Precious Metals

SS Central America site reveals more treasure

Gold continues to be discovered at the SS Central America shipwreck site. According to Odyssey Marine Exploration, during operations conducted from April 15 to July 15, 2014, gold ingots with a face value (in 1857) of more than $120,000 have been recovered. The past three months have also seen the recovery of more than 2,000 U.S. gold coins and over 11,500 silver coins, along with gold jewelry and kilograms of gold nuggets and dust. 

Reflecting the people also lost along with the gold treasure of the SS Central America when the ship sank off the coast of South Carolina on Sept. 12, 1857, during a hurricane, a large collection of ambrotype and daguerreotype photographs were discovered. The photographs of mid-19th century gold miners, some of whom may have perished in the sinking, are rare. The ambrotypes are the only examples found on any 19th century shipwreck in the world, according to Odyssey.

In its operational update report of items recovered from the shipwreck between June 16 to July 15, 2014, Odyssey recorded four $10 (Coronet) gold eagles and 139 $20 (Coronet) double eagles, along with two gold ingots, a container of gold dust and nuggets and four unattributed copper coins. 

During the period, the Odyssey Explorer left port in Charleston, S.C., on June 19 and arrived at the SS Central America site the next day. It left the site to avoid Hurricane Arthur from July 2 to July 4. Once resumed, operations continued until July 14 when the recovery ship began its return to Charleston.

During the period, 26 Remotely Operated Vehicle dives to the site were conducted, focused on completing the stern evacuation down to the frames and planks, then following the keel towards the paddle wheels and engine room. 

In describing the recovery of gold dust at the site, the report stated that sediment from selected areas was collected in Odyssey’s Sediment Removal and Filtration system. Large gold nuggets were removed by hand and the sediment was filtered through a panning system that separated gold dust from the sediment. During the reporting period approximately 2.8 kilograms of gold dust and nuggets were extracted. 

A more extensive range of items was discovered in the prior month’s reporting period, May 19 to June 12. These included 52 $1 gold pieces, 34 Coronet $2.50 quarter eagles, nine $3 Liberty Head gold pieces, 25 $5 Coronet half eagles, 13 $10 Coronet half eagles and 888 Coronet double eagles. 

Also notable was the recovery of 1,529 coins described as foreign silver coins, most of which were silver peso coins from Chile. 

Astonishing variety, quality

The wreck was identified in 1987 and recovery operations took place from 1988 to 1991. On March 3, 2014, Odyssey announced that it was awarded an exclusive contract to return to the site for further excavation. 

Recovery Limited Partnership is the court-appointed salvor-in-possession of the shipwreck. The RLP’s chief scientist Bob Evans served as chief scientist on the 1988 to 1991 expeditions and later curated and restored the recovered items. He is one of RLP’s representatives on the project and has been aboard the Odyssey Explorer since operations began in April 2014, cataloguing the gold as it is recovered.

In a July 18, 2014, Odyssey release he stated, “The variety and quality of the coins being recovered is just astonishing,” adding, “Of course there are spectacular $20 double eagles like we found back in the 80s and 90s. But the wide variety of other denominations makes this year’s recoveries very different from the earlier finds. I have seen what I believe are several of the finest known examples so far. The coins date from 1823 to 1857 and represent a wonderful diversity of denominations and mints, a time capsule of virtually all the coins that were used in 1857.

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