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Tiny treasures part of gold recovery

A rare Peacock variety 50-cent gold coin (BG-302), graded PCGS MS-64, was among the 112 historic California fractional gold coins recovered in the last sunken treasure expedition to the “SS Central America.” (Photo courtesy Professional Coin Grading Service www.PCGS.com)

Part of the finest group of its kind in history, this 1856 gold 50-cent coin (BG-311), now graded PCGS MS-68+PL, was among 112 California fractional gold pieces recovered from the fabled “Ship of Gold.” (Photo courtesy Professional Coin Grading Service www.PCGS.com)

1855 $1 (BG-533), PCGS MS-64PL. (Photo courtesy Professional Coin Grading Service www.PCGS.com)

Tiny California fractional gold pieces are among the coins recovered from the 1857 wreck of the SS Central America.

These were obtained during the latest mission to the fabled “Ship of Gold,” which sank on a voyage from Panama to New York City.

According to the California Gold Marketing Group of Brea, Calif., many of these pieces are now the finest known.

“A total of 112 privately minted, California Gold Rush fractional coins in denominations of 25 cents, 50 cents and $1 were retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean, and an unprecedented 54 of them now have been designated prooflike by Professional Coin Grading Service,” revealed Dwight Manley, CGMG managing partner.

One of the superb sunken treasure 50-cent fractional coins was graded PCGS MS68+PL.

“This is the finest known group of its kind in history. The condition of these coins is unrivaled, and for the first time ever PCGS has designated dozens as prooflike. It’s a true time capsule!” exclaimed Manley. “More than 50 of the coins are finer than the previously known fractionals of their respective variety.”

The California fractionals were among more than 3,000 gold coins recovered in 2014 from the SS Central America but only recently examined in detail, cataloged by Breen-Gillio reference numbers and graded.

“In 2014, when we first saw these coins lying in the shipwreck’s debris field, I realized how it illustrated the importance of California fractional gold in the day-to-day commerce of 1857 California. For instance, 11 of these delightful little coins were mingled within one remarkable jumble of 264 pieces of gold currency: 236 U.S. gold coins of every denomination and 17 foreign gold coins,” said Bob Evans. He was the chief scientist on the 1980s missions that first located and recovered a portion of the SS Central America treasure and then assisted with the 2014 recovery.

“As I curated these fabulous wonders under the microscope I was struck by both the crudeness of their manufacture and by the remarkable state of preservation, many of them looking as if a San Francisco jeweler had minted them yesterday. The dozens of prooflike specimens are truly stunning,” Evans added.

Highlights of the discoveries include:

• 1856 25 cents (BG-111), graded PCGS MS-68PL; another of this variety is graded PCGS MS-67+PL and two others are PCGS MS-67PL;
• No date 25 cents (BG-224), PCGS MS-66PL;
• 1853 50 cents (BG-302), the rare “Peacock” design on the reverse, PCGS MS-64;
• 1856 50 cents (BG-307), PCGS MS-66PL;
• 1856 50 cents (BG-311), PCGS MS-68+PL; two others of this variety are MS-67PL;
• 1856 50 cents (BG-434), MS-67+PL; a second one of this variety is PCGS MS67PL;
• 1855 $1 (BG-533), PCGS MS-64PL.

Each of the PCGS-certified fractional gold coins now is encapsulated in specially produced and labeled holders that contain a pinch of recovered SS Central America gold dust in a separate compartment. The insert label includes a statement of authenticity hand-signed by Evans.

“The SS Central America treasure is literally a historic and financial time machine, taking you back to the minds of the public during the California Gold Rush,” stated PCGS Co-Founder and Collectors Universe President David Hall.

“At one point as I looked at all of the fractional gold coins together it was almost a startling out-of-body experience for me. I imaged myself in a restaurant or a bar in 1857 as I wondered what a steak and beer would cost back then? Would I have to give them a 50-cent gold piece or a $1 gold piece? It was like being there in 1857,” recalled Hall.

In the coming weeks, additional highlights of the recently examined and certified treasure will be revealed. 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 Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000 is your guide to images, prices and information on coinage of the 1900s.

• Download The Metal Mania Seminar with David Harper to learn more about the metals market.

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