Rarities revealed from recovered shipwreck

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02 August 2018
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A series of rare British Victorian sovereigns and the finest known Australian 1855 Sydney Mint gold Sovereign, made during the first year of that mint’s operations, were discovered during the last expedition to the so-called ‘Ship of Gold’, the SS Central America, that sank while sailing to New York City in 1857. 

The SS Central America was a steamship carrying tons of California gold that had been shipped from San Francisco to Panama when she sank in a September 1857 hurricane during a voyage from Aspinwall (now Colón), Panama to New York City.

The loss of the gold cargo was a major factor in the financial panic of 1857 in the USA.  

Now, the California Gold Marketing Group LLC of Brea, California have acquired the 2014 treasure following a ‘court-approved transaction’ and are revealing details of the certified treasure ahead of the publication of a new book America’s Greatest Treasure Ship: The SS Central America, The Second Journey to be published later this year.

The variety of coins are being certified by Professional Coin Grading Service. 

Dwight Manley, managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, said:

‘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. 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.’

‘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.’ 

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Bob Evans was the chief scientist on the 1980s missions that first located and recovered a portion of the SS Central America coins and then assisted with the 2014 recovery.

Bob said: ‘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. 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.’

The vast majority of the more than 3,000 gold coins recovered in 2014 were struck in the USA, however the retrieved world gold coins represent an interesting mix of Latin American and European coinage in addition to the two Australian gold pieces.

 

International treasures 

Here are the countries and the number of recovered coins from each:

  • Australia - 2 coins
  • 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
  • Spain - 1