Reprinted with permission from "Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States" by Donald H. Kagin, Ph.D. --
Many private gold coin enthusiasts argue that the gold doubloons issued by Ephraim Brasher in 1787 were our country's first private gold coins. Other authorities believe that they were only gold patterns for a proposed copper coinage. While there is little evidence to support either theory, it is certainly clear that these issues were struck prior to the birth of the United States of America. These coins, considered among the most valuable coins in the world, however, form an intriguing part of our country's numismatic history...
Ephraim Brasher was born in 1744 of Dutch ancestry. For some time he resided at No. 1 Cherry Street in New York City - next door to George Washington. By trade, he was a gold and silversmith and jeweler, and today his work is coveted by connoisseurs of early American art. In 1787, Brasher and John Baily petitioned the New York Assembly for the contract to coin coppers for the state. A committee of the legislature investigated the matter and recommended that the matter be postponed indefinitely.
Possibly to stimulate interest in his proposed coinage, Brasher issued his famous gold doubloons. The...known specimens...are the size of a Spanish doubloon (or 8 escudos piece), weighing approximately 408 grains or 39.4 grams, and, when issued, were worth about [$15]. The obverse central design shows the sun rising over mountains with a river in the foreground and Brasher below. This scene is surrounded by a ring of dots and the legend in Latin reading NOVA EBORACA COLUMBIA EXCELSIOR on the obverse, meaning "New York and America: Ever upward."
On the reverse is an eagle center facing left, an olive branch and bundle of arrows in its right and left talons, respectively. Its head is surrounded by thirteen stars and the entire figure is enclosed by a wreath. The outer border legend reads: *E PLURIBUS* UNUM. One of the ...specimens has an oval punch mark of EB impressed on the eagle's chest; the other[s] have the same counterstamp on the eagle's right wing. This is the identical hallmark which appears on much of Brasher's silverware and various foreign gold coins that passed through his hands (1766-90).
Besides being a jeweler and coiner, Brasher was a civic leader variously serving as Sanitary Commissioner, Coroner, Assistant Justice, Election Inspector, and Commissioner of Excise. In addition, he was a Lieutenant in the New York Volunteers during the Revolutionary War. Along with David Ott, Brasher was employed by the U.S. Mint in 1792 to assay various foreign gold coins in circulation and to report on their value. It may have been while employed in this capacity that Brasher issued two other types of gold "Doubloons."
In 1915, The American Numismatic Society's Committee on U.S. Coins first concluded that an additional variety of the Brasher Doubloon, called the Lima Style or Spanish-American Doubloon, was an authentic production of a private mint operated by Ephraim Brasher. The coin was described as an 8 escudos doubloon dated (1)742 struck from dies similar to those of the min in Lima, Peru, and counterstamped by Ephraim Brasher. It is a fairly good imitation of the Peruvian doubloons which circulated during the latter half of the 18th century. The coin first made its appearance in the Waldo Newcomer Collection and was later purchased by John Work Garrett, who eventually bequeathed it to Johns Hopkins University. Only one other specimen is known, both believed to have been struck in 1792.
A half Doubloon is also known, which is described as an "Impression from dies of the New York Doubloon but struck on a small planchet of only half the weight." This specimen was first offered for sale by numismatist David Proskey in 1928 and new reposes in the Smithsonian Institution's Josiah K. Lilly Collection/.
In recent years, some authorities have questioned the origins of both the Lima Style and half Doubloons. An excellent evaluation of these charges which supports the authenticity of these pieces can be found in Walter Breen's article, "The Rarest American Colonial and United States Gold Coins," Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, Vol. XXIII, No. 6 (June, 1957) pp. 1065-1068. The reasons for their striking, backdating, etc., are still a mystery.