Precious Metals

Recovered SS Islander gold up for 4 million dollars

Twelve-hundred troy ounces of Alaskan Gold Rush gold recovered in 2012 from the 1901 shipwreck of the SS Islander is being offered for $4 million exclusively through private treaty by Fred N. Holabird from Holabird Western Americana Collections LLC

The gold is unrefined placer gold contained in five original leather pokes, all sealed, and the contents of a sixth leather poke that broke open during the recovery process, according to Holabird. Holabird is acting as the exclusive agent for the salvors.

Placer gold is often found in alluvial deposits of sand and gravel in modern or ancient stream beds.

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The Islander, a 240-foot-long steamship owned by the Canadian-Pacific Navigation Co., was bound from Skagway, Alaska, to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in the early morning hours of Aug. 15, 1901, when the vessel struck a submerged iceberg in Stephens Passage, next to Douglas Island, shearing the port bow.

The ship sank in 20 minutes, claiming the lives of 40 among the 107 passengers and 61 crewmembers reported aboard.

Records suggest that gold valued then at $275,000 was aboard the Islander, a total that subsequently was quickly reported in news accounts as high as $2 million to $3 million. The gold was in the form of placer gold that was secured in either locking leather mail sacks or gold pokes — elongated leather sacks containing the unrefined gold from Alaska’s Klondike.

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Holabird, mining geologist and owner of Holabird Western Americana Collections LLC in Reno, Nev., says the fineness of the gold discovered in the Alaska-Yukon region varied significantly, from .770 to .900 fine.

A 2015 assay of a sample of the gold recovered in 2012, by American Assay Labs in Sparks, Nev., indicated the fineness of the gold at .800 fine, according to Holabird. 

Holabird is marketing the gold for the salvors.

According to Holabird, between the Islander’s sinking and 1929, a dozen significant salvage efforts were undertaken. The most significant was a five-year effort by the Curtis-Wiley Salvage Co. from Republic, Wash., resulting in 1934 in the recovery of $75,000 (in 1901 dollars) of the vessel’s gold.

The main locker room of the steamship, where reports indicated the gold was stored, had not yet been located in 1934 since the vessel had broken apart during its sinking.

Further recovery efforts were pursued in 2012 by Ocean Mar Inc. from Kent, Wash. Those efforts yielded numerous artifacts that were turned over to the state of Alaska.

Ocean Mar’s effort also brought up the gold Holabird is offering. The recovered gold was secured in the original leather pokes, holding about 200 ounces each. The bags were originally contained in a storage box, but it was crushed by the teeth of the recovery tool.

The official accounting of $275,000 in gold lost on the Islander in 1901 would reflect about 13,301 troy ounces, today valued at about $15 million, Holabird said.

Some 10 or 12 treasure boxes containing gold must have been on the Islander. The estimate is derived from the amount each treasure box could hold, about 85 pounds of gold, according to Holabird.

The gold recovered in 2012 was the content of only one box, and it was initially turned over to MK Salvage Venture LLC in Seattle, in accordance with its court-approved financing agreement with Ocean Mar Inc. for funding salvage operations. 

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