Simanaitis Says

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THE BRASHER DOUBLOON CAPER

EPHRAIM BRASHER, prominent colonial silversmith, lived in the fashionable Cherry Hill neighborhood of Manhattan. George Washington lived next door. It was 1787.

That year, Brasher and John Bailey, a fellow silversmith and noted swordmaker, sought a franchise to produce copper coins for the State of New York. The state, not wishing to ruffle federal feathers, denied the petition.

Instead, Brasher designed and minted a few gold doubloons. According to the Mises Institute, “Among the gold coins circulating in America were the French guinea, the Portuguese ‘joe,’ the Spanish doubloon, and Brazilian coins, while silver coins included the French crowns and livres.”

A Brasher doubloon, one of seven known to exist today. Image from Heritage Auctions.

According to a March 23, 2018, press release from Heritage Auctions, “The first gold coin struck in the United States—the finest certified 1787 New York Brasher Doubloon—has been sold for more than $5 million in a private treaty transaction involving Heritage Auctions, Monaco Rare Coins, and an anonymous West Coast collector. The more than $5 million deal sets one of the highest prices ever reported for an American coin.”

Brasher designed the coin with the New York Coat of Arms on one side and the Great Seal of the United States on the other. The Great Seal’s eagle clutching an olive branch and arrows also bears Brasher’s hallmark, EB, inside an oval on the eagle’s right wing. E PLURIBUS UNUM, “Out of Many, One,” is also inscribed.

The New York Coat of Arms features a sun rising over a mountain peak and the sea, with Brasher’s name inscribed below the waves. The state motto reads NOVA EBORACA COLUMBIA EXCELSIOR, “New York, Columbia, Ever Upward.”

There’s a touch of mystery concerning just where Ephraim Brasher and his neighbor George Washington resided. Cherry Hill was an elite neighborhood, just north of today’s Brooklyn Bridge. According to telegraph.co.uk, “Brasher lived at 3 Cherry Street and Washington at 1 Cherry Street…. The first American president was a loyal customer of Brasher’s, buying a number of other items including silver skewers.”

On the other hand (er… next door), according to coins.nd.edu, “Breen [Walter Breen] discovered that Brasher’s address in 1789–1790 was listed as number five Cherry Street in New York City, which was next door to George Washington’s residence.” This same source identifies April 17, 1790, as the day Washington bought “four silver skewers from Brasher for £8 8s 6d in New York currency.”

The real mystery of the Brasher Doubloon, though, came in The High Window, a 1942 Philip Marlowe tale by Raymond Chandler.

The High Window, By Raymond Chandler, Alfred A. Knopf, 1942.

Wealthy widow Elizabeth Bright Murdock hires private detective Marlowe to recover a Brasher Doubloon. There’s her son owing a lot of money to a nightclub owner; the son’s estranged wife/nightclub songstress; her friend who’s married to the nightclub owner; a timid family secretary; a guy with a suspicious receipt for dental chemistry; a rare coin dealer, R.I.P.; and a blond man who follows Marlowe around in a coupe.

By the time matters are settled (only a moderate spoiler alert required here), people are found dead, others fall out of high windows, and there’s one Brasher Doubloon too many. As Marlowe finally drives away from the Murdock home, he says, “I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.”

If you feel the same way about mystery novels, maybe you’d prefer a Brasher Doubloon flick. Indeed, there are two, both reviewed at IMDb, the Internet Movie Data Base: Time to Kill, 1942; and The Brasher Doubloon, 1947. If you’re prefer to make up your own mind, check out YouTube’s Time to Kill and The Brasher Doubloon.


I had a funny feeling as I saw them both and they were very good and I would never remember them again. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

One comment on “THE BRASHER DOUBLOON CAPER

  1. Eric A Prouty
    April 17, 2018

    Thanks for the history lesson, Dennis. Coins can be fascinating.

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