The S.S. Central America is one of the most historic shipwrecks in the relatively brief history of the United States.
Artist's rendition of the loss of SS Central America
The ship sunk amid a hurricane on its way back from South America in 1857. Its impact was so severe, in fact, that the loss of the ship's cargo—a large amount of gold and silver bullion—actually helped plunged America into an economic panic that year.
Of course, it's worth pointing out that the California Gold Rush of the previous decade was also a major contributor to the prosperity that preceded the Panic of 1857.
There is already a great deal of lore about the S.S. Central America. It has often been referred to by the nickname "Ship of Gold" due to the incredible amount of precious metal on board.
Salvage efforts off the Atlantic coast of the U.S. have been ongoing since the 1980s. Coins recovered from the wreckage already carry a special pedigree. Who doesn't like "shipwreck treasure"?
Yet because the amount of bullion that sank with the Central America is so vast, new discoveries are still coming to light.
Most recently, the ship's cash box, known as the purser's safe, was finally recovered. Amazingly, the safe and its contents were preserved intact, even after more than 150 years sitting at the ocean floor.
Image courtesy of California Gold Marketing Group
The purser's safe is essentially where the passengers on a ship can store their valuables during the trip. Unsurprisingly, the safe was filled with a considerable amount of gold and silver coins.
Dates on the coins range between 1796 and the year of the wreck, 1857. There were nearly 10,000 coins in total stored in the safe, primarily dimes, quarters, and half dollars.
What was surprising was the condition of the coins. Even the silver ones (which often tarnish when stuck undersea too long) in the safe were well-preserved.
Although the purser's safe wasn't water-sealed, it managed to keep additional oxygen from the surrounding ocean out of its inner environment. This is why the silver coins didn't corrode after being submerged for a century and a half. Perhaps most astounding is that the canvas bags holding the coins were still intact!
The latest developments with the shipwreck recovery were covered across the numismatic press this week.
Not only are these items expected to garner a huge premium at auction due to their provenance, but they can also help reveal the rich history of shipping and commerce in 19th-century America.
The opinions and forecasts herein are provided solely for informational purposes, and should not be used or construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any financial product.
Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.