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Territorial gold part of ship treasure

This rare 884 THOUS variety 1853 U.S. Assay Office $20, graded PCGS AU-55+, is one of the Territorial gold coins recovered from the “SS Central America.” (Images from Professional Coin Grading Service www.PCGS.com)

The SS Central America is the sunken treasure wreck that just keeps on giving.

From the latest release of the California Gold Marketing Group LLC of Brea, Calif., we see a veritable census of Territorial gold from the Gold Rush.

The ship sank in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina with so much gold aboard that news of the tragedy sparked the Panic of 1857 on Wall Street.

A remarkable 105 pieces fall into the Territorial category. All have been slabbed by the Professional Coin Grading Service.

Eager coin buyers will read the list of gold issues as a hungry person reads a menu.

“We have finished carefully examining and cataloging the $5, $10 and $20 gold Territorials we took possession of earlier this year that were retrieved from the SS Central America in 2014,” said CGMG Managing Partner Dwight Manley.

“There are an unprecedented 50 Kellogg & Co. $20 coins, including two monumentally rare, uncirculated coins! Ten of those 50 were found together in a pile with other coins on the Atlantic Ocean seabed off the coast of the Carolinas,” Manley said.

One of the finest known 1855 Wass Molitor Small Head variety $20 gold coins grades PCGS AU-58. (Image courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service www.PCGS.com)

For any collector who ever drooled over the Territorial gold section of the Red Book, the list of rarities is staggering. It includes:

• The second finest known 1854 Kellogg $20, graded PCGS MS-62+.

• The second finest known 1855 Kellogg $20, PCGS MS-61.

• Two rare 1855 Wass Molitor Small Head variety $20 gold coins that are among the finest known with one graded PCGS AU-58 and the other PCGS AU-55.


The latest “SS Central America” sunken treasure recovery yielded the second finest known 1854 Kellogg $20 Territorial gold coin, now graded PCGS MS-62+. (Images from Professional Coin Grading Service www.PCGS.com)

There is also a rare 1853 U.S. Assay Office $20 “884 THOUS” variety, graded PCGS AU-55+.

This variety has a story to tell.

“The very rare 884 THOUS variety, representing a gold content fineness of .884 purity, was struck for only eight days in February and March of 1853 before they switched to the more acceptable ‘900 THOUS’ standard,” explained Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the 1980s missions that first located and recovered a portion of the fabulous SS Central America treasure and then assisted with the 2014 recovery.

“We also found five 1853 Moffat & Co. $20s,” Evans said. “It was really exciting to locate these because we didn’t recovery any Moffat $20s during any of the earlier expeditions.”

Evans is the curator of all of the recovered treasure. Can you imagine handling each and every piece on the list below? It is simply amazing.

$20 denomination (total of 77 coins):
• 1854 Kellogg & Co. (26 coins)
• 1855 Kellogg & Co. (24)
• 1853 Moffat & Co. (5)
• 1853 US Assay Office 884 THOUS (1)
• 1853 US Assay Office 900 THOUS (19)
• 1855 Wass Molitor & Co. Small Head (2)

$10 denomination (13 coins):
• 1849 Moffat & Co. TEN DOL. (1)
• 1849 Moffat & Co. TEN D. (2)
• 1852/1 Humbert (1)
• 1852 Humbert (1)
• 1852 US Assay Office ( 3)
• 1853 US Assay Office 900 THOUS (1)
• 1852 Wass Molitor & Co. Small Head (1)
• 1852 Wass Molitor & Co. Large Head (2)
• 1855 Wass Molitor & Co. (1)

$5 denomination (15 coins):
• 1849 Moffat & Co. (11)
• 1850 Moffat & Co. (2)
• 1852 Wass Molitor & Co. Small Head (2)
It is no wonder buyers are lining up with their checkbooks.

There is even a countstamped piece. Most collectors have seen these on low denomination coins, but probably never on gold.

A Small Head variety 1852 Wass Molitor $5 gold coin, with a counterstamp advertising Sacramento dentist W.W. Light, is among the 105 California Gold Rush Territorial coins recovered during the last expedition to the fabled Ship of Gold, the “SS Central America.” (Image courtesy Professional Coin Grading Service www.PCGS.com.)

Evans said, “One 1852 Wass Molitor $5 Small Head variety gold coin was counterstamped, “W.W.LIGHT/DENTIST,” by a Sacramento, California dentist.

“It’s pretty cool!,” exclaimed Evans. “It’s graded PCGS VF-30. It apparently had years of use in the goldfields and must have stories to tell!”

A complete inventory of U.S. and world coins and assayers’ ingots recovered in 2014 will be listed in an upcoming book, America’s Greatest Treasure Ship: The SS Central America, The Second Journey, by Q. David Bowers and Manley. It will be published by the California Gold Marketing Group later this year.

The SS Central America was a 280-foot long, three-masted side-wheel 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 economically devastating financial panic of 1857 in the United States.

The California Gold Marketing Group LLC of Brea, Calif., acquired the 2014 treasure from Ira Owen Kane, Receiver for Recovery Limited Partnership and Columbus Exploration, LLC in a court-approved transaction in November 2017. In 1999, the group acquired all of the available treasure that was recovered in the 1980s.


This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today


More Collecting Resources

• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .

• Are you a U.S. coin collector? Check out the 2019 U.S. Coin Digest for the most recent coin prices.

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