Historic shipwreck reveals rare coins

The legendary SS Central America, the famous “Ship of Gold” that sank in 1857 carrying tons of California Gold Rush treasure, continues to surprise and delight collectors and historians.
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One of the 1856 S over s quarters, with a close-up of the S mark. 

One of the 1856 S over s quarters, with a close-up of the S mark. 

BREA, CA — The legendary SS Central America, the famous “Ship of Gold” that sank in 1857 carrying tons of California Gold Rush treasure, continues to surprise and delight collectors and historians. Nine rare 1856-dated San Francisco Mint silver quarter dollars with a large S mint mark struck over a small s have been discovered in the latest recovered sunken treasure from the fabled ship. They’re valued at thousands to tens of thousands of dollars each.

“This is a major numismatic finding! We’ve nicknamed this latest SS Central America discovery as the S over s Central America,” said Dwight Manley, managing partner of California Gold Marketing Group LLC of Brea, California, the treasure’s owner.  

“These apparently came from a batch of coins brought aboard by a California Gold Rush-era miner and ended up in the ship’s safe along with the miners’ pokes (packets containing gold and/or coins). These nine elusive quarter dollars are estimated to be worth from $2,000 to more than $25,000 each depending on their condition,” said Manley.

The Liberty Seated design, rare 1856-S/s quarters were part of the amazing treasure retrieved from the SS Central America in 2014 on the seabed more than 7,000 feet below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface. A lengthy, meticulous, coin-by-coin inspection of the treasure began when CGMG took possession of the 2014 recovery in January 2018, and quarter dollars were among the last of the items to be recently examined.

All nine of the 1856-S/s quarters have now been certified genuine by Professional Coin Grading Service and each placed in special holders with a pinch of California Gold Rush gold dust recovered from the shipwreck. They will be offered in public auctions by Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc. (GoldbergCoins.com) beginning with an auction in Los Angeles and online February 16-20.

With a total mintage of only 286,000, “normal” 1856-S quarter dollars are scarce even in low, circulated grades, and extremely scarce in Mint State grade. Prior to this discovery, PCGS previously certified just 38 examples of the 1856-S/s repunched mint mark, with the majority in only Good to Fine condition and none in Mint State.

In addition to the large over small mint mark examples, two rare mint state “normal” 1856-S quarters were discovered in the treasure.  

“Silver coins that were found in the purser’s bag in a lock box inside the ship’s safe survived 157 years in the Atlantic Ocean without the corrosion seen on most silver coins found on shipwrecks. This is undoubtedly due to the oxygen-starved (anaerobic) conditions within the safe. It was not water tight, but it essentially sealed off the interior environment and its chemistry from the outside seabed environment,” explained Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the 1980’s mission that first located and recovered a portion of the sunken treasure, and who served in that same role and as a numismatist with the 2014 recovery. 

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