Blake and Company Assayers Gold Ingot. Sacramento. Serial No. 5232. 30.41 ounces, .817 Fine. Face Value in 1857 of $513.59.


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Approximately 52.9 x 43.2 x 26.9 mm. An exceptionally attractive and rare ingot from the famous shipwreck of the S.S. Central America. The surfaces are encrusted with the natural iron oxides that came from the rusting iron of the ship and, probably, portions of the crates that contained these bars. Many of the larger and more common bars were cleaned of this natural patina, but those that were not retain a wonderful array of deep orange, red and mauve toning that speaks to the more than 130 years this bar spent on the Atlantic Ocean floor, at a depth of more than 7,000 feet. The unpatinated areas reveal the richness of nearly 20 karat gold, with a faintly greenish cast and brilliant, almost reflective surfaces in places.

Stamped on the face with the assayer’s identity at the top, BLAKE & Co., in a single gang punch. In two lines beneath, are ASSAYERS and SACRAMENTO, also from a prepared punch. Below this is the fineness, .817 FINE, followed by VALUE and the face value of the bar, $513.59. The top of the bar features the serial number No. 5232, while the opposing side bears the weight, 30.41 Oz. The underside of the bar exhibits the usual cooling depression (this being the top side of the poured bar), but there are no additional markings. Corner assay cuts are taken from two opposing corners, as usual. Unique to the Blake and Co. bars is the fine beveling of all edges, speaking to the firm’s effort to make their product truly outstanding among their competitors. What is most unusual about this is that the ingots were ephemeral by nature and not intended as a finished product. Today we see this beveling as matter of quality and care, but most likely the intent was utilitarian, to finely finish the edges so that no gold could be easily stolen from a rough edge.

The S.S. Central America is probably the most famous American shipwreck, lost in a storm off the coast of South Carolina in September 1857. It was laden with a vast trove of gold from California, the loss of which exacerbated an unfolding financial panic the same year. Thousands of gold coins were recovered from the seafloor, along with a few hundred gold ingots ranging in weight from just under 5 ounces to more than 900 ounces. These were from five different assaying firms, but Blake & Co. bars are the rarest in the marketplace today. Just 34 were found in the original recovery (a stark contrast to nearly ten times that number found bearing the Kellogg & Humbert name). Blake bars are considered the most attractive and most desirable of them all. This ingot is plated on page 109 of Q. David Bowers’ A California Gold Rush History featuring the treasure from the S.S. Central America.


The story of the Ship of Gold, the S.S. Central America, is unique in American history. The sidewheel steamer set sail from Panama in early September 1857, headed north to New York City. Aboard was $1.6 million in registered gold coins and ingots at a time when gold was valued at $20.67 per ounce. The treasure had left San Francisco aboard the S.S. Sonora and in Panama was transferred aboard the narrow-gauge Panama Railroad card across the isthmus, to Aspinwall on the Atlantic side.

The weather was ideal and the ship set forth, stopping briefly in Havana. The route was familiar, and in the years of the Gold Rush the transit had been made many times.

Clouds rose on the horizon on Saturday afternoon, September 12, but surely the thunderstorm would pass. It was the usual season for such weather.

This time was different.

The storm intensified into hurricane-force winds, whipping the sea into mountainous height. The Central America sprang a leak, and water gushed into the hold, extinguishing the fire that powered the engine. The ship became helpless in the waves. Bad turned to worse. Some women and children passengers were rescued by a passing sailing vessel, but male passengers and crew remained aboard. At eight in the evening the Central America slipped beneath the waves, coming to rest on the sea bottom 7,200 feet below, about 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina. In time, the ship was mostly forgotten.

Fast forward to the next century. In Columbus, Ohio in the 1980s scientist Bob Evans led a group of researchers who studied charts, read early newspaper accounts, calculated what might have been the wind and current in 1857, and platted a section of sea that could possibly include the wreck. After much effort the sunken ship was located. Nemo, a mechanical recovery device, was constructed and lowered to the site. Much of the treasure was recovered, including over 400 gold ingots and over 10,000 silver and gold coins, including over 6,000 mint-fresh 1857-S double eagles.

The rest is history. Excitement prevailed. Investors formed the California Gold Marketing Group and acquired the rights to the treasure. A replica of the side of the ship, with a SHIP OF GOLD sign above it, was displayed at coin conventions, including at the 2000 American Numismatic Association show in Philadelphia. The coins and ingots were made available to the public via both auction and private sale, and it was not long before all had found happy buyers.

Years after the first recovery a second exploration of the site of the S.S. Central America was made, this time by Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Florida. In the summer of 2014, with Bob Evans supervising dives by the Zeus robot, additional coins and ingots were found. These too were marketed by the California Gold Marketing Group and were soon absorbed into the market.

The story of the tragedy of the S.S. Central America and the remarkable recovery of her treasure remains as fascinating as ever, and today, coins and ingots from the ship continued to attract interest and excitement whenever they come onto the market.