Nerds Discover $400 Million in Shipwreck Treasure Gold!

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The Ship of Gold – “The Greatest Treasure Ever Found”

165 years ago, the Sidewheel Steamer, S.S. Central America, sunk in a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas, taking the lives of 425 men and over 4,700 pounds of California gold, 8,000 feet below the Atlantic.

SS Central America (Lost 1857)
In the 1850s, passengers and gold, in the form of coins, ingots, and nuggets, regularly traveled from California to New York, not over land, but by sea. Typically the route consisted of a side-wheel steamer from San Francisco to Panama, then across the cape via railroad, and then reloaded on a different side-wheel steamer from Panama to New York. The SS Central America, was a 280 foot side-wheel steamer that operated between Central America and the eastern coast of the U.S. at that time.

On September 3, 1857, 477 passengers and 101 crew members left a Panamanian port, with a one night stopover in Havana, Cuba, and then sailing for New York City, under the command of William Lewis Herndon. The ship was heavily laden with 10 to 15 tons of cargo and gold that was prospected during the California Gold Rush, which is how this ship picked-up the nickname, “Ship of Gold.” The $2.6 million dollars’ worth of gold onboard later would prove to have a numismatic value estimated at well over $100 million.

SS Central America 1857 Storm

On September 9th, the ship was caught up in a Category 2 hurricane, while off the coast of the Carolinas. By September 11th, there were 105 mph winds and heavy surf, which shredded the sails, and swamped the ship, shutting down the boilers, about 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Only 153 survivors, primarily women and children, managed to make it in lifeboats.

SS Central America Sinking 1857

On September 12, 1857, the Central America sunk in the hurricane two hundred miles off the Carolina Coast in 8,000 feet below the Atlantic, taking the lives of 425 men and over 4,700 pounds of California gold. This enormous loss shook public confidence in the economy and contributed to the “Panic of 1857.” The sinking of the SS Central America, known as “The Ship of Gold,” was one of the worst peacetime tragedies of men, ship, and gold lost at sea. It contributed to the deepest depression of the 19th Century both economically and emotionally.

Exactly 130 years later, on September 11, 1987, the fabled “Ship of Gold” was finally located in eight thousand feet of water off the coast of North Carolina, by a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) operated by an entrepreneurial group of Science Nerds from the Columbus-America Discovery Group of Ohio.

Columbus-America Discovery Group - Nemo

Watch this Dateline NBC Interview with Explorer, Tommy Thompson


This Dateline NBC episode from May 31st, 1998, chronicles the search, discovery and treasure recovery of the legendary 1857 shipwreck of the SS Central America, known as “The Ship of Gold”.


This vintage clip from The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson interviews Chief Scientist, Bob Evans, on the 1857 historic shipwreck of the SS Central America, “Ship of Gold” Treasure Recovery.

The ship’s bell forged by the Morgan Iron Works would provide positive identification that the SS Central America had indeed been found. Using a robotic submersible built for the recovery, named ‘Nemo,’ they eventually recovered over 7,000 coins and several hundred gold monetary ingots. Many of the coins and ingots were in such a well-preserved state that they looked as though they had just been struck at the mint, after being submerged, untouched for over 130 years.

After the shipwreck was discovered in 1987, about 95% of recovered coins were found to be 1857-S Liberty Head $20 gold pieces, most of the San Francisco Mint’s production of 1857 gold Double Eagles! 

SS Central America Sotheby’s Auction
SS Central America Christie’s Auction
LIFE Magazine 1992 SS Central America

The first public offering of SS Central America treasure occurred in June 2000 by Sotheby’s in New York, and a second public auction occurred in December 2000 by Christie’s in New York. The total value of the recovered gold was estimated upwards of $150 million. Life Magazine’s cover in March 1992 touted it as “The Greatest Treasure Ever Found.”

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Christies Cover
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In 2014, Odyssey Marine Exploration was selected to salvage the remaining gold from the SS Central America. The second recovery brought to light the discovery of a broad array of coinage from Gold Rush pioneers, including an assortment of large raw gold nuggets and gold dust mined from the California Gold Fields during the Gold Rush of the 1850s.

Odyssey Marine Exploration ROV Zeus

Odyssey’s ROV, ‘ZEUS,’ digitally documented over 12,500 high-resolution images of the site prior to any recovery efforts, and a 161,000-square-meter, high-resolution video survey of the shipwreck and surrounding seabed was also completed. The recovery was conducted over 129 days and included 83 ROV dives recording over 2,000 hours of dive time.

SSCA Odyssey 2014 Treasure Recovery

The recovery resulted in 3,100 gold coins, 100 pounds of gold dust, more than 10,000 silver coins, 45 gold ingot bars, and hundreds of other historical artifacts from the SS Central America shipwreck site.

SSCA Paddlewheel
SSCA Gold Coins
SSCA Pursers Safe

This incredible story of tragedy and euphoria continues to captivate collectors, investors, and historians. It is unquestionably the biggest single event to ever happen to the numismatic marketplace. The incredibly preserved gold coins, bars and rare artifacts laid undisturbed some 8,000 feet in the deep blue sea for over 130+ years, and today, through a remarkable series of events, is available from Finest Known for acquisition for those who can appreciate their historic value.

History’s Mysteries: Ship of Gold
This History Channel Documentary tells the story of the incredible discovery of the greatest undersea treasures ever recovered – the SS Central America. This shipwreck loss occurred off the Carolina’s and sadly resulted in the loss of most of the passengers and crew of the steamship. The ship was sailing from California to the East Coast and was laden with huge gold reserves from the California Gold Rush – in addition, many of the passengers also had large sums of gold and coins in their possession at the time of the tragic sinking. Learn the history of the California Gold Rush and about the search and discovery of the “Ship of Gold”.

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