A shipwreck in American waters well known for containing classic gold
coins of the United States also held a secret stash of world coins,
revealed only recently.
The SS Central America, the fabled “Ship of Gold,” sank off
the coast of the Carolinas amid a fierce storm in September 1857,
while on the way to New York City. The loss of its treasure was a
factor contributing to the Panic of 1857.
Part of its golden treasure was recovered in the 1980s and marketed
in the 1990s, but those coins were American. An expedition in 2014 to
recover more from the wreckage revealed an array of world coins,
including what experts record as the finest known Australian 1855
Sydney Mint gold sovereign, made during the first year of that mint’s operations.
Now graded PCGS MS-62+, it is one of 82 sunken treasure world gold
coins representing 10 different countries retrieved from the
SS Central America in 2014 and recently cataloged by the
California Gold Marketing Group and certified by Professional Coin
Rare Australian gold
“The 1855 Sydney Sovereign is the equivalent of the U.S. 1854-S Half
Eagle; both ‘S’ mints, both first year of striking. It’s an amazing
discovery,” stated Dwight Manley, managing partner of the California
Gold Marketing Group. Only four coins are known to survive of the
1854-S Coronet gold $5 half eagle mintage, from the San Francisco
Mint’s first year.
Inside Coin World: Mint’s heritage assets are
slowly coming to light Some of the U.S. Mint’s
greatest treasures, its “heritage assets,” are slowly coming out of
the vaults and into the open for collectors to marvel over.
“An 1856 Sydney Mint Sovereign, now graded PCGS AU58 and even rarer
than the 1855, also was found. Someone apparently traveled from
Australia to the San Francisco area with the 1855 and 1856 gold
coins,” Manley revealed.
“It is fascinating to think about how these coins got to San
Francisco. Were they carried by an Aussie miner seeking his fortune
during the California Gold Rush or acquired as winnings in a gold camp
poker game? Those two coins were onboard when the SS Central
America went down 161 years ago,” said Manley.
“The two Australian coins were found in the same area of the seabed
more than 7,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the
coast of the Carolinas,” explained Bob Evans.
Evans was the chief scientist on the 1980s missions that first
located and recovered a portion of the fabulous SS Central
America treasure and then assisted with the 2014 recovery.
“Communication, commerce, and travel between California and
Australia were fully developed during the 1850s, in spite of the
7,500-mile steamship voyage required. The Australian Gold Rush that
started in 1851 attracted a diverse, multi-national throng, quickly
changing the demographics of the former penal colony. Many among the
international crowd of gold-seekers visited both Australia and
California seeking their fortunes,” explained Evans.
Coins from other countries abound
The vast majority of the more than 3,000 gold coins recovered in
2014 were struck in the United States.
The retrieved world gold coins, however, in addition to the two
Australian gold pieces, represent an interesting mix of Latin American
and European entities. Source countries and the number of coins found
follow: Bolivia (1); Federal Republic of Central America (1); Costa
Rica (3); France (20); Great Britain (41); Mexico (5, including 3
contemporary counterfeits), Netherlands (6); Peru (2); and Spain (1).
Some notable British coins among those recovered in 2014, now graded
and cataloged, are an 1852 Victoria sovereign with Arabic 1, graded
PCGS MS-63+; an 1855 Victoria sovereign, PCGS MS-62; and two 1856
Victoria sovereigns, one graded PCGS MS-62, the other PCGS MS-61.
Also now certified are a Costa Rican 1855-JB half-escudo coin graded
PCGS MS-63; a French 1854-A Napoleon III 5-franc coin, and an 1855-A
Napoleon III 20-franc coin, both graded PCGS MS-61; a Mexican 1852-Go
8-escudo coin, PCGS MS-61; a Netherlands 1840 Willem I 10-gulden coin,
PCGS MS-63+; and a Spanish Ferdinand VII 1809-S Draped Bust 2-escudo
coin, graded PCGS AU-50, the oldest-date gold piece recovered from the
“It’s kismet that one of the recovered coins from the SS Central
America, an 1835 2 Escudos, was from the Central America
Republic,” said Manley.
The Federal Republic of Central America was a sovereign state
between 1823 and 1841, comprising at times part of what is now Costa
Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, southern Mexico and Nicaragua.
Each of the PCGS-certified world coins now is encapsulated in its
own specially produced and labeled holder, along with a pinch of
recovered SS Central America gold dust in a separate
compartment. The insert label includes a statement of authenticity
hand-signed by Evans.
In the coming weeks, additional highlights of the recently examined
and certified treasure will be revealed.
They could write a book
A complete inventory of U.S. and world coins and assayers’ ingots
recovered in 2014 will be listed in an upcoming book, America’s
Greatest Treasure Ship: The SS Central America, The Second
Journey, by Q. David Bowers and Manley. It will be published by
the California Gold Marketing Group later this year.
Why were there dozens of world coins on the ship? Bowers explained:
“In San Francisco in 1857 all sorts of foreign gold coins were legal
tender. Back then, the Australian Sovereigns and the other recovered
gold coins were not of any particular notice or importance, but today
they are numismatic treasures!”
The SS Central America was a 280-foot long, three-masted
side-wheel steamship carrying tons of California gold that had already
been shipped from San Francisco to Panama on the way to New York. The
steamer sank in a September 1857 hurricane on the leg of the journey
from Aspinwall (now Colón), Panama, to New York City. The loss of the
gold cargo was a contributing factor in the economically devastating
financial panic of 1857 in the United States.
Recovery of the treasure was a subject of litigation that resulted
in an award of 92 percent of the treasure to the finders of the wreck.
Finder Tommy Thompson was in turn sued by investors. He disappeared
for months before being captured and extradited to Ohio; he is
currently held in a federal prison in Michigan on contempt charges for
not revealing the whereabouts of his portion of the gold.
The California Gold Marketing Group LLC of Brea, California,
acquired the 2014 treasure from Ira Owen Kane, Receiver for Recovery
Limited Partnership and Columbus Exploration LLC in a court-approved
transaction in November 2017.
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In 1999, the same group acquired, and subsequently marketed, the
available treasure that was recovered in the 1980s.