U.S. & World Coin News and Articles

Real Sunken Treasure: The Ship of Gold

The September 2013 Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Sports Collectible Expo is hosting a glittering $10 million exhibit celebrating the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the greatest California Gold Rush treasure -- the SS Central America, the fabled "Ship of Gold." The sinking of the ship 156 years ago was a horrible human tragedy that also compounded a financial panic because of the loss of its valuable cargo.


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"In conjunction with Monaco Rare Coins of Santa Monica, California, the amazing Ship of Gold display is on view with recovered sunken treasure ranging from specks of gold dust to huge gold bars that weigh over 50 troy pounds each. Robert D. Evans, the chief scientist on the 1980's mission that located and recovered the fabulous sunken treasure, will be at the exhibit each day during the show to meet with visitors and present educational programs," said Expo President Cassi East.

The Central America was a 280-foot side-wheel steamer carrying 578 passengers and crew members and over three tons of California gold when she sank in a hurricane in September 1857 during a voyage from Panama to New York City.

A total of 425 passengers and crew lost their lives when the Central America sank about 160 miles from Cape Fear, North Carolina on the night of September 12, 1857. When the gold cargo failed to reach its intended destination in New York, banks, factories and stores began to fail as "The Panic of 1857" financial crash became even worse.

The cargo included approximately 5,200 Double Eagles ($20 denomination gold coins) struck in 1857 at the San Francisco Mint, as well as thousands of other gold and silver coins. More than 500 ingots produced by historic Gold Rush-era assayers were also recovered from the shipwreck.

The shipwreck site and the gold were discovered more than 7,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolinas 25 years ago this month, in September 1988.

"It's hard to believe it has been 25 years since we first saw that side-wheel frame, sending electricity through the control room as my crewmates exclaimed, 'Oh! You know what that is! You know what that is! All right!' Then, seeing the first glint of gold dust in the seafloor sediment under my microscope, finding and recovering the bell, and seeing the first pile of gold bars and coins. It still seems new, like yesterday," recalled Evans.


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"For me these days, it is the reactions of other people as they see pieces of America's greatest lost treasure that brings it all back, vibrant and fresh in my memories. I love to tell the stories, both those of the men and women of the Gold Rush, and my own experience with the treasure, which still speaks to me."

The Ship of Gold exhibit is in a 40-foot long representation of the ship's hull. It required months of work by Monaco Rare Coins to coordinate with collectors who privately own and have generously loaned many of the items that will be displayed.

"Visitors to the September Long Beach Expo will see huge gold ingots made by Justh & Hunter ingots weighing 754 (ingot #4501) and 652 (#4252) ounces respectively, and a Kellogg & Humbert ingot (#804) weighing 662 ounces," said Monaco Vice President Adam Crum.

The impressive Ship of Gold exhibit was first unveiled at the February 2000 Long Beach Expo, and since then more than a million people have seen it on display from California to New York. Stories about the recovered treasure exhibit have appeared in major newspapers in print and online, and on network television, cable news programs.

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