If there’s a coin equivalent of the Honus Wagner baseball card — the Holy Grail for collectors — it’s the celebrated Brasher doubloon, the first gold coin struck in the United States and one of the rarest in the world.
The doubloon was created in 1787 by silver and goldsmith Ephraim Brasher, whose clients included his neighbor, George Washington.
Just seven 1787 Brasher doubloons are known to exist. Chicago coin dealer Walter Perschke’s was considered the finest.
“It was struck before the U.S. Mint even started operating in 1792,” said Max Spiegel, vice president of sales and marketing for the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, which graded Mr. Perschke’s doubloon for him.
The storied coin even figured in the 1947 Philip Marlowe film noir “The Brasher Doubloon.”
It’s a glowing beauty. One side is stamped with an eagle, its talons bearing an olive branch and arrows, signifying peace and power. Its right wing is imprinted with “EB,” Brasher’s initials. The flip side shows sunrise over mountains and the sea, symbolizing the nation’s new beginnings, according to Spiegel.
When Mr. Perschke bought it for a world-record $430,000 in 1979, “It was a breathtaking event,” said Jeff Bernberg of Willowbrook’s Rarcoa (Rare Coin Company of the World).
Mr. Perschke, who died May 20 in Chicago of bladder cancer at age 77, talked about the doubloon’s mystique in a 1987 Chicago Sun-Times interview.
“I felt that of any American coin, it probably has the most romance and the most enthusiastic interest among collectors,” he said. “It had the history. It had the pizzazz. It had the marketability.”
In 1979, when he bought the Brasher doubloon, it made international headlines. It hadn’t been up for auction for 57 years and had last sold in 1922 for $3,000 — a record at the time.
Mr. Perschke held onto the doubloon for 35 years before auctioning it off for $4.59 million.
For collectors, the 2014 auction at the Florida United Numismatists convention in Orlando, Fla., was a combination of the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby and the World Series, according to Spiegel and Paul Gilkes, who wrote about it in Coin World magazine.
“The auction room was standing-room-only, people outside the door trying to get in just to see the coin being sold,” Spiegel said.
The doubloon sold for more than 10 times what Mr. Perschke bought it for. He didn’t think it was enough.
“Perschke said just before the auction began that he had analyzed historical price appreciation for the past 35 years to arrive at an estimate of a value of between $8 million and $10 million,” Gilkes wrote in Coin World.
“He was absolutely disappointed,” Mr. Perschke’s son Ian said. “He thought it was going to go for double what it went for.”
“A coin that hasn’t been sold or seen publicly for decades,” Spiegel said, “people were speculating crazy-wild numbers.”
Mr. Perschke’s fascination with coins began as a student at Lane Tech High School on the North Side.
“His history teacher got him involved in a coin club,” said another son, Adam, and he became the entrepreneur-owner of Numisco, a company that dealt in precious metals and coins.
He appeared often on TV on “Wall Street Week” and WCIU-Channel 26’s “Ask an Expert.”
“He was driven,” Ian Perschke said of his father. “And he accomplished a lot.”
In 1992, though, Mr. Perschke was sentenced to six months in prison for failing to report income after a sting operation in which federal agents bought coins from Numisco.
“Dad was not a fan of the government,” said Ian Perschke. “Some agent came in and wanted to buy gold. Dad didn’t fill out a report.”
After selling the doubloon, Mr. Perschke invested in something completely different: spirituality. He bought the Monthly Aspectarian magazine, renaming it Conscious Community. It promotes spirituality, body-mind health and higher consciousness. The July issue is dedicated to him, circulation manager Kasia Szumal said.
Mr. Perschke offered guided meditation and operated Spiritual Learning Center camps in Indiana, where participants were invited to “join us in a spiritual retreat of personal discovery,” according to Facebook.
“His famous talks were about dream interpretation and visualizing success,” Szumal said.
Mr. Perschke is also survived by a daughter, Lara; another son, Kurt; two brothers, William and John; and a grandchild. A memorial is planned for 6 p.m. June 26 at Unity Church in Chicago, 1925 W. Thome Ave.