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Brasher Doubloons
By Alan Herbert

Sometimes Brasher doubloons seem to be more fiction than fact, as numerous correct - and incorrect - statements have been made about them over the years. First let's clear the air, as it were.

"Isn't the name of Ephraim Brasher usually mispronounced?" A descendent of the goldsmith points out the name is Huguenot, and is correctly pronounced BRAY'-sher."

"How many genuine Brasher doubloons are known?" At last count there are seven genuine, and as many thousands of copies. Of the genuine examples, one is in the Smithsonian, one in the Yale University Collection, one belongs to the American Numismatic Society, there was one in the Johns Hopkins University collection and the other three were in private hands.

"Supposedly Ephraim Brasher countermarked several foreign coins besides the well-known 'doubloons' he made." Three of the pieces, reputedly countermarked with the "EB" initials as an indication that he had tested their gold content, are a gold Portuguese four escudos dated 1755, a similar-size Brazilian 6,400-reis gold coin struck at Rio de Janeiro dated 1757 and an English Rose guinea dated 1779.

"There are Brasher doubloons copied in platinum? Copies of the (gold) Brasher doubloon were made in the early 1960s in platinum and silver by a firm in Massachusetts. At the time, the platinum version was offered at $500, but whether any were sold is unknown.

"It's been a long time since the last Brasher doubloon was discovered." The last of the seven reportedly was found by a crew digging up a sewer in Philadelphia in 1897. The others were found in the period from 1838 to 1897."

"Ephraim Brasher had a direct connection with George Washington and our first coinage." A receipt exists showing that Brasher sold "sundry articles of plate" valued at 283 pounds, three shillings and seven pence to the Washington household, which at the time was located at 3 Cherry St., next door to where Brasher lived in New York. The plate was never found among Washington's effects, and the possibility exists that this was the silver furnished to strike the first half dismes and dismes in 1792.

"There are brass replicas of the Brasher doubloon." Replicas, copies, fakes, you name it, and they are out there. There are literally thousands of copies of just about every famous or rare early American coin in public hands, and with the minor exception of a handful of contemporary copies they all are worthless.

The odds are overwhelming that your copy is one of the hundreds of thousands of cast pot metal or brass fakes that have flooded the hobby for the past five decades. While there are some few "genuine" copies (one group made in 1861 in copper or brass) they are of a different style than the original coins with larger letters.

"Brasher used at least five different countermarks, the 'EB' perhaps being the most famous." One of the others, "E.B. & Co.," is the same as a countermark from a New York firm, Erastus, Barton & Co., which also used E.B. & Co.

"The pieces carry the motto 'Pluribus E Unum,' but the motto didn't appear officially on U.S. coins until the 1795 gold $5" The other Brasher doubloon motto, "Nova Eborac Columbia Excelsior" comes out "New York and America, Ever Upwards."

"Adam Eckfeldt, coiner of the U.S. Mint, spotted the first one in a group of gold coins shipped to Mint in 1830 for assay and melting." One source indicates Brasher worked at the U.S. Mint in 1792 as an assayer.

"The Brasher pieces were struck as patterns for a New York state coinage but they were not accepted for that purpose." They are properly patterns and not coins, but it's difficult to keep from referring to them as coins.

"Why is the so-called Brasher doubloon coin so named?" Brasher gold pieces had the doubloon name tacked on in 1838 when an assayer determined that the pieces were the same weight as the Spanish doubloon, between 409 and 412 grains.

The famed pieces issued by the New York goldsmith were the same dimensions as the old Spanish and Portuguese doubloons, which at the time were worth about $16. The coin was also the size of the later gold $10.

There is a Brasher "half" doubloon as well as the well-known, full-size coins - a single specimen, which was in the Lilly collection and now is in the Smithsonian.


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