US Coins

Shipwreck treasure among highlights of Goldbergs sale

California’s Long Beach Expo has on more than one occasion shown the grand exhibit of some of the recovered treasures of the SS Central America — the legendary “Ship of Gold” — and Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles offered some wonderful treasures from the shipwreck at its June 26 to June 30 Pre-Long Beach auction.

Co-founder Larry Goldberg called the June 27 offering “a time capsule of the California Gold Rush. Each of the treasure coins in the auction is housed in a special Professional Coin Grading Service holder containing gold dust from miners’ pokes that were also recovered from about 7,200 feet below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface.”

The sidewheel steamer operated between Central America and eastern U.S. ports in the 1850s, sinking in a hurricane in September 1857 where 425 people died and an estimated 30,000 pounds of gold sank to the ocean floor.

The quintessential coin from the recovery is an 1857-S Coronet gold $20 double eagle. The Goldbergs offered one graded Mint State 65 in the PCGS slab with the gold “pinch,” and it brought $13,800. The auction firm praised its bold-strike and lustrous surfaces, calling it a glorious example.

The cataloger explained, “These freshly minted double eagles were being shipped to the east coast for general circulation, but never quite made it with their unscheduled detour of 135 years or more on the ocean floor off North Carolina.”

Prior to the discovery of the “Ship of Gold” any 1850s Mint State double eagle was a prize and the 1857-S Coronet double eagle is ranked number 75 in the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins book. The thousands of recovered examples were found in generally exceptional condition as they rested on the ocean floor in stacks, with the center coins nicely protected. As of July 2022, PCGS has graded 1,045 in Mint State 65, along with 69 in MS-65+ and 256 in finer grades, including 18 in MS-67.

Certainly the most impressive of the gold recovered is in the form of massive bars and ingots, like the illustrated Justh & Hunter piece marked 51.78 ounces, .889 fine, with an 1857-value of $951.57, which sold for $180,000.

Recovery of the treasure was conducted by two organizations over several decades and the Goldbergs call this bar “a more recent find on one of the return trips to scour the ocean floor for additional gold and artifacts.” They added that it is featured in the new book America’s Greatest Treasure Ship: The Second Treasure Finding Journey.

The auction offered some coins beyond the well-known gold issues recovered from the wreckage. Certainly one of the more interesting of these was an 1854-O Seated Liberty, Huge O quarter dollar graded About Uncirculated 55 by PCGS. It carried a green CAC sticker and is also housed in an oversized slab with a pinch of recovered gold and a label signed by Bob Evans in his capacity as chief scientist of the recovery effort.

The Goldbergs explain the comically large Mint mark, writing, “The huge O was likely created when the coiner/engraver in New Orleans noticed the reverse die from Philadelphia did not include the ‘O’ mintmark, although the reverse die was apparently hardened already, an ‘O’ was hand engraved into the proper place, a bit too large and too deep, but was necessary for the records.”

No Mint State examples have survived, making this a prize and the handsome survivor with a touch of toning at the date and clinging to the rims brought $13,800.

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