A group of professional treasure hunters have recovered more than 13,500 gold and silver coins from the wreck of the SS Central America off the South Carolina coast.
The SS Central America sank in a hurricane in 1857. At the time, it was carrying between 9-10 tonnes of gold prospected during the Californian Gold Rush.
Some 425 people on board died in the sinking and the loss of gold (estimated at the time at $US2 million) was such that it was said to have contributed to the financial Panic of 1857.
It lay 7,200 feet down on the ocean floor undiscovered until 1988, when a group of Ohio businessman successfully backed Tommy Thompson to find the ship and bring proof of its riches to the surface.
By 1991, the team had recovered between $100-$150 million in gold, including a record-breaking 36kg ingot known as “Eureka”.
The salvage then stalled as a huge legal battle broke out between 39 insurance companies, all claiming rights to