Millions in Treasure Recovered from SS Central America in Latest Salvage Effort

July 18th, 2014 by


In this photo provided by Recovery Limited Partnership, gold coins from the SS Central America can be seen, strewn across the ocean bottom.

A federal judge in Ohio has released an inventory of the treasure recovered by Odyssey Marine on behalf of Recovery Limited Partnership, from the wreck of the famous steamship SS Central America.

The Central America went down 200 miles from the South Carolina coast in 1857, while laden with tons of gold from the California gold fields. 425 people lost their lives in the tragedy, and the loss of the massive cargo of gold sparked a nationwide financial panic .

Initially discovered in 1988 by marine engineer and treasure hunter Tommy Thompson, the effort was soon embroiled in legal disputes with claimants to the treasure. Even though the recovered gold was sold for over $50 million, the investors never saw any money from the endeavor.

Artist's rendition of the loss of SS Central America

Artist’s rendition of the loss of SS Central America

Thompson has been a fugitive from justice since 2012, when he disappeared from a rented mansion in Florida after refusing several orders to appear in court.

The investors sued for custody of the wreck, and were finally granted ownership last year. They retained famed shipwreck salvors Odyssey Marine to resume recovery of the SS Central America’s treasure. Those efforts began in mid-April, but were halted after the first load was recovered, due to a lawsuit from Thompson’s old company. The lawsuit was dismissed, and efforts have resumed. Salvage efforts are slated to continue through the summer.

Double Eagle $20 gold pieces from the original salvage operations on the SS Central America

Double Eagle $20 gold pieces from the original salvage operations on the SS Central America

The inventory of the treasure so far recovered is, in part:

43 gold bars;
1302 “double eagle” $20 gold pieces, some reported in “amazing” condition;
37 “eagle” $10 gold pieces;
and 9053 silver dimes, some dating back to the 1820s.

A safe that was recovered contained a saddlebag full of gold nuggets, bags of gold coins, nuggets, and gold dust, and a pouch with 134 Double Eagles.

Each double eagle at face value in 1857 represented a month’s wages for a typical laborer at $1 a day. Today, their “melt value” is worth about $1,270, but their numismatic value could be ten times that, depending on date and condition.

Also found in recent recovery efforts are approximately 60 “ambrotype” photographs from the California Gold Rush. This type of photograph was made by imprinting the negative onto a glass plate. Gold Rush photographs are very rare, and the provenance of these photos, which presumably show the souls who lost their lives in the famous shipwreck, are extremely valuable. They’re also extremely fragile, and have been left on the ocean floor until a method can be devised to safely bring them up from the deep.