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‘Carson Bar’ Sells for $2+ Million

With a quarter on it for size comparison, this Justh & Hunter gold ingot recovered from the S.S. Central America has been sold for more than $2 million.

With a quarter on it for size comparison, this Justh & Hunter gold ingot recovered from the S.S. Central America has been sold for more than $2 million.

The historic 62-troy-pound gold “Carson Bar” recovered from the 1857 shipwreck of the S.S. Central America has been sold by Rare Collectibles TV for more than $2 million. The anonymous buyer is described as a collector who specializes in historically significant, rare U.S. coins with an emphasis on the California Gold Rush.

Discovered in 1988, this famous ingot was made during the Gold Rush by San Francisco assayers Justh & Hunter. It later received the nickname “The Carson Bar” after it was held on camera in May 1991 by the popular host of the NBC television program, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the Central America discovery and recovery missions, brought the hefty gold bar for an interview segment with Carson who was impressed by the retrieved sunken treasure.

Late-night television host Johnny Carson briefly lifted the 62-pound ingot on his May 10, 1991, show. The ingot subsequently was nicknamed “The Carson Bar.”

Late-night television host Johnny Carson briefly lifted the 62-pound ingot on his May 10, 1991, show. The ingot subsequently was nicknamed “The Carson Bar.”

“Because the ingot weighed over 50 pounds, two NBC-TV stagehands had to carry it onto the set, but during the unrehearsed segment on the air, Carson grabbed it by himself with both hands,” Evans recalled. “The King of Late-night wrestled with the King of Gold Bars. As he held the big piece of yellow metal ... I watched as concern crossed Johnny’s face. Gold, mind you, is around 50% heavier than lead, which is usually regarded as something very heavy. Seated only five or six feet away, I saw Johnny’s body grow tense, and the veins bulge in his neck ... This became a brief competition between man and mass.”

The ingot with serial number 4051 was assayed by Justh & Hunter as .900 fine gold weighing 754.95 ounces. The value at the time this ingot was cast a century-and-a-half ago was $14,045.54.

“This enormous gold ingot is one of America’s most important artifacts of the California Gold Rush. This piece of sunken treasure was found in the wreckage of the Central America, a sidewheel steamship that sank off the coast of the Carolinas in 1857. The loss of the gold aboard the SSCA was extremely detrimental to the US economy and was one of the financial factors that led to the Panic of 1857,” explained Jack McNamara, co-founder of Rare Collectibles TV.

Scientist Bob Evans (left), who served on all the S.S. Central America discovery and recovery missions, and Rare Collectibles TV Co-Founder Jack McNamara stand in front of “Nemo,” the remote-operated submersible used to locate and retrieve “The Carson Bar” and other sunken treasure from the legendary “Ship of Gold.”

Scientist Bob Evans (left), who served on all the S.S. Central America discovery and recovery missions, and Rare Collectibles TV Co-Founder Jack McNamara stand in front of “Nemo,” the remote-operated submersible used to locate and retrieve “The Carson Bar” and other sunken treasure from the legendary “Ship of Gold.”

While 30,000 pounds of gold was aboard the Central America in the form of ingots, coinage, and dust, only a small portion of the gold was large bars. This massive 754.95 troy ounce gold ingot is one of the largest to be found on the ship and the third largest California Gold Rush era ingot known to still exist.

“Rarely do we see national treasures of this magnitude change hands,” said McNamara. “It is great to know it is safely placed in such a worthy and distinguished collection. Being able to help facilitate the sale of this iconic piece of U.S. history is easily one of the highlights of my career. I look forward to placing more national treasures with clients in the future.”

Evans said the interview segment with the gold ingot underscored Johnny Carson’s well-earned reputation as someone who loved spontaneity and didn’t mind being the brunt of a joke or comical situation.

“For my May 10, 1991 interview segment on The Tonight Show, I took the biggest gold bar we had recovered up to that time to be on what was the top show on late-night TV, along with some other wonderful pieces of treasure. During the commercial break just before I was to go on the set, the stagehands carried the bar and the other wonders I had arrayed on a tray -- from the NBC cafeteria! -- and placed them carefully on Johnny’s desk, then covered the tray with blue felt I had provided.

“Soon I was on set in the bright lights. After a warm welcome, some information about the S.S. Central America and its history, and some video of Nemo the undersea robot retrieving treasure from the shipwreck, Johnny couldn’t wait any longer. It was time to tackle the big loaf of gold hiding under the felt,” said Evans.

“Well, let’s show this one now! Because this is a gold bar!,” the Tonight Show Host exclaimed.

Johnny confidently unveiled the big 754 Oz. gold ingot, his own first personal look at the “prop” of the moment. He continued to gush observations and questions as he assessed the size, “about twelve inches long and three inches wide or something.” Then he began to pick up the heavy bar of gold.

“Be careful, Johnny!” Evans coached, having experienced lifting large gold ingots many times himself.

“We continued to banter about the maker, Justh & Hunter, and the weight, the weight having become the center of conversation during Johnny’s lift and show and tell. As we spoke Johnny tried to put the bar down gently. He lowered it until it rested on his fingers on the desktop. He found this distressing as it crushed his fingers, so he lifted the bar half an inch and dropped it back on the desk with a clunk, louder than he expected,” explained Evans.

Recovering quickly from his self-inflicted if unexpected workout, Johnny exhaled, “How many bars like that are down there, Bob? Have any idea?”

Evans replied, “We have a lot of smaller bars. The big ones are very rare. There may be a few more.”

“Now, Rare Collectibles TV has found a new home for one of the truly most historic, rare, big California Gold Rush ingots,” stated McNamara.