I enjoyed reading Jeff Starck’s
Coin World Extra article on the SS
Central America treasure recently.
As I was deeply involved in the distribution, helping out with
programs, and guest-cataloging for Christie’s remarkable auction in
December 1999 that launched the marketing program, the narrative
brought back some fine memories. The 11-pound book I wrote about it,
A California Gold Rush History Featuring the Treasure from the
S.S. Central America (a title suggested by Eric P. Newman after
he read my manuscript) was printed to the extent of 4,000 copies, sold
at various prices, mostly about $150. I suppose we should have printed
10,000! I cannot help but wonder if in today’s market for real
honest-to-goodness printed books that many could be sold at that price
level of any numismatic title.
As you probably know if you’re a constant Coin World
reader, the account of the treasure find and distribution was
designated by Coin World as among the most important news
stories of 2000. If you attended the summer American Numismatic
Association convention that year in Philadelphia you may remember the
large “Ship of Gold” construction created to the order of Dwight
Manley — the side of the ship, an assay office and more — that
stretched across the front of the bourse floor. And, you may have been
one of 400 people — an all-time record crowd — that attended
treasure-finder Bob Evans’ Numismatic Theater presentation with me as
This was near the beginning of the sales program by the California
Gold Marketing Group, which had more than 7,500 coins to deal with,
including more than 5,000 Mint-fresh 1857-S Coronet gold $20 double
eagles. More than 400 gold ingots also awaited buyers — in a
marketplace in which no large California Gold Rush ingots had ever
been sold before!
In particular, what about all of those double eagles? Would the
market crash? We all wondered, but were optimistic that buyers would
be found. And, found they were! Before long, each and every coin and
ingot was sold. Today, you will be interested to know that nearly all
of the treasure items have increased in value, and the prices of some
What better indication could be found of the strength of the
numismatic market we all enjoy?
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.