Curation of the “Ship of Gold” Coins
The first batch of coins that was recovered and conserved was graded by PCGS in the late 1990s and consisted mostly of 1856-S and 1857-S $20 Liberties. The second batch consists of about 3,100 coins including additional 1857-S $20’s as well as a wide variety of other coins such as $1 Gold pieces, $3 Gold, Quarter and Half Eagles, Eagles, and Territorial Gold. California Gold Marketing Group’s (CGMG) Chief Scientist, Bob Evans, has restored the coins. After conservation, PCGS graded these pieces of numismatic history.
PCGS Grading the “Ship of Gold”
Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) has graded the coins of the S.S. Central America. What does that mean?
What is coin grading?
Coins are graded for fineness, or nearness to perfection. The numismatic (coin collecting) industry has adopted a scale of 1 – 70, where 1 is nearly unrecognizable and flat, worn without any design detail, and 70 is that often-imaginary perfect.
Public coin auction records show that serious coin collectors want the best coins available, and will pay more money to have the finest coins in their collection. So in that way, PCGS is helping to determine the value of every Ship of Gold coin. PCGS Grading Standards
Who is PCGS?
PCGS came about as a substantial need for an impartial third-party grading company. PCGS does not take the side of the seller of the coin nor the buyer. PCGS has stepped in to be the unbiased intermediary, to grade the coin without prejudice, to help the coin market thrive in a fair way for all buyers and sellers.
Since David Hall founded PCGS in 1986, PCGS graders have graded over 38 million coins with a current market value of over $33 billion.
Other Factors that Determine a Coin’s Value
Rarity is also a factor in desirability. Some collectors prefer pristine coins, while others like the best varieties they can get. A variety coin is one that exhibits slight differences, usually made during the striking or die-making process.
The coin market is defined by supply and demand. Many U.S. coins are not rare in the numismatic sense. However, coins are less common the nicer they get, creating “condition rarities.” A coin that is common in Almost Uncirculated (showing light wear from circulation – use in commerce, grading from 50 - 58) may be uncommon and difficult to find in the market in uncirculated Mint State grades (from 60 to 69). Fewer than 10 of those same coins may exist in Mint State 68. As there are many more than 10 collectors willing to spend money to get one of those very few conditional rarities, this coin gets very, very expensive.
Why Choose PCGS?
PCGS graders are absolute experts in the field of numismatics. We have years of experience dealing with hundreds of thousands of coins. It can be difficult for the untrained eye to know the difference between a Mint State 64 and a Mint State 65 coin, just as it can be difficult to know the difference between a Very Good coin (8 – 10) and a Fine (12 – 15) coin. We supply many references and educational materials so people new to the hobby can learn, like PCGS CoinFacts and PCGS Photograde. But most hobbyists will spend a lifetime to look at thousands of coins, whereas PCGS grades tens of thousands of coins per week. When you carefully examine that many coins, you get to be very good at determining a coin’s fineness without bias. If any coin should be found to be somehow incorrectly graded or not authentic, PCGS guarantees the value of the coin according to the PCGS Price Guide.
PCGS & the “Ship of Gold” Coins
Once a senior team of PCGS graders look at each coin and come to a consensus, we encapsulate that coin with its grade in a virtually air-tight and water-tight, chemically neutral (non-reactive) case. This case cannot be opened without damaging it beyond repair. Each coin comes with a small label (called a “flip”) which describes the coin’s grade and certification number. Collectors treat this flip as a Certificate of Authenticity. You can use the coin’s certification number to find high resolution, professionally photographed TrueView images that show each coin in excruciating detail at PCGS.com/cert. Each flip with its “Ship of Gold” coin is also signed by the “Ship of Gold” Chief Scientist, Bob Evans, certifying that the coin was recovered directly from the shipwreck of the S.S. Central America.
Interview with Bob Evans, Chief Scientist, “Ship of Gold” Project
This is an excerpt from a much more detailed article to feature in the May/June PCGS Rare Coin Market Report Price Guide Magazine.
Bob Evans is the Chief Scientist on the S.S. Central America Ship of Gold project. PCGS sat down with him in his coin curation lab at PCGS Headquarters in Santa Ana to discuss the project.
BE: Well, I’ve always been interested in science. I’ve always been interested in history. I’ve always been interested in art and music. I’m also a piano player, have been all my life.
But fossils were my thing. As a kid growing up in Whitehall, an East-side suburb of Columbus, Ohio, I could collect fossils from various places – like a neighbor’s gravel driveway.
So I studied geology at Ohio State University, got my B.S. degree and became a consulting geologist in the oil industry.
At the end of 1983, my neighbor Tommy Thompson shared with me this idea about finding the S.S. Central America. There was historical record that could narrow down the location of this sunken ship with a lot of gold on it. He tasked me with taking over historical research. After an incredible amount of digging and reading, I narrowed down a couple of coordinates that we could use to bracket a search area.
In 1988, I proposed a test site that had been initially ruled out as a "large geological feature." I suggested we go there to do some tests. We went there test the ROVs (deep sea submersibles – called Remotely Operated Vehicles). We came upon what we would go on to call "garden of gold" – coins, ingots and gold dust just carpeting the sea floor. It was incredible. And hugely exciting!
Of course, it turned out to be the S.S. Central America. Imagine going to an abandoned ghost town from 150 years ago and finding the cash box in the town’s main bank – untouched! Talk about your numismatic finds.
In 2014, I worked with a different group on a second recovery (we brought up the first in the late 1980s) and I’m now, again, working to curate the finds as an archeological site. Every piece of treasure must be carefully documented scientifically. That means noting its original, exact location and a full description. To get that full description, I need to remove deposits on the surfaces of the coins to discover the coin’s original surfaces. On gold coins especially, it’s not too bad. My approach is to not do anything to the surface of the coin but to reveal it for what it really is.
One of the things I really love is the way these objects tell stories. It’s a privilege to be the guy that gets to bring these stories to the world.
An example: one of my favorite coins is an 1854-O Quarter Eagle counter-stamped by J.L. Polhemus, a druggist in Sacramento, California. That coin was made in New Orleans at a time when the New Orleans Mint may well have been using California gold to mint coins. Gold rush gold got around back then!
So then this coin made its way all the way to Sacramento, where a shop keep hammered his name on it. And then, somehow, it made it on to the S.S. Central America, and then, somehow, we brought it back up 150 years later, a couple of hundred miles from North Carolina. That’s just a great story! An example of a great, full-circle journey.
I got to discover it.
And, there are so many stories just like this that I’m getting to uncover!”
The first gold coins graded from the recent recovery are here!
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