth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 3/1865), lot 2628, realized $400; George F. Seavey; Seavey Descriptive Catalog (W.H. Strobridge, 6/1873), lot 157; Lorin G. Parmelee, who purchased Seavey's entire collection intact before the date of the public auction sale; Parmelee Collection (New York Coin & Stamp Co., 6/1890), lot 451, realized $415 to Édouard Frossard; Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie, exhibited at a meeting of the American Numismatic Society on December 6, 1894; Zabriskie Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1909), lot 73, realized $4,100; Virgil Brand (Brand Journal ID number 49064); Armin Brand (drew this coin in the division of the collection on 6/30/1932); 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); Dr. Jerome S. Coles; Stack's fixed price list, Summer 1997; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/1998), lot 199, not sold; Donald Kagin and Jay Parrino in February 1998, per Coin World (3/2/1998); private collector via Al Adams (Gold Rush Gallery, Inc.); Gold Rush Collection (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 30016, realized $2,415,000.
4. DuPont, AU58 estimated grade, 26.45 grams. B. Max Mehl (1933); Lammot duPont; Willis H. duPont (stolen October 1967, recovered July 1968). Although known to B. Max Mehl in 1933, this piece was apparently unknown to the numismatic community until it appeared on a list of material stolen from the duPont family in 1967.
5. Jackman-ANS, AU50 details, surface and rim damage, 26.63 grams. Found by unidentified laborers while digging a Philadelphia cellar in 1897; S.H. & H. Chapman (1897); Allison W. Jackman; Jackman Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1918), lot 140, realized $3,900; Waldo Newcomer Collection (Inventory number 2895, graded as Fine, with a cost of $3,900); 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.
Note: This coin has often been called the Philadelphia Sewer example, but that is incorrect. The description in the Jackman catalog states it was found by workmen digging a cellar for a building, not a sewer. In his article, "The Philadelphia Gold Hoard of 1872," in the April 2008, issue of The Colonial Newsletter, John Kleeberg noted that the doubloon was found along with "a nickel of 1866 or 1867"; the dirt the laborers dug up was fill that had been used to bring up the level of the street (Chapman 1918, lot 140).
6. Mint Cabinet, XF40 estimated grade, 26.36 grams. Adam Eckfeldt (pulled from a deposit of gold coinage at the Mint circa 1838); Mint Cabinet; National Numismatic Collection; Smithsonian Institution.
Punch on Breast Type
7. Bushnell, AU50 PCGS, 26.66 grams. Charles Ira Bushnell; Lorin G. Parmelee, privately; Bushnell Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1882), lot 892; Édouard Frossard, acting as an agent for George Parsons, purchased the coin at the sale for $505; offered in the March 1883 issue of Numisma; sold to the following, again with Frossard as agent; T. Harrison Garrett; Robert Garrett; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part IV (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1981), lot 2340, realized $625,000; Florida collector; sold privately in 1994 to Don Kagin and Jay Parrino, per Coin Week (7/3/2012); private collection; purchased in 1998 by a private collector via Al Adams (Gold Rush Gallery, Inc.); Gold Rush Collection (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 30017, realized $2,990,000; Steven Contursi and Don Kagin; purchased by CAC (John Albanese); sold to an undisclosed Wall Street investment firm via Blanchard's in December 2011 for $7,395,000; former Wall Street executive in 2015; offered privately by Jeff Sherid (PCAG Inc.) in June 2020 for $15 million, per the Los Angeles Daily News.
Provenance of the Stickney Brasher Doubloon
Only four collectors have owned the present coin since it first became known to the numismatic community in the mid-19th century. Their biographies are listed below, along with their dates of ownership.
Matthew Adams Stickney (1848-1894, Stickney Estate until 1907) was born in Rowley, Massachusetts, on September 23, 1805, the second son of Dudley Stickney and Elizabeth Davis Stickney. The Stickney family had deep roots in Rowley, but Dudley moved his family to Hancock County, Maine, when Matthew was one year old to pursue his trade as a lumber merchant. Matthew's mother died two years later and Dudley was remarried in 1811 to Anna Patterson. Dudley and Anna had two sons and two daughters from this second marriage.
In 1822, Matthew Stickney moved to South Danvers, Massachusetts, finding employment in the counting room of maritime merchants Sawyer and Pierce and learning the mercantile trade. In 1832 he purchased a long-established general store in Salem, Massachusetts from Caleb Smith. One year later he married Smith's daughter, Mary Elizabeth, but she died on May 9, 1834. He remarried in 1838, to Lucy Waters, and the couple had three daughters that survived to adulthood: Sarah Elizabeth (1839-1895); Lucy Waters (1843-1929); and Cornelia Augusta (1846-1925). None of Stickney's daughters ever married, and no direct descendants remain.
