On a dark and stormy night, October 3rd, 1857, the S.S. Central America, bound to New York from Havana, battled the high seas during a Category 2 hurricane. The massive 280-foot, three-masted, side-wheeled, wooden-hulled steamship was hammered repeatedly by the storm, and through fractures in the hull, the water rose higher and higher inside the vessel. Crew and passengers bailed water all through the night, only to have mother nature reign supreme and take the mighty ship under the surface. That night 425 passengers and over three tons of California Gold Rush Gold sank to the deepest, darkest depths of Davy Jones Locker somewhere off the Carolinas. The precious metal cargo on board consisted primarily of thousands of the Twenty Dollar Gold Double Eagle Liberty “Coronet head” coins valued at two million dollars at the time (the modern-day equivalent of $300 million).
The ship became known as “America’s Lost Treasure,” and the loss of this valuable cargo contributed to “The Panic of 1857,” which caused the failure of many New York banks due to the inability to pay creditors directly and meet payroll, both directly correlated to the sinking of this ship. Panic began to spread throughout the Northeastern part of the U.S. and Europe when stores and factories began to close and caused a major financial crash, which in turn resulted in an even greater increase in separation between the Northern States and the Southern Slave-owning states and further sharpening the disdain between the two and pushing the U.S. ever closer toward the American Civil War.
The “Ship of Gold,” as it also has come to be known, was discovered 160 miles off the coast at a depth of somewhere around 7,200-8,500 feet by scientist and explorer Tommy Thompson and his group, the Columbus-America Discovery Group of Ohio. After a 10-year-long legal dispute with multiple insurance companies (39) that had laid claim to the gold, 92% was awarded to the Columbus-America Discovery team. Large amounts of gold, estimated to be worth $100 million to $150 million, were recovered. In the discovery, along with the 1857-S Coronet Head double eagle coins, the explorers came across an 80-pound gold bar nicknamed “Eureka.” Eureka was sold to a private collector for $8 million.
In the early 2000s, a large portion of coins became available and consisted mainly of 1856-S and 1857-S $20 Liberty coins. A second round of coins has also been released. Using sable-hair brushes and non-acidic sodium salt baths, the Columbus-America Discovery team began the Herculean task of restoration by hand. They were able to restore the coins to near pristine condition.
Fortunately for investors around the world, these coins have most recently been sent to be evaluated and graded on the quality of their condition. And many coins from shipwrecks retain their full strikes, details, and original luster.