Collectors looking for a piece of the SS Central America
treasure have a few options depending on their budgets.
The most expensive pieces are the large-size gold ingots recovered
from the shipwreck. An ingot is a broad term, but generally refers to
a bar or block that has been cast in a standard shape for convenient
storage and shipment.
During the early days of the Gold Rush in the 1850s, very small
ingots or gold bars circulated alongside coinage. The start of
production of gold coins at the San Francisco Mint in 1854 alleviated
some of the shortage of coin, but bars continued to be produced. For
example, the Kellogg & Humbert firm was organized in April 1855
and a 91.73-ounce bar carrying the KELLOGG & HUMBERT ASSAYERS
rectangular stamp brought $258,500 at an April 24, 2014, Heritage
auction. A different bar from the same firm weighing 36.40 ounces
brought $176,250 at a Feb. 4 Heritage sale.
When it comes to gold bars, size matters.
Among the coins, the essential SS Central America gold coin
is an 1857-S Coronet $20 double eagle. 1857 marked the third full year
of operations at the new San Francisco Mint and, although nearly a
million 1857-S double eagles were produced, until the discovery nice
Mint State examples were infrequently found. The ship contained over
5,200 examples of the issue. One graded Mint State 67 brought $138,000
at a 2012 Heritage auction. Other, more typical examples of the date
from the treasure sell at more modest (but still expensive) price
levels such as an NGC MS-62 coin that sold for just under $6,000 at an
April 25 Heritage auction and multiple MS-64 PCGS examples have
realized prices in the $9,400 to $10,000 range in recent auctions.
Also collectible are relic restrikes made from gold recovered from
the wreck. In 2002, Proof restrikes of the Baldwin & Co. $10 coin
of the Horseman type were made from gold recovered from a Justh &
Hunger ingot that had been on the shipwreck. These carry a date of
1857/0 on the obverse and 2002 on the reverse. In 2013, one graded
Deep Cameo Proof — these typically don’t have standard 1 to 70 number
grades when certified — brought $705 at auction.
More dramatic are the replica 2.5-ounce 1855 Kellogg & Co. $50
gold pieces that were struck from Kellogg & Co. ingots recovered
from the wreck. These were produced in 2001 and are individually dated
on the reverse with the specific date of production. They’re often
collected with their original, ornate packaging that included a
copper-and-glass frame. Both Mint State and Proof finish examples were
produced and today these trade at the $4,500 to $5,000 level with
premiums paid for examples with original packaging.