Stickney prospered in his grocery business and was able to pursue his intellectual interests on a large scale at a time when few people in this country could afford to compete with him. He was a dedicated collector of autographs, antique furniture, Indian relics, and almanacs, and an accomplished genealogist, but he will always be remembered for his magnificent coin collection. Stickney began his coin collection sometime between 1817 (per the American Journal of Numismatics) and 1823 (per Henry Chapman), and continued his numismatic studies until his death in 1894. Unlike most collectors from the bedrock age of coin collecting in this country, Stickney systematically collected federal coinage by date-runs, as well as the colonial, territorial, ancient, and foreign issues that his contemporaries found more interesting. He established relationships with prominent bullion dealers like Beebee and Parshall's in New York, who sent him coins in which he was interested on a quarterly basis until 1854, when he retired from business. From that firm, he acquired his Brasher doubloon in 1848 and his 1815 half eagle in 1851. He also established strong contacts at the Philadelphia Mint, where he traded some rare colonial coins for his Class I 1804 dollar in 1843, possibly the most famous numismatic transaction in history. In this fashion, Stickney built one of the greatest U.S. coin collections of all time in an era before there were any well-established coin dealers or numismatic organizations in this country. He assisted both Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson and Sylvester Sage Crosby in their important numismatic works. His daughters preserved his collection long after his death, and Lucy and Cornelia finally sold it through Henry Chapman in a blockbuster auction in 1907.
James William Ellsworth (1907-1923) was born in Hudson, Ohio, on October 13, 1849. His parents were Edgar Birge Ellsworth and Mary Holden Dawes Ellsworth. The Ellsworth family was well established in Hudson, as James' grandfather, Elisha Ellsworth, had moved there from Connecticut in 1816, followed shortly thereafter by his brother John and father, John, Senior. The Ellsworths owned large parcels of real estate in the Hudson area, and the family was prominent in the mercantile business, operating the Ellsworth and Buss general store facing the town green.
James attended Western Reserve Academy and chose a career in business, first apprenticing in a Cleveland drug store and then becoming a commission agent with Ames & Company, a coal establishment in Chicago, at age 20. He prospered in the coal business, taking over Ames & Company and renaming it the James W. Ellsworth Company within ten years. He rapidly expanded the company, with offices in Chicago, New York, and Pittsburgh, and built the Ellsworth building, one of the first skyscrapers in Chicago. By age 40, Ellsworth was one of the leading business moguls of the Gilded Age, amassing a fortune selling coal to the railroads in Chicago and serving as president of the Union National Bank. He married Chicago socialite Eva Francis Butler in 1874. The couple had a son, Lincoln, who later became a famous polar explorer, and a daughter, Clare. Eva died in 1888 and Ellsworth named his expanded estate in Hudson Evamere, in her memory. He remarried in 1898, to prominent New Yorker Julia Clark Fincke.
Ellsworth was a philanthropist and patron of the arts on a huge scale. He was one of the primary directors of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Later, he provided his hometown of Hudson, Ohio, with a community center and clock tower, and paved several roads in the area. He started his own power company, providing electricity and indoor plumbing to town buildings, with the power transmission cables underground. He founded the Western Reserve Telephone Company. He was a friend of President William McKinley, very active in Republican politics, and a leading proponent of prohibition. Among his many acquisitions was the Villa Palmieri, near Florence, Italy, where Boccaccio purportedly wrote the Decameron centuries before. Ellsworth collected coins, books, autographs, rugs, and works of art with equal enthusiasm. His holdings included a Gutenberg Bible and Rembrandt's masterpiece "Portrait of a Man," which is displayed in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art today.
As a director of the World Columbian Exposition, Ellsworth received the first Columbian half dollar struck in 1892. His magnificent coin collection, which he began around 1890, consisted of nearly 2,000 coins, ranging from rare colonial issues to great rarities of the 19th century. The collection included an extremely rare 1776 Continental dollar in silver, the unique set of 1783 Nova Constellatio patterns, five 1792 patterns, many rare Territorial gold issues, two 1804 dollars, and the finest-known Brasher doubloon, among other notable rarities. His collection was sold privately to a partnership of Wayte Raymond and John Work Garrett, through Knoedler Galleries, in 1923. The $100,000 price for the collection made this the largest numismatic transaction on record up to that time.
