The Joys of Collecting column from Nov. 23, 2015, issue of Coin World:
I continue my commentary about double eagles in general and those in
SS Central America treasure in particular.
That ship, laden with 3 tons (!) of gold coins and ingots from Gold
Rush San Francisco, was lost in a hurricane off the coast of North
Carolina on Sept. 12, 1857.
In the 1980s much of the gold was found by the adventurers,
including Bob Evans and Tommy Thompson, from Columbus, Ohio, who had
spent years in research. Then followed extended legal action by many
who claimed an interest. Finally, the matter was cleared, and 92.4
percent was awarded to the Columbus-America Discovery Group and 7.6 percent
to the other claimants.
In addition, Christie’s, the art auction house, had loaned
money to Columbus-America and had an interest in the coins. This was
settled by an agreement by which Christie’s held the inaugural sale of
the treasure. I was invited by Christie’s to write the entire auction
catalog, which I did. The sale was held at the company’s gallery on
Dec. 14, 1999, and attracted a lot of attention.
On Jan. 19, 2000, it was revealed that the California Gold Marketing Group, headed by
Dwight Manley, had purchased the entire 92.4 percent interest held by
Columbus-America and contested by others, had worked with Christie’s,
and that all claims had been settled. On Jan. 20 representatives from
the press were invited to visit the offices of the Professional Coin Grading
Service to view certain of the coins put up in special holders
with imprinted gold foil labels. This launched what was to be one of
the most successful marketing campaigns, perhaps the most
successful, in the history of American numismatics.
California Gold Marketing Group constructed a large “show front”
display, “The Ship of Gold,” measuring 50 feet from left to right.
This was a representation of the side of the ship, with portholes
through which gold coins and ingots could be observed. The “Kellogg
& Humbert Assay Office” was set up nearby, and other exhibits were
put in place.
A small “movie house” consisting of a large screen and several rows
of seats was assembled for continuous presentation of the History
Channel’s Ship of Gold film. This was the sensation of the 2000
American Numismatic Association convention in Philadelphia. Bob Evans
presented a program as part of the Numismatic Theater, and I helped.
The large room was filled with 400 people, more than ever attended
such a program before or since. In time, Christine Karstedt and I
helped with the publicity and marketing, and many dealers and
collectors jumped in with enthusiasm.
Nothing was certain. In particular CGMG had 5,305 Mint State 1857-S
double eagles! What would these do to the market? Would it crash?
Not to worry! The CGMG’s marketing program was a sensation. People
who did not collect double eagles rushed to get a gold-label 1857-S
double eagle. Soon, all were gone! Most buyers held on to them tightly
— a coin with an aura of romance and adventure as detailed in my
1,054-page book, A California Gold Rush History Featuring Treasure
from the S.S. Central America. Today in 2015 anyone buying such
a coin can sell it for a handsome profit!