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Ship of Gold

by James H. Nottage, Eiteljorg vice president and chief curatorial officer | Apr 16, 2015

            After it became apparent that the ship must, sooner or later, surrender to the angry elements, the scene among the passengers on deck, and throughout the vessel was one of the most indescribable confusion and alarm.
Detroit Free Press, September 23, 1857

   TOTAL LOSS OF THE TREASURE
New York Times, September 19, 1857

The Greatest Treasure Ever Found
LIFE, March 1992

The SS Central America (earlier named the SS George Law) was a 280-foot sidewheel steamer that transported passengers and freight from the West coast to the East. In September of 1857 it sank in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina, killing 425 of the nearly 580 passengers and crew. Until the 1980s it rested at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 8,000 feet below the surface, with more than 30,000 pounds of California gold on board. Loss of the treasure contributed to the worldwide financial panic of 1857, from which the United States would not recover until after the Civil War.

The coin and gold bars in this case are from among the hundreds of bars and thousands of coins recovered using a deep-water submarine.

Gold bars recovered from the wreck of the SS Central America
Gold bars recovered from the wreck of the SS Central America
Loan courtesy of CPB
Photography by Hadley Fruits

Wreck of the Steamship Central America
 
Wreck of the Steamship Central America
J. Childs
Lithograph
Image courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA; LP2438

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