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Treasures of legendary 1857 ‘Ship of Gold’ sinking revealed in Nevada

A mysterious daguerreotype of a woman and a pair of jeans possibly made by Levi Strauss himself are among nearly 1,000 Gold Rush-era treasures recovered from the legendary ‘Ship of Gold’ now exhibited in Reno, Nevada.

Since their recovery between the late 1980s and 2014, the remarkable finds extracted from the wreck SS Central America were in a secret deposit. This week they began a national tour at the National Antique Bottle Convention Thursday through Sunday at the Grand Sierra Resort.

This is the first public display of the artifacts, which will be auctioned later this year, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

Notable recovered items include the lid of the oldest known Wells Fargo treasure shipping box; 1857 clothing, including a pair of the earliest known canvas work trousers of the Gold Rush era with a button fly that may have been made by Strauss during his early years in business; and jewelry made from California Gold Rush’s “mother lode” gold as gemstones, according to Fred Holabird, president of Holabird Western Americana Collections in Reno.

A daguerreotype metal plate photograph of an unidentified young woman was dubbed “Mona Lisa of the Deep” by the recovery team who recovered the mysterious photo from the seabed where it was discovered in a pile of coal from the vessel.

“There is even a key to the ship’s wine cellar and an SS Central America brass tag attached to a set of keys that belonged to the ship’s purser. We believe this was the locked room where the cargo gold hoard was kept,” Holabird said in a press release.

Other items recovered include pistols; brass luggage tags; passenger ticket receipts; kitchen utensils and crockery; ornate flint-glass wine and spirits decanters that appear to have been standard equipment in first-class cabins; solid gold rimmed glasses; and chewing tobacco in a pouch apparently from the 1851 London World’s Fair, Holabird said.

Although laden with loot, the wreckage of the SS Central America was also a grave on the high seas.

The ship sank 7,200 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean during a hurricane on September 12, 1857. The ship was on a voyage from Panama to New York carrying tons of coins, bullion and dust. gold from the California Gold Rush of San Francisco and Northern California. Region.

Of the 578 passengers and crew, 425 died and the loss of the gold cargo was a major factor in the economically devastating financial panic of 1857 in the United States, according to a recent press release.

The recovery from the sinking site of what has been described as ‘America’s greatest treasure’ took place in stages between 1988 and 1991 and again in 2014, but it has been marred by scandals in recent times. years.

Tommy Thompson, a deep-sea explorer who found the wreckage in 1988, was in federal prison for six years because he refuses to answer questions about the fate of 500 gold coins. He also eluded the investors who funded his business and was a fugitive for two years.

Treasures of legendary 1857 ‘Ship of Gold’ sinking revealed in Nevada
In this November 1989 file photo, Tommy Thompson holds a pioneering $50 gold coin recovered earlier in 1989 from the wreck of the gold ship SS Central America. (Credit: The Columbus Dispatch, Lon Horwedel/AP Photo)

Thompson said, without providing details, that the coins – valued at around $2.5 million – were turned over to a trust in Belize. After a federal judge ordered Thompson in 2012 to appear in court to disclose the whereabouts of the coins, Thompson fled to Florida where he lived with his longtime girlfriend at a hotel where he lived. near Boca Raton. U.S. Marshals tracked him down and arrested him early 2015.

Items on display at the upcoming convention have been held in three different states: Maryland, Massachusetts and Ohio, until a court-approved settlement is reached, ending a multi-party ownership dispute. decades.

Scientist Bob Evans, who participated in each of the recovery missions, will be at the Reno exhibit to talk to visitors about the “Ship of Gold” and recovered gold rush artifacts.

“It was a largely forgotten moment in American history because a few years later the Civil War broke out,” Evans told CBS News in 2018.

The items will be offered for public auction in October and November by Holabird Western Americana Collections. Currently, the California Gold Marketing Group of Brea, California owns the antiques.

In January, one of the largest Central American SS bars ever to be auctioned, an 866.19-ounce find known as the Justh & Hunter bar, sold for $2.16 million via Heritage Auctions, based in Dallas.

Treasures of legendary 1857 ‘Ship of Gold’ sinking revealed in Nevada
Some of the 45 historic gold rush-era bars recovered from the SS Central America in 2014.

Phil Arnold/Professional Coin Grading Service

“Given that the Justh & Hunter bars recovered from the SS Central America had 86 ingots of various sizes, their experience and integrity ranked them among the most trusted and well-managed assay establishments of the memorable era of the Rush. gold,” said Heritage Auctions.

The treasure of the SS Central America has brought in millions of dollars over the years. In 2019, several relics from the shipwreck fetched over $11 at auction. In 2001, an 80 pound bar was purchased by a private collector for a record $8 million.

Treasures of legendary 1857 ‘Ship of Gold’ sinking revealed in Nevada
Representation of the sinking ship, SS Central America, the steamer that sank in 1857 off the coast of South Carolina with several tons of gold on board. The Columbus Exploration group discovered the wreck in 1988 and recovered some of the gold from 1988 to 1991. Today a second company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, is heading to the wreck to recover the rest during summer 2014.

Marine Exploration Odyssey


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