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Shipwrecked Gold Set to Make its Debut

In 1857, a steamship named the S.S. Central America left the Panamanian port of Colón for New York City, captained by William Lewis Herndon. She carried not just 477 passengers and 101 crew members, but also 10 tons of California Gold prospected during the California Gold Rush. Tragically, the ship went down in a hurricane off the Carolina coast on September 12, 1857, despite the valiant efforts of the passengers and crew to keep the ship afloat. Even after the evacuation of many women and children and subsequent water rescues, 425 people perished in the sinking of the Central America. In addition to the devastating loss of life, the sinking of that particular ship would have other consequences reaching far into the future.

Ship of Gold

The S.S. Central American’s heavy load of California Gold would be valued at more than $379M in today’s money. When the ship went down, the loss of Gold had a major impact on the American economy of the day, contributing to the first worldwide economic crisis, the Panic of 1857. New York banks had been waiting on a much-needed shipment of Gold but, of course, no Gold came. The financial panic, which we would now call a recession, spread quickly as American businesses began to fail. The railroad industry took an especially hard hit and hundreds of workers were laid off. All the Gold that might have bolstered the American economy was at the bottom of the sea, far beyond the reach of anyone in 1857.

Modern Prospecting

While the sea holds many mysteries, it can hide less and less from intrepid adventurers wielding the technology of today. In 1988, the Columbus-America Discovery Group headed by Tommy Thompson discovered and began recovering the long-lost Gold from the S.S. Central America, which had grown to legendary proportions. The recovery, however, brought great controversy and difficulty to the surface along with the lost Gold. Insurance companies and Thompson’s financial backers naturally wanted their interests in the recovered treasure paid off. A decades-long struggle included Thompson disappearing with Gold coins, raging raging legal battles and an international manhunt. The story reads like a modern pirate novel.

The Light of Day

After lifetimes at the bottom of the sea, Gold from the S.S. Central America is finally being cleaned and prepared for sale. Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the original discovery voyage of 1988, is still involved in the project, cleaning each piece of the recovered treasure by hand, painstakingly soaking and brushing every item to rid it of the grime accumulated over 150 years spent on the sea floor. All of the Gold is for sale. The Gold bars and coins recovered from the S.S. Central America were on display at the Long Beach Expo, held February 22-24, in anticipation of the treasure’s release. APMEX often reminds our numismatic clients that scarcity and historical importance influence the value of collectible coin, and this situation is an excellent example. Experts believe just one small coin from this lost treasure could command as much as a million dollars at auction due to the riveting backstory attached to the recovered Gold.
This Gold, newly ready for sale, is only the second lot recovered and there is still more treasure under the sea—Gold bars and Gold coins that still star in this intrigue and capture the imagination of so many.

The California Gold Marketing Group is managing the display and sale of the treasure.

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