US Coins

Brasher doubloon sets record at auction: $9.36 million

A 1787 Brasher doubloon set a record for any U.S. gold coin when it realized $9.36 million in Heritage Auctions' Jan. 21 auction.

Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

News updated Jan. 28:

A 1787 Brasher doubloon set a record for any U.S. gold coin when it realized $9.36 million at Heritage Auctions Jan. 21 sale of the Donald G. Partrick Collection in Dallas.

The sale makes it the second most expensive U.S. coin to sell at auction.

The New York style, privately struck gold issue, with New York silversmith Ephraim Brasher’s distinctive EB punch on the eagle’s wing, was graded Mint State 65 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and had both an NGC Star and a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, which confirm its eye appeal.

Heritage president Greg Rohan placed the winning bid from a telephone bidder, saying after the sale that the winning bidder had never bought rare coins before purchasing all of the Brasher coins offered in the auction session for $11,940,000.

Legendary Texas dealer B. Max Mehl summarized the importance of Brasher’s New York style gold issues, with an eagle on one side and the arms of New York on the other, writing, “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.”

These were valued at $15 in New York currency in 1787, making them approximately equal to the Spanish doubloon which was equal to 16 Spanish dollars.

The just sold piece is the finest of just seven known — only five of which are in private hands — and is known as the Stickney specimen after its first documented owner Matthew Stickney who acquired it in 1848. It set a record for any U.S. coin at auction when it was offered as lot 607 of Bowers and Ruddy’s November 1979 sale of the John Work Garrett Collection, where it was purchased by an agent on behalf of Partrick for $725,000.

Lima style doubloon

After buying the famed New York style doubloon in 1979, Partrick would soon acquire the finest-known example of the Lima style Brasher doubloon for $80,000 when it was offered in lot 2341 of Part IV of the Garrett Collection in 1981.

Four decades later, it realized $2.1 million at the Partrick sale. Graded MS-61 by NGC and also carrying a green CAC sticker, Heritage calls the issue, “one of the most elusive and enigmatic issues of early American coinage.” It was only discovered in the 1890s and just two examples are known, of which the offered coin is by far the finest.

Heritage adds, “Lima style doubloons have always been overshadowed by their more famous New York style counterparts. However, the Lima doubloons are even rarer and may be of equal or greater historical importance.”

They were intended to closely resemble contemporary circulating Hispanic coins struck in the 1740s, but Brasher included their actual date of production on the coin.

Tests on the metal content of the New York and Lima style Brasher doubloons confirm that they contain nearly the same amount of gold as the Spanish coins they circulated alongside, but varied in the amounts of silver and copper in their alloy.

“Hence, Brasher’s coins had about the same intrinsic value as the Spanish coins, but the difference in the subsidiary elements in their alloy suggests they were not produced from common stock,” Heritage explains, before concluding that they were intended for circulation in the early America.

The EB punch is seen at the center of the reverse and is the same punch seen on other Brasher coins. A careful study, by Michael Hodder, of the punch marks indicated that the Lima style doubloons were counterstamped with the same punch that was used for the New York style doubloons, and the earlier state of the punch seen on the Lima-type issues confirms that they were produced first in 1786.

Both known examples are struck on a planchet that was too small for the dies.

Brasher’s distinctive punch

Brasher’s issues get their own page in the “Red Book” which also includes a listing for “Various gold coins with Brasher’s EB mark.” In an era before the Philadelphia Mint produced regular issue coins, Brasher would counterstamp the various gold coins from around the world that circulated in early America, providing evidence that he verified their value. These are eagerly collected by enthusiasts of early American coins, lured by their connection to the famed gold doubloon issues.

An 1757-R Brazil 6,400-real coin graded Very Fine 35 by NGC that was counterstamped by Ephraim Brasher and John Burger in the 1780s realized $138,000 in the Heritage auction. Burger’s ornate B counterstamp is placed over the king’s eye while Heritage characterizes Brasher’s EB countermark as placed “more respectfully in the king’s hair.” The host coin is slightly bent from the two counterstamps and shows a corresponding flat area on the reverse opposite the Burger stamp.

A Brasher counterstamp on a 1755 Portuguese 6,500-real coin — alternately known as a peca, 4 escudoes or “half Joe” — graded MS-61 by NGC, realized $132,000 in the auction. The EB counterstamp is on a gold plug above the king’s shoulder.

Heritage praises the unusually high grade for the host coin, which by the time Brasher stamped it, between 1783 and 1795, would have been minted at least three decades before.

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