Fancy a gold coin from one of the greatest lost treasures in U.S. history? If you have extremely deep pockets, you'll soon get your chance.
Later this year, 3,100 gold coins, 45 gold bars and more than 80 pounds of gold dust recovered from the wreckage of the SS Central America steamship will be put up for sale. The booty, worth tens of millions of dollars, is only a portion of the vast treasure pulled from the wreck over the last several decades. Before it's scooped up by investors and collectors, the public will have the chance to view the golden loot at the Long Beach Convention Center.
"This is something that in hundreds of years people will still be talking about, reading about, looking back on and collecting things from," Dwight Manley, managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, which is displaying and selling the gold, told the AP. "There's no other ships that sank that haven't been recovered that rival this or are similar to this, so it's really a once-in-a-lifetime situation."
A painting depicting the sinking of the SS Central America in 1857. (Photo: J. Childs/Wikimedia Commons)
The SS Central America left a Panamanian port on Sep. 3, 1857, for New York City heavy with gold collected from the California Gold Rush. An estimated 15 tons of gold — what would be valued today at nearly $300 million — filled its holds. Six days into the journey, while off the coast of the Carolinas, the ship ran straight into a Category 2 hurricane and began taking on water. For days, the crew and passengers struggled against the flooding, making every possible effort to relight the boilers and escape the storm. The only bright spot came on Sept. 12, when 153 passengers — mostly women and children — were shuttled from the SS Central America to two nearby rescue ships.
The Central America sank a few hours later, killing 425 people. At the time, it was the worst steamship disaster in American history.
In addition to the staggering loss of life, the sinking also helped spark a financial panic in the United States. It's estimated that the gold in the wreck was equal to nearly 20 percent of all the gold held in New York City banks at the time.
In 1988, treasure hunter Tommy Thompson discovered the final resting place of the SS Central America in about 7,000 feet of water 160 miles off the coast of South Carolina. In the years that followed, millions in gold bars and coins were brought to the surface, with the California Gold Marketing Group shelling out $50 million in 2000 for a sizable portion of the haul.
Investors behind Thompson later cried foul after he failed to provide returns they said were promised from the sale. Like something out of a Hollywood film, he went on the run, leading U.S. Marshals on a two-year manhunt that culminated in his arrest in 2015. He's been in an Ohio jail ever since, held in contempt of court for failing to reveal the whereabouts of some 500 gold coins.
The gold set to go on display in California next month comes from a second haul from the wreck that was recovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2014. It includes some coins that could fetch up to a million dollars each at auction.
Those interested in taking a look at this rare piece of American treasure can stop by the Long Beach Convention Center from Feb. 22-24.