The most significant finds historically at the SS Central
America wreck were probably the hundreds of gold ingots cast by
private assayers in California. Until the Central America
discoveries, original California Gold Rush ingots were virtually
unknown. Almost all had been melted and turned into coins after being
shipped from the gold fields to the East.
Five firms were represented among the nearly 500 ingots found at the
wreck site during the 20th century salvage — Blake and Company (34
ingots found), Kellogg & Humbert (343 ingots recovered), Justh and
Hunter (85 ingots found), Harris, Marchand & Company (37 ingots
found), and Henry Hentsch (33 ingots found).
All of the firms were known previously, but the discovery of so many
ingots helped researchers like Bob Evans and Q. David Bowers
understand the issuers and their practices better.
As reported in the Aug. 7, 2000, issue of Coin World, in an
article by Paul Gilkes, “Evans said regardless of the size or shape of
the bars, each is stamped with the same five pieces of information,
albeit not in the same location: the name and/or identifying stamps of
the manufacturer, the serial number, the weight in fine troy ounces,
the purity in parts per thousand, and the dollar value based at $20.67
per ounce of pure gold. The treasure bars range in fineness from .580
fine to .973 fine.”
Gilkes wrote, “The unparted bars ... were produced in molds from
unrefined gold dust melted in crucibles and then poured into the
molds. No attempt was made by the assayers to change the purity of the
gold in the bars. ...
“The deeper the golden color of the bar, the higher the gold
fineness, Evans said. The lower the fineness, the lighter yellow the
appearance," according to Gilkes.
The largest bar found at the wreck has been dubbed the “Eureka” bar
— an 80-pound slab of gold cast by Kellogg & Humbert.
The bars found at the wreck site have long been dispersed into the
marketplace at impressive prices (the Eureka bar sold for
approximately $8 million).
The saga of the SS Central America is far from over. The
discovery April 15, 2014, of more gold at the wreck site, and the
belief by some researchers that the ship’s hold carried a secret U.S.
Army shipment of gold totaling 3 tons, will keep this story going for years.