In 1787, a prominent New York City silversmith and goldsmith, Ephraim Brasher (pronounced Bray-zher), produced a small number of gold coins. His exact reason for delving into the production of coinage is not entirely certain, but recent historians now believe that Brasher produced his coins for circulation, not as patterns, as was originally thought. In fact, all but one of the coins attributed to Brasher exhibit some amount of wear, indicating that the pieces spent time in the channels of commerce.
Many of the erroneous impressions about why Brasher made his gold coins may lie in his connection to George Washington. There is clear record that Washington was a customer - and possibly a friend - of Brasher. Washington was also Brasher’s neighbor in the well-to-do Cherry Hill district of New York. Because it was known at the time that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding fathers reviewed pattern coinage for possible inclusion in the monetary system of the United States, there is conjecture that Brasher produced the coins as patterns to show his friend. If his designs impressed Washington enough, it might ensure Brasher the right to design the official gold coins for the new Republic. However, Washington did not live next door to Brasher until 1789, two years after Brasher produced his gold Doubloons.
The 1787 Brasher Doubloon is an impressive example of early American design. The debate continues as to which side of the coin is the obverse, but most numismatists now agree that the landscape side of the coin is the obverse. The coin features the radiant sun just behind the peak of a mountain with the sea in front. Brasher’s name is boldly engraved below the sea. The landscape is framed by a circle of beads. Along the periphery of the coin, separated by rosettes, are the legends “NOVA EBORAC,” which is the Latin name for New York, “COLUMBIA” and the state motto “EXCELSIOR.” Translated literally, the legend means New York, America, Ever Upward. “Excelsior” remains the New York State motto to this day.
The reverse depicts a proud, heraldic eagle with its wings displayed. The eagle is facing right and its head is surrounded by thirteen five-pointed stars, symbolizing the thirteen original states. Across the eagle’s breast is a shield. In the right talon, representing peace, are olive branches, and in the left talon are the arrows of war. The entire eagle is encircled by a wreath. At the bottom edge of the coin is the date with rosettes placed on either side. At the top edge is the inscription “UNUM E PLURIBUS” (One From Many) which is separated by two six-pointed stars.
The coin is called a Doubloon because it is approximately equal in weight to the Spanish Doubloon which circulated actively in colonial America. A value of $16 was initially attributed to the coin, but later research shows that this value was erroneously placed and the “Doubloon” was actually worth $15 at the time of issue. This value was first suggested in a comprehensive article about Brasher Doubloons written by numismatist William Swoger and published in the June 1, 1992 issue of Coin World magazine. Additional information about weights and measures of the era was published in the 1993 book, "Money of the American Colonies and Confederation," by Phil Mossman.