RAYMOND CHANDLER & THE BRASHER DOUBLOON
Mystery Scene|Fall #165, 2020
Sometime in 1960, a friend’s enthusiasm for coin collecting proved contagious, and I began sorting through pocket change and noting dates and mint marks.
Lawrence Block

Before I knew it I was subscribing to a weekly numismatic newspaper and buying coins from dealers and at auctions. I’d collected stamps as a boy, and now I was collecting coins with at least as much pession, and a little more money to commit to the pursuit.

I’d been doing this for three years or so when my writing career hit a bad patch. A falling-out with my agent led to my losing access to the publishers who had long sustained me. Fortunately, I had nothing else to fall back on—no college degree, no vocational experience. So I had to keep at it, and I developed some additional markets for my work.

And while I was at it I wrote a couple of articles for numismatic publications. “Raymond Chandler and the Brasher Doubloon” was the most interesting of them, and it opened a door for me in Racine, Wisconsin. That’s where I sent it, to a fellow named Kenneth E. Bressett who was editing a new magazine called the Whitman Numismatic Journal. He snapped it up, and before long he found an excuse to visit Buffalo, where I was living. Our meeting led to a job offer, and by July of 1964, I’d sold our house at 48 Ebling Avenue, in the Township of Tonawanda, and relocated with wife and two daughters to 4051 Marquette Drive, in Racine, where I worked on the magazine and related enterprises for a little overt a year and a half.

It was the only job I ever had after college, and I surprised myself by discovering an unexpected ability to survive and even flourish in a corporate atmosphere. Toward the end of my stay, I learned that my boss planned to move me out of the backwater of the Coin Supplies Division and into general marketing, which told me that I had found for myself, astonishingly, A Job With A Future.

This was enormously heartening. But, even as I realized all this, I realized too that it was not a future I wanted. I was, alas, doomed to be a writer, and had, in fact, sustained myself during that year and a half by writing and publishing a couple of novels and several shorter works. I had in fact just finished the first Evan Tanner novel, The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep, when I made my decision to give up my job and return to the East Coast.

It was good to return to my real life. But I’ve never regreted a single day that I spent in Racine, and I’m pleased to present the piece that started it all.

The first publication of the following essay was in the Whitman Numismatic Journal in 1964. It is currently available in Hunting Buffalo with Bent Nails (December 2019), a nonfiction collection of essays by Lawrence Block.

One of the stock components of the contemporary mystery novel is the disappearance of some item of great value or importance. This missing article serves as the focal point for the mystery, with various agents attempting to recover it and various complications arising in due course. If the article itself is interesting, the book is made more interesting for its readers.

The nature of this sort of item is infinitely variable. It may be a unique objet d’art, as in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. It may be a vital document, as in any of a plethora of espionage novels. In the recent movie Charade, a batch of rare stamps filled this role.

Occasionally a coin or a collection of coins is used in this fashion as the core of a mystery novel. Perhaps the most noteworthy instance of numismatics in detective fiction occurs in Raymond Chandler’s The High Window, where the plot spins around the mysterious loss of an uncirculated specimen of the Brasher Doubloon. The book is of particular interest to a numismatist not only because a coin is involved, but because several interesting facets of numismatics, including a clever counterfeiting method, are treated in some depth.

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