Ellsworth died at his villa in Italy on June 2, 1925, at age 75. His son, Lincoln, named a large tract of land in Antarctica after him, but the claim was never verified by the United States, so Ellsworth Land is not American soil.
John Work Garrett (1923-1942, Garrett bequest until 1979) was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 19, 1872. His grandfather, and namesake, John W. Garrett was the president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (the B & O Railroad of Monopoly board-game fame) and the family owned a bank and had shipping interests in Baltimore, as well. His father, T. Harrison Garrett, inherited the family business interests and formed possibly the finest collection of American coins of the 19th century. Following the untimely death of T. Harrison Garrett in a boating accident in 1888, the collection passed to his sons, John Work and Robert.
John Work Garrett graduated from Princeton University in 1895 and initially pursued a career in finance through the family bank. In 1901 he embarked on a diplomatic career with a post as Secretary of the United States legation at The Hague. Later postings included appointments as minister to Venezuela, Argentina, and the Netherlands, and ambassador to Italy. He was a special assistant to the ambassador to France from 1914 to 1917, and served on commissions to regulate the treatment of prisoners of war during World War I. He retired from the diplomatic service in 1933, returning to the family mansion, Evergreen, in Baltimore. He married Alice Warder, but the couple had no children.
An astute student of ornithology, Garrett was also an avid collector of autographs and books. His library comprised about 35,000 volumes, including examples of the first, second, third, and fourth folios of Shakespeare's works, published from 1623 to 1685. About 1919 he acquired full interest in the family coin collection. He conserved and greatly expanded the collection during his stewardship, with his greatest success coming in 1923, when he purchased the Ellsworth Collection in partnership with prominent coin dealer Wayte Raymond. Included in this transaction was the finest-known example of the Brasher doubloon, the coin offered in this lot.
Garrett died in Baltimore on June 26, 1942. His papers, much of his library, and coin collection were donated to Johns Hopkins University after his death. His wife, Alice, continued to live at Evergreen until her death in July of 1952. The house then passed to the University and serves as a museum and library today. Several daring numismatic robberies in the 1960s, including the theft of Brasher doubloons from the collections of Willis duPont and Yale University, raised security concerns about the Garrett collection in the 1970s. Faced with the choice of placing the collection in secure bank vaults where it was unavailable for study or risking catastrophic theft if it was left on display, the University decided to deaccession the collection. It was sold in a series of memorable auctions held by Stack's and Bowers and Ruddy from 1976 to 1981. The 1787 Brasher doubloon was purchased by Martin Monas, an agent of Donald Partrick, at the sale of the Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979) for a then-world-record price of $725,000.
Jon Hanson (left) and Donald Partrick (right) in the front row at the New Netherlands 60th Auction (12/1968)
Donald Groves Partrick (1979-2020) formed possibly the greatest collection of colonial coins, 1792 patterns, and Confederate coinage issues ever assembled. Beginning in the mid-1960s, with the help of his longtime friend and associate Jon Hanson, Partrick participated in such landmark auctions as Garrett, Brand, Roper, Norweb, and Ford, scrupulously seeking out the best pieces from those great collections for his cabinet. He purchased the finest-known example of the New York-style doubloon in lot 603 of the Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), for a world-record price of $725,000. He later acquired the finest-known example of the Lima doubloon, which was offered in lot 2341 of the Garrett Collection, Part IV (Bowers and Ruddy, 3/1981), through his valued consultant Jon Hanson. His collection remains simply the finest and most extensive gathering of colonial issues ever offered at public auction, with too many finest-known and extremely rare issues to list here.
Known as a "Long Island Specialist" in many pedigree records, Partrick was the head of an extremely successful real estate and development business in his home state of New York. He was a philanthropist on a grand scale, giving generously over the years to conservation concerns, educational institutions, community facilities, and numismatic organizations. He also owned a nature preserve in upstate New York.
The Stickney-Ellsworth-Garrett-Partrick Coin
The New York-style Brasher doubloon in this sale combines beauty, history, eminence, and rarity. This is the finest example of the world's most famous coin. Once ensconced in the prestigious cabinets of Stickney, Ellsworth, Garrett, and Partrick, it is now being made available at auction for only the third time since Ephraim Brasher minted it in 1787. Many will vie for this incomparable prize, but it will elevate the cabinet of only one fortunate collector.
Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 2B3J, PCGS# 487)
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
View all of [The Donald G. Partrick Collection ]
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