What is the SS Central America and why is it important to hobby?

Bob Evans is shown more than 20 years ago with the “Eureka bar,” an 80-pound gold ingot that remains the largest such piece recovered from the wreckage of the SS Central America.

Coin World image by Paul Gilkes.

Editor's note: The following post is part of's 'Collecting Basics' series, which provides novice readers with an introduction into the numismatic hobby.

The SS Central America is a steamship that capsized in a hurricane off the South Carolina coast during an 1857 trip between Panama and New York City. 

Why is it important in numismatics? The 3 tons of gold it was carrying at the time it wrecked might have something to do with that.

The “Ship of Gold,” as it is nicknamed, was carrying gold bars (or ingots) and coins, including more than 5,000 Mint State 1857-S Coronet $20 double eagles, for commercial firms. The human death toll from the shipwreck was 477.

The recovery of gold from SS Central America shipwreck site began in 1989 after the wreck was discovered off the coast of South Carolina in 1987. Years of legal battle between the salvors who found the coins and the insurance companies that had paid off claims after the 1857 shipwreck delayed the gold’s entry into the market for a decade.

Another lengthy legal battle took place after the chairman of Columbus Exploration LLC, the company that had been handling the recovery effort, sold gold from the wreck to a consortium of coin dealers in 2000 while allegedly shutting out original Columbus investors.

The second dispute led to a long hiatus in recovery dives during the first 14 years of the 2000s. But in 2014, the recovery effort was renewed.

Odyssey Marine Explorations has been pulling gold from the wreckage after it was announced in March 2014 that the company had been awarded a contract by Recovery Limited Partnership, which has exclusive salvage rights to the site.

Odyssey's recovery dives began in April 2014.

In the first five months, the Odyssey Explorer recovery ship brought to surface 15,500 gold and silver coins, 45 gold bars, hundreds of gold nuggets, gold dust, jewelry and other artifacts, according to a Coin World story by Paul Gilkes published online Sept. 17.

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