A new round of sales for SS Central America treasure may be nearing

Ohio court to decide on ‘Ship of Gold’ salvaged treasure
By , Coin World
Published : 11/10/17
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Thousands of artifacts including United States and pioneer gold coins, gold ingots, gold dust, and silver coins recovered in 2014 from the 1857 wreck of the SS Central America by Odyssey Marine Exploration will likely come to the numismatic market if an Ohio judge approves the sale of the salvaged treasure.

A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 30 before Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Laurel Beatty Blunt in Columbus, Ohio, to consider a motion to approve the sale of $30 million in salvaged numismatic material to California Gold Marketing Group (CGMG) to begin satisfying the claims of creditors and investors.

CGMG marketed the more than $100 million in treasure recovered between 1986 and 1992 from the wreck site off the Carolina coast. The Central America sank during a hurricane on Sept. 12, 1857.


Brockage or contact mark? Mike Diamond explains. Also in our Nov. 20 issue, a reader found a fascinating Barber dime that’s over a century old; John Wexler profiled what makes it different.


CGMG purchased the 92.4 percent of the gold coins, assay bars and ingots, gold dust and nuggets originally retrieved from the SS Central America and awarded by federal courts to the Columbus-America Discovery Group and the treasure salvor, Thomas G. Thompson. CGMG began offering select items to collectors on March 1, 2000. The remaining 7.6 percent of the treasure, awarded by the federal courts to the original insurers of the treasure or their successor companies, was offered for sale June 20 and 21, 2000, by Sotheby’s. The auction had been postponed from December 1999 while litigation issues were still being resolved.

On Feb. 3, 2015, a ruling from the Ohio Court of Appeals, 10th Judicial District, granted CGMG retention of rights to market any treasure recovered from the shipwreck, based on a contract CGMG originally signed in 1998 and updated in 1999 with the original treasure salvors, Columbus-America Discovery Group, headed by Tommy Thompson.

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The original salvage operations were financed with more than $12 million received from more than 160 investors, including The Dispatch Publishing Co., which at the time published The Columbus Dispatch newspaper in Ohio. (The Columbus Dispatch newspaper is now owned by Gatehouse Media.)

Thompson has been jailed for contempt of court since December 2015, for failing to disclose to authorities the whereabouts of some 500 gold coins valued at between $2.5 million and $4 million, struck from gold bars his operations salvaged in 1988.

After failing to appear for a 2012 court hearing, Thompson lived as a fugitive for more than two years until U.S. marshals arrested him in Florida.

California Gold Marketing Group partners

When CGMG purchased the treasure recovered in the 20th century, the company’s partners were managing partner Dwight Manley; Ira and Larry Goldberg from Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles; and prolific numismatic writer Q. David Bowers, currently chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC.

The same contingent still comprises CGMG, with Manley holding majority interest. Kenny Duncan, from U.S. Coins in Houston has since joined CGMG as a partner, according to Manley.

Manley said he’s looking forward to the judge’s approval of the sales agreement.

“We’ve used the SSCA legacy to teach both history and numismatics and I’m looking to add several new chapters to the saga in 2018,” Manley told Coin World.

Court action

On Oct. 24, 2017, Ira O. Kane, the receiver representing Recovery Limited Partnership (RLP) and Columbus Exploration LLC, filed a motion with Judge Beatty-Blunt seeking approval of the sale to CGMG of the treasure recovered by Odyssey Marine.

RLP is the court-appointed salvor-in-possession of the SS Central America shipwreck.

Kane was appointed receiver by the Ohio courts on June 14, 2013.

The salvaged treasure is currently stored in vaults in Florida. Provided the court approves the sales agreement, the specified treasure would be moved to California, to Professional Coin Grading Service headquarters, for the curation and certification process, Manley said.

Proceeds from the sale of specified treasure to CGMG for cash would be the first step to satisfy the claims of creditors, and then investors. Investors, who have been awaiting compensation for three decades, would only begin to receive payments if money remains after all creditor claims are satisfied.

A summary of the sales agreement sent to investors outlines that the first $15 million would be paid to Odyssey Marine Exploration LLC to satisfy its claims with a balance due of $15 million to the receivership.

The Dispatch Printing Co. would receive an initial $1.75 million from CGMG toward its loans. An initial $250,000 will be held by the receivership. The $13 million balance of the purchase price must be paid within a year of CGMG accepting receipt of the specified treasure. Once The Dispatch Printing Co. receives the remainder of its $5.75 million debt, the entirety of monthly payments and balance of the purchase price will be paid to the receivership. 

Treasure awaits

The court documents filed Oct. 24, 2017, provide details on what treasure CGMG is supposed to receive according to the purchase agreement:

➤ 45 gold ingots. The ingots include three ingots from California gold assayer Harris, Marchand & Co. from Sacramento and Marysville; five from Hy [Henry] Hentsch from San Francisco; seven from assayer Justh & Hunter in San Francisco and Marysville; and 30 from Kellogg & Humbert in San Francisco. The ingot with the highest appraised value is $1 million for a Hy Hentsch bar weighing 319.22 ounces, composed of .892 fine gold and stamped with a face value of $5,886.19.

➤ 1,600 ounces of gold dust and mineral form gold (nuggets).

➤ 1,956 San Francisco Mint gold coins, dollars to $20 double eagles.

➤ 710 Philadelphia Mint gold coins, dollars to double eagles.

➤ 31 Dahlonega Mint gold coins, $2.50 quarter eagles and $5 half eagles.

➤ 23 Charlotte Mint gold coins, dollars to half eagles.

➤ 92 New Orleans Mint gold coins, dollars to double eagles.

➤ 104 pioneer gold coins denominated above $1.

➤ 112 pioneer gold coins, $1 and less.

➤ 22 undetermined U.S. gold coins, dollar to double eagles.

➤ 81 foreign gold coins of various countries and denominations.

➤ 10,705 U.S. silver coins of all denominations.

➤ 1,690 foreign and undetermined silver coins of various denominations.

➤ 10 U.S. copper cents and three undetermined copper coins.

New promotion, same curator

Manley said he plans to market the most recently salvaged treasure from the shipwreck much differently from how the 1986- to 1992-salvaged treasure was promoted.

When the earlier treasure was curated and promoted, the first 500 gold $20 coins were immediately brought to market before anything else.

For the material salvaged by Odyssey Marine Exploration LLC, Manley said he plans to have geologist/scientist Bob Evans, who curated all of the material first salvaged, to curate all of the gold coins before moving forward with any sales promotion.

“We will not focus on the silver until the gold coins are curated, certified, and [we] publish the results,” Manley said.

Evans was the chief scientist and historian aboard the salvage vessels for the expeditions to the wreck site.

Manley said there are many high-grade, finest known examples of certain dates and Mint marks in the current treasure that were not known during the first expeditions, including many Branch Mint issues, and California pioneer fractional gold coins in pristine condition.

Manley said he is planning a traveling exhibit that will likely be very different from the “Ship of Gold” display that showcased the first treasure in a cutaway replica of a portion of the vessel in which visitors could view selected items in an educational context. 

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