US Coins

Rare Seated Liberty repunched Mint mark quarters on shipwreck

Nine 1856-S/S Seated Liberty, Large S over Small S quarter dollars were recently authenticated and graded by Professional Coin Grading Service from among coins salvaged in 2014 from the 1857 wreckage of the SS Central America.

The nine coins — graded and encapsulated with a pinch of gold dust salvaged from the wreckage — are to be offered for public sale by Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles Inc. beginning with the Feb. 16 to 20 auction held in Los Angeles. The auction sessions will be held preceding the Long Beach  Coin, Currency, Stamp & Sports Collectible Show in Long Beach.

The Goldbergs are among the partners in the California Gold Marketing Group, which holds marketing rights for the SS Central America treasure. 

The highest graded 1856-S/S Seated Liberty, Large S over Small S quarter dollar is rated Extremely Fine 45 by PCGS, with one example graded EF-40, four graded Very Fine 35, and one graded VF-25.

Two others have been encapsulated with environmental damage; one of them exhibits EF details, and the other, About Uncirculated details.

Coin World’s Coin Values lists the 1856-S/S Seated Liberty Large S over Small S quarter dollar at $625 in Good 4; $1,600 in Very Good 8; $2,500 in Fine 12; $3,000 in Very Fine 20; $9,500 in EF-40; and $28,200 in About Uncirculated 58.

With a total mintage of 286,000 quarter dollars, “normal” 1856-S Seated Liberty quarter dollars are scarce even in low circulated grades and are extremely scarce in Mint State grades, according to PCGS.

Prior to this discovery, PCGS previously certified just 38 examples of the 1856-S/S quarter dollar, with the majority in only Good to Fine condition and none in Mint State.

Most of the 1856-S/S coins were among the 503 silver quarter dollars discovered in 2014 in a canvas bag sealed in the purser’s iron box in the ship’s safe on the seabed, more than 7,000 feet below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface off the coast of North Carolina.

Repunched Mint mark

The coins bear a repunched Mint mark, with S punches of two sizes used. 

“The S over S is the most pronounced I have ever seen with two overlapping Mint marks clear even to the naked eye,” says Dwight Manley, managing partner of the marketing group. “We’ve nick-named this latest SS Central America discovery as the S over S Central America.

“Considering the preponderance of Philadelphia and New Orleans Mint coins found in the recovered treasure, it would appear these came from a batch of coins brought aboard by a miner, and ended up in the safe as did the miners’ pokes (packets containing gold and/or coins).”

All of the coins recovered in 2014 before they were graded by PCGS were curated by Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the 1980’s mission that first located and recovered a portion of the sunken treasure. He served in that same role with the 2014 recovery, and as a numismatist. 

Evans recently found the two 1856-S and nine 1856-S/S Seated Liberty quarter dollars while finishing the coin-by-coin examination of the last portion of the treasure.

“Silver coins that were found in the purser’s bag in a lock box inside the ship’s safe survived 157 years in the Atlantic Ocean without the corrosion seen on most silver coins found on shipwrecks,” says Evans. “This is undoubtedly due to the oxygen-starved (anaerobic) conditions within the safe.

“It was not water tight, but it essentially sealed off the interior environment and its chemistry from the outside seabed environment.” 

Added Evans, “The SS Central America has once again revealed another ‘time capsule effect’ of what coins were in daily commerce at the time and on the steamship route between San Francisco and New York via Panama in 1857.

“It is delightful to see this effect yet again in this treasure, as the contemporary usage and details are revealed to us, as if we are transported back in a time machine,” Evans said.

The SS Central America was a 280-foot-long three-masted side-wheel steamship carrying tons of California gold that had been shipped from San Francisco to Panama on its way to New York. It sank off the coast of North Carolina on Sept. 12, 1857, during a hurricane while on the final leg of a voyage from Aspinwall (now Colón), Panama, to New York City. 

The loss of the ship’s gold cargo was a major factor in the economically devastating financial panic of 1857 in the United States.

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