A handful of privately minted gold coins – known as Brasher Doubloons – from the days of George Washington are considered the rarest and most valuable in the world. The most unique version of the 1787 coin, which has the hallmark "EB" stamped on a shield in the middle of the eagle's breast, was sold in December 2011 for $7.395 million.
Considered "the holy grail of collectible gold coins," the Brasher Doubloon netted the single highest price ever paid for a coin in a private transaction. It is believe to be the only one of its kind in the world.
Another Brasher Doubloon, which is believed to be the finest example of one with the "EB" stamped on the right wing, was recently valued at $10 million. There are six of this design still in existence.
The story of Ephraim Brasher's gold coins is shrouded in mystery. Why was this well respected assayer designing gold coins in the likeness of Spanish doubloons? Was he rendering a public service or was he minting and distributing these gold pieces to influence New York State legislators so they would bite on his proposal to provide copper coinage for the fledgling state. At the time, under the Articles of Confederation, it was legal for states to issue their own bills and coinage.
The next-door neighbor of George Washington, Brasher's assaying skills were the gold standard of his day. In fact, he would stamp his own initials "EB" on precious-metal coins to assure the proper weight and fineness. Despite his credentials, New York legislators rebuffed his proposal. With the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the U.S. federal government would be issuing a national currency, and Brasher's dreams of providing coinage to New York were dashed.
He did land a federal gig in 1792, when Brasher was called on to assay several varieties of gold coins for the new U.S. government. Thereafter, Brasher assisted assaying gold for the U.S. Mint.
The 225-year-old Brasher Doubloons shown above are in remarkably good shape. The obverse looks very much like the Great Seal of the United States with an eagle holding an olive branch in one claw and arrows in the other. Around the obverse is the oddly worded national motto, "UNUM E PLURIBUS" (one from many).
The reverse side features a sun rising over a mountain in front of a sea. Around the edge is the Latin phrase, "NOVA EBORAC • COLUMBIA • EXCELSIOR." Columbia was a colonial nickname for the United States; Nova Eborac means New York; and Excelsior means "ever higher" and is the New York State motto. Brasher's name is prominently displayed above the word "EXCELSIOR."