Gold worth millions
recovered from 1857 shipwreck by Michael Winter,
USA TODAY | July 17, 2014
Millions of dollars worth
of gold has been recovered from a famous 19th-century shipwreck
off South Carolina being fought over in court, the first
inventories of the salvaged cargo show.
A federal judge in Virginia overseeing the
recovery effort from the SS Central America released the
mid-April-to-mid-June tallies late Wednesday, the Associated
Press and The Columbus Dispatch reported Thursday. An updated
list is likely soon.
AP based the estimated value of the gold
coins and bars on treasure that was sold for $50 million
to $60 million after the shipwreck was found in 1988 by
Tommy Thompson of Columbus, Ohio, now a fugitive and the
target of lawsuits from jilted investors who bankrolled
The New York-bound mail steamship sank during
a hurricane in 1857, killing 425 people and sending tons
of California Gold Rush fortune to the bottom of the Atlantic
Ocean, about 160 miles off South Carolina. The lost cargo
caused a financial panic.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach
Smith settled an ownership dispute and granted salvage rights
to Recovery Limited Partnership, which is run by a court-appointed
receiver. Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration had been
hired to lead the latest operation, which began in April.
The inventories show that 43 gold bars,
1,302 $20 double-eagle gold coins, 37 $10 eagle gold coins,
and 9,053 10-cent silver coins have been brought to the
surface. The chief scientist of the recovery told the Dispatch
that the quality and variety of the coins, some dating to
1823, were "astonishing."
AP estimated that the $20 and $10 coins
could sell for "up to $9 million, potentially more"
based on proceeds from treasure recovered at an 1865 shipwreck.
Valuing gold bars is more complicated, because
of "myriad factors," AP wrote. Citing Sotheby's
estimates in 2000, bars weighing up to 54 pounds that were
recovered initially from the SS Central America were worth
"$8,000 to $250,000 each."
Salvage crews have discovered a trove of
personal items, including eyeglasses and glass-plate photographs
of at least 60 passengers. The salvager is working on how
to safely retrieve the photos, known as ambrotypes.