The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 24, Number 10, March 7, 2021, Article 24


Bob Leonard submitted this piece on the Brasher Half Doubloon in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Thanks! -Editor

Brasher Half Doubloon reverse Brasher Half Doubloon obverse

The Unique Brasher Half Doubloon

I got my copy of Michael Carabini and Adam Crum's The Brasher Doubloon: America's First Gold Coin recently, and see that Kenneth Bressett was offered the unique half doubloon in the early 1950s but had to pass on account of price. Curiously, this seems to be the only mention of the half doubloon in the entire book, perhaps because it is noncollectible. There is an interesting story related to this coin—documented in the Newman Numismatic Portal—that deserves to be resolved.

But first, let's look at its apparent pedigree, based on Douglas A. Winter's article in Coin World, Aug. 17, 1983, ads for it, material in the NNP, Harvey Stack's published recollections, and what I could find out about E. Arthur Ball and Col. Green:

Smithsonian Institution, June 13, 1968 to date; Josiah K. Lilly Estate; Josiah K. Lilly Collection, circa 1956/1964 - May 5, 1966; Stack's (perhaps as agents); unknown intermediaries; E. Arthur Ball Estate, Muncie, Indiana, May 1948 – early 1950s; E. Arthur Ball Collection, 1946 – April 16, 1947; Stack's, 1943 – 1945 or later (offered in The Numismatist Feb. 1946, p. 200, at $10,000 "Uncirculated"); Col. E. H. R. Green Estate (Chase National Bank, Executor of U.S. Gold Coins, June 1936 – 1943); Col. E. H. R. Green Collection early 1930s – June 8, 1936; F. C. C. Boyd, 1925 – early 1930s; [Elmer Sears offered to J. W. Garrett April 23, 1925 for $7500, but declined May 4, 1925; previously offered to Waldo Newcomer, who also declined.]; discovered by David Proskey circa 1925? ("around 1928" per Numisma, March-April, 1957) in a lot of South American gold coins; "lady" seller to David Proskey. (Note: The NNP gives the page number of the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine ad for May 1948 as 64, while it is actually 486; apparently it is the 64th page in the May issue, and the scanning software simply renumbers with each issue.)

I am now convinced that the Brasher half doubloon is perfectly legitimate, though an odd way for Brasher to inspire confidence in his doubloons. Everyone who examined it—Sears, Bressett, Bowers—has remarked that it is struck on a thinner planchet, in addition to being somewhat smaller in diameter. Sears gave its weight as 196.7 grains, compared to 406-407 grains for a full doubloon. Perhaps it was intended to be used as jewelry; after seeing it, Bowers mentioned that it has filing and cutting on part of the edge.

Despite having a pedigree almost a century old, the half doubloon has at times been condemned by both Newman and Bressett, among others. This is because of a tale told by long-time Chicago Coin Club member James L. Doak beginning in the late 1960s; I heard a version of it from him at the Chicago Coin Club meeting March 10, 1971. At that time Doak said that around 1949 he had seen a Brasher doubloon with a large hole near the rim which had come out of the Ball Estate; it was offered to him (and other dealers), but he refused because of the severe damage. He said that it was then sent to a dealer in New York, and the "half doubloon" later surfaced, to be was acquired by Stack's for the Lilly Collection. Doak said that he was convinced that the dealer who bought the mutilated doubloon had cut it down and sold it for a half doubloon.

Doak had told a similar story earlier; Eric Newman summarized a slightly different version in a letter to Lee Hewitt (president of the Chicago Coin Club in 1971) August 15, 1969, archived in the NNP. In this account, the rim damage was a heavy test cut, and it was sold to a man named Frank Smith. But despite many enquiries, Eric was never able to obtain confirmation of Doak's story.

And he never could have: the half doubloon was known in 1925 and illustrated in 1946, long before Doak examined the coins in the Ball Estate. Probably Doak confused the half doubloon he saw there with a different coin; the Ball Estate must have contained another early gold coin that was holed or mutilated and he conflated the two.

(Without the resources of the NNP, it would have been impossible to reconstruct this pedigree and confirm the authenticity of the Brasher half doubloon. Thanks!!)

To read the Smithsonian entry for the Brasher Half Doubloon, see:
Brasher Half Doubloon, United States, 1787 (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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