Historic and Extremely Rare Assay Ingot from the wreck of the S.S. Central America

In September, 1857, the side-wheel steamer, S.S. Central America, laden with freshly minted gold coins (primarily $20 double eagles) and other relics of the gold fields was caught in a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina, while making its way up the Atlantic en route from Panama to New York. The ship sank to the ocean floor and her precious cargo never made it to New York, exasperating the already weak economy. This week’s highlight from our New York Rarities Sale, being held on May 20, 2015 at Sotheby’s Galleries, comes from this recovered treasure.

The wreck was discovered in September 1988 by Tommy Thompson and the Columbus America Discovery Group. Using state of the art equipment, they located and recovered a large quantity of gold coins and ingots from the ocean floor. Among them was this impressive Kellogg & Humbert 45.19 ounce gold ingot. After several years of legal battles, certain ingots and gold coins were marketed by the California Gold Marketing Group, a partnership of major numismatic dealers, including our own Dave Bowers. The CGMG presented these historic numismatic relics of the California Gold Rush to the general public and numismatic audiences. As part of this marketing effort, Mr. Bowers penned a massive reference work on the history of the Gold Rush, with special focus on the S.S. Central America. A small number of “special editions” of this book were produced and given to those who purchased certain private ingots such as the Kellogg and Humbert example we are offering. For those interested in the history of the Gold Rush, no relic is more impressive than these large gold bars, and this fantastic reference book by Q. David Bowers. This is an important opportunity. In his description of this lot for the catalog, James McCarthy states:

“Offered is a tremendously exciting ingot recovered from the wreck of the S.S. Central America. The San Francisco firm of Kellogg & Humbert was established in 1855 after several mergers between prominent regional gold firms. Before long, their assayed bars were popular in the New York City and London, even being utilized by the United States Mint in Philadelphia. Monthly shipments delivered this gold to eastern destinations via steamers to Panama, where the newly constructed Panama Railroad would then transport cargo and passengers 48 miles across the isthmus to the Atlantic coast for transit elsewhere.

“The presently offered ingot was accompanied by at least 342 other bars from this firm on one such journey in late August of 1857. While the first leg of the voyage from San Francisco to Panama aboard the S.S. Sonora was unremarkable, the same, unfortunately, cannot be said about the remainder of the trip. After departing the Panamanian port of Colon (then known as Aspinwall), and making a brief stop in Havana, Cuba, the S.S. Central America steamed towards New York City with an estimated 597 passengers and crew and a cargo of over $1.2 million in registered treasure, Kellogg & Humbert ingot No. 854 included. On Friday, September 11, 1857, a hurricane induced flooding that became too much for the pair of coal-powered steam engines, rendering the vessel unable to pump out incoming water and left to the mercy of the tumultuous Atlantic. After floundering and listing for more than a day off the coast of the Carolinas, the ship disappeared beneath the waves shortly after 8 pm on Friday the 12th, claiming the lives of over 400 individuals and plunging its glistening cargo nearly one and a half miles to the ocean floor.

“Lurking in the depths for more than 130 years, the wreckage of the S.S. Central America would remain elusive and undisturbed until its discovery on September 11, 1988, caused considerable excitement among numismatic, maritime, and treasure-hunting communities around the world. Preserved by the frigid and tranquil environment of the sea floor, the sunken treasure remained largely untroubled and required little conservation to be brought back to the pristine condition that is observed here.

“Fully bright medium gold, the surface is free of any noteworthy imperfections. Close inspection reveals insignificant abrasions and a minor texturing that is more the result of the casting process than time spent at sea. The top of the ingot is stamped NO 854 with the name of the firm, KELLOGG / & / HUMBERT / ASSAYERS, within a rectangular box below. Midway down the bar is the weight, 45.19 OZ, followed by the fineness, 893 FINE, and the value in gold at the time of manufacture, $834.20. Considering that the current market price dictates a bullion value of nearly $54,000, much can be inferred about our economic change and growth over the past 150 years! Assuming medal-turn, the back side is also stamped 854 at the top, remaining otherwise blank. Housed in a clear acrylic case, the ingot is easily viewable from all sides and is thoroughly protected from harm.

“Also included with this ingot is a deluxe gilt and leather-bound copy of A California Gold Rush History by Q. David Bowers, complete with dust cover. Measuring 14 in. x 11 in. x 2.75 in., this incredible wealth of knowledge provides an insightful and entertaining narrative outlining the context and events surrounding the California Gold Rush of the mid 19th century. Using the fateful voyage of the S.S. Central America as a lens of discussion, the author guides you through why this era remains both an enchanting and important time in our nation’s history. Numbered 340 of out 400 and containing a sample of gold dust recovered from the S.S. Central America integrated into the inside cover, this compilation is a perfect companion to this marvelous ingot. Both items are sure to be enjoyed and appreciated by generations to come!”

Look for this, and other important gold rarities that will be offered in a special Rarities Sale being held on May 20, 2015, in partnership with Sotheby’s. Catalogs are being produced and will be distributed to both Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s clients. For more information about this sale, do not hesitate to contact our offices. Consignments of quality numismatic items are currently being accepted for our July Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo and our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in August.

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