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The Legendary Brasher Doubloon

July 30, 2018 0 Comments

Even the name sounds romantic, conjuring up visions of pirates and buccaneers, with bags of gold doubloons, so there will be a lot of interest at the up-coming World’s Fair of Money®, which is held in Philadelphia from August the 14th to the 18th, 2018.

The fair is organized by the American Numismatic Association. This non-profit body has been in existence since 1891, dedicated to promotion and education of coin collecting. If you make it to Philadelphia, head straight to booth #1431, where the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) are hosting the display of one of just seven known specimens of this rarest of American coins, the Brasher Doubloon.

Just last March 2018, one of these coins, the Perschke Specimen, MS63 NGC., was sold for a record $5 million. It is this very coin that will be displayed in Philadelphia, although the identity of the owner remains secret, and he or she is described only as a ‘West Coast Collector’. Considered the most valuable example of the Brasher Doubloon, it was first mentioned in a letter from 1840, as belonging to a Mr. Gilmore of Baltimore. The letter was written to a collector in England by the early American numismatist W.G. Sterns, and it is likely the Gilmore had owned the coin for some time.

By 1840 the origins of the Brasher Doubloon had faded from memory, but this famous coin was created by Ephraim Brasher. A silversmith, he came from an old Dutch New York family, and for a time lived next door to George Washington. The exact purpose of the doubloons he made is still debated, but the weight of opinion is that they were intended for circulation. That is, he made these coins for merchants to use for transactions. Since they contained gold worth, at that time, the considerable sum of $16, this seems a more plausible theory than its main rival – the idea that they were intended as souvenirs for visitors to New York City. Since that $16 would today be $6,500 in terms of relative wages, they would have been expensive souvenirs!

If the coins were for circulation, that makes them the first gold coins created in the USA for that purpose – sufficient reason to consider them outstanding collectors items, and the crème de la crème of all the coins an American collector would aspire to own.

While the real Brasher Doubloon is beyond the reach of almost everyone, there are copies created in the 19th century that are worthy of a place in a collection – and are the nearest we are likely to get to an original. These are electrotypes, made by electroplating a lead coin with a brass surface. The lead makes them feel heavy like gold, and the brass gives a fair impression of a gold finish. Many of these have nicks in them where previous owners have dug in to see if they are plated, or the real thing. Worth perhaps $50, they are the nearest any of us are likely to get to an original.

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