US Coins

SS Pulaski treasure undergoing curation

Numismatic Conservation Services has begun the laborious process of curating coins recovered from the June 14, 1838, wreck of the steam packet SS Pulaski, for sister firm Numismatic Guaranty Corp. to grade and encapsulate.

One of the coins recovered, and among the first curated to remove encrustation, graded and encapsulated, is illustrated with this article — an 1836 Classic Head gold $5 half eagle. It is graded Mint State 63+ by NGC. The coin is from the Philadelphia Mint production of 553,147 half eagles in 1836.

The Pulaski is one of the earliest shipwrecks from which U.S. coins have been recovered. The coins initially salvaged include well-preserved half dollars and $5 half eagles from the 1830s as well as several earlier issues.

The roughly six dozen coins recovered thus far carry dates from the late 1700s through 1836, and comprise a total face value of approximately $100, according to Micah Eldred, president of Endurance Exploration.

The Pulaski sank in 1838 in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina while sailing from Charleston, South Carolina, to Baltimore, Maryland. The vessel was 30 miles offshore when its starboard boiler exploded, sending the Pulaski to the ocean floor in 45 minutes.

Approximately half of the vessel’s 200 occupants, which included 37 crewmembers, died, many scalded by the steam expressed from the exploding boiler.

Endurance Exploration Group, of Clearwater, Florida, and Blue Water Ventures International, of Green Cove Springs, Florida, have teamed up in a joint venture to recover coins and other artifacts lost when the vessel sank. Blue Water Ventures’ salvage efforts in January 2018 recovered coins from the United States, Spain, Mexico and Great Britain among other artifacts. Foreign coins were legal tender in the United States due to the scarcity of federally struck coins at the time the SS Pulaski sank.

Keith Webb from Blue Water Ventures indicates the firm will return to the wreck site in 2018 to continue salvage operations for any additional treasure. 

"With respect to what is there, we have only scratched the surface," Eldred said. "Passenger losses were estimated at $150,000 face value of paper money, specie, and $10,000 in jewelry. We think it's likely there would have been much more specie than paper money, given the time period. We only were able to work a few days this past winter, and our divers recovered coins on virtually every dive, so, we are very optimistic as for this summer season, the potential is for thousands or tens of thousands of coins."

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