An anonymous buyer paid a record $7,395,000 Nov. 29 for the unique
1787 Brasher, Punch on Breast doubloon in a private transaction
announced Dec. 12.
Donald Doyle, president of Blanchard & Co., the Baton Rouge,
La., numismatic business that sold the coin after it passed through an
intermediate buyer, Dec. 13 confirmed the transaction to Coin
World, but declined to name the new owner at the owner’s request.
Doyle said the new owner is a single entity, but would not
disclose whether the buyer is a single individual or a consortium.
The nearly $7.4 million price paid for the coin places it third in
the ranking of highest priced American and U.S. coins, and at the top
of the list for a nonfederal, early American coin. The top-ranked coin
is a 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar sold at private treaty in May
2010 for $7.85 million. The highest price reached at auction is the
$7.59 million paid in July 2002 for the only 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold
$20 double eagle authorized for private ownership.
The Brasher doubloon just sold was also the prior record holder
for a nonfederal American coin. The unique Punch on Breast doubloon
has held the record in that category of coinage since it was purchased
for $2.99 million on Jan. 12, 2005, in Heritage Numismatic Auctions’
Platinum Night auction held in conjunction with the Florida United
Blanchard purchased the Punch on Breast example of the 1787
Brasher doubloon for an undisclosed sum from John Albanese — founder
of Certified Acceptance Corp., co-founder of Professional Coin Grading
Service and founder of Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Albanese purchased
the coin for an undisclosed sum through the majority owner of the
coin, Steven L. Contursi, founder and president of Rare Coin
Wholesalers of Dana Point, Calif. The multiple transactions from
Contursi to Blanchard’s customer took less than a month to consummate.
Albanese said Dec. 13 that he had offered $5.5 million for the
coin three years ago, but that offer was rejected by the coin’s co-owners.
Although Contursi declined to disclose the sum for which he sold
the coin to Albanese, he confirmed that, with accumulated interest
with loans associated with the coin over the past six years, he and
the coin’s co-owner, California dealer Donald Kagin, had a total of
$4.6 million invested in the coin.
Contursi said Dec. 13 that the decision to sell the unique Punch
on Breast example of 1787 Brasher doubloon sprouted from Contursi’s
submission of the coin and other coins in early to mid-November to CAC
for review, hoping to receive CAC’s sticker on the PCGS encapsulation.
Contursi said the deal to sell the coin was consummated through a
telephone “handshake” with Albanese after the doubloon was returned
from CAC with the CAC label confirming the grade.
At the January 2009 Heritage auction, Contursi placed the winning
bid for the coin, with Contursi holding two-thirds ownership and
Kagin, from Kagin’s in Tiburon, Calif., holding one-third interest.
Several weeks after the 2005 auction, the coin — then graded and
encapsulated NGC Extremely Fine 45 — was broken out of its slab and
submitted to PCGS. PCGS graded and encapsulated the coin AU-50.
Before Contursi had placed the winning bid for the coin in 2005,
Kagin was already the successful bidder in the same auction on three
other coins bearing metalsmith Ephraim Brasher’s EB counterstamps:
$7,475 for a Fine to Very Fine regulated Brazilian 1727-M gold
1,600-real coin; $609,000 for the Lima Style 1786 (“1742”) Brasher
doubloon, graded NGC EF-40; and $2,415,000 for a Punch on Wing 1787
Brasher doubloon of the New York Style, graded NGC About Uncirculated
55 (the Punch on Breast coin is also of the New York Style).
Kagin said Dec. 14 that the three coins he purchased individually
in January 2005 were eventually placed with one of his clients.
Brasher was a well-known silversmith and goldsmith of the Colonial
era, whose customers included President George Washington, Brasher’s
next-door neighbor in New York City.
Brasher also regulated precious metals coins for the Bank of New
York. As a regulator, Brasher checked a coin’s fineness and weight,
then countermarked it with his EB hallmark if the coin met the
standards of the day. Bank tellers could then accept the regulated
coins without having to check their weight.
Researchers currently believe that the Brasher doubloons had a
contemporary face value of $15, based on research by numismatist
William Swoger published in the June 1, 1992, issue of Coin World
reinterpreting the gold coin’s intended value.
In 1787, “dollar” was understood to mean the “Spanish milled
dollar,” or the silver 8-real coin minted for Spain and its colonies.
The corresponding value of a Spanish gold “doubloon” might fluctuate,
but an approximate figure given for years was $16. By the time Brasher
struck his gold pieces, however, New York had officially established a
new $15 standard.
New York, Lima Styles
Although dated 1742, the pieces referred to as Lima Style
doubloons are believed by researchers to have been produced in 1786,
in Brasher’s efforts toward making a circulating coin for local use.
The obverse of the Lima Style doubloon features, according to the
2005 auction lot description, a design reminiscent of the common
Philip V Lima doubloons: “Two pillars with fleur-de-lis above and
waves below, divided by two vertical lines into nine sections with L 8
V above, P V A central, and 7 4 2 below. All is enclosed in a beaded
border with BRASHER in small letters between bottom beads and waves.
Lettering around is absent on this example, the outer portions clipped
or filed away. Although not visible on this specimen, the obverse
legend reads: • PHILIP • V • D • G • H • REX ANO 1786. Between G and H
are small letters NY, identifying Brasher’s place of residence.”
For the Lima Style reverse, “A Jerusalem cross divides the die
into four quadrants. Rough engraved castles appear in the northwest
and southeast quadrants, lions in the opposing quadrants. EB hallmark
of Ephraim Brasher appears at the center of the cross. As the hallmark
was stamped at the center, on a raised portion of the design, it takes
on roughly the same shape as the design, thus is not a well defined
oval. Only portions of the reverse legend are legible on the Newcomer
specimen, and are not at all legible on this Paris specimen: I HISPAN
... IND REX.
“The complete legend would be: I HISPANIARUM ET IND REX.”
The New York Style doubloon’s obverse depicts an eagle beginning
to open its wings, with the EB punch either on the eagle’s breast, in
the case of the unique example, or on the eagle’s right wing (viewer’s
left) on the other six examples.
The reverse depicts the arms of New York, with the sun rising over
a mountainscape. Brasher’s surname appears below as BRASHER.
A unique 1787 New York Style half doubloon resides in the National
Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution at the Museum of
American History. ■