US Coins

1856-S Seated Liberty dime in SS Central America treasure haul

An 1856-S Seated Liberty dime that survived 157 years under the ocean among the remains of the SS Central America is now graded and encapsulated by Professional Coin Grading Service and tied with another similar piece for the finest known example.

PCGS certified the Central America coin, recovered in 2014, as Mint State 65, with its superior level of preservation affirmed on the holder by a Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker.

The auction record for a Mint State 1856-S Seated Liberty dime is $43,700, which was realized by the only other example graded MS-65. That auction record was set during Superior Galleries’ Feb. 24, 2003, sale held in conjunction with the Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp and Sports Collectibles Show in California. That comparable coin is believed to be pedigreed to the Harold Bareford Collection.

PCGS’s Population Report indicates the grading service has graded and encapsulated 106 1856-S dime submissions, of which 11 examples, including the SS Central America coin, are graded as Mint State. 

Numismatic Guaranty Corp. has handled 31 1856-S Seated Liberty dime submissions, with four in Mint State, the highest MS-64. Independent Coin Graders has handled one submission, in Very Fine 35, and ANACS reports receiving 58 1856-S dime submissions, with one of them grading MS-62.

While most of the 70,000 Seated Liberty dimes produced at the San Francisco Mint in 1856 were either shipped overseas for use in foreign commerce or melted, a number of the 1856-S output survived to wind up in collector hands.

Two purser’s bags recovered from the ship purser’s iron lock box amid the SS Central America remains “contained a combined total of $1,588.95 face value of U.S. coins from silver dimes to half eagle $5 gold coins, and ranged in dates from 1796 to 1857,” according to Dwight Manley, managing partner for California Gold Marketing Group.

“Most of the coins are dimes that were to be used in daily commerce while the ship sailed between Panama and New York City before sinking in a hurricane off the North Carolina coast in September 1857.”

A complete list of all the items recovered in 2014 will be published in an upcoming book, America’s Greatest Treasure Ship: The S.S. Central America, by numismatic author Q. David Bowers (also a California Gold Marketing Group partner) and Manley.

California Gold Marketing Group held the rights to market most of the treasure recovered from the wreckage in the 1980s, and maintained those rights during the series of recovery dives in 2014, one of which yielded the MS-65 1856-S Seated Liberty dime.

The marketing group physically took possession in January 2018 of the sunken treasure recovered in 2014, and a coin-by-coin, ingot-by-ingot examination has continued since then. at PCGS.

Manley said the 1856-S dime from the SS Central America will be put on public display at Booth 1615 Aug. 13 to 17 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

During the 2014 recovery expedition, two canvas bags were found in the bottom of the purser’s lock box, and one bag contained more than 8,000 dimes, among them the lone 1856-S. 

Regarding finding the lock box, “It quickly became obvious that this was the ‘cash box’ of the ship, a truly marvelous historical find,” said Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the 1980s mission that first located and recovered a portion of the sunken treasure.

Evans served in that same role and as a numismatist with the 2014 recovery.

Evans said he saw the 1856-S Seated Liberty dime after first examining some 4,000 other dimes first pulled from the purser’s bag. 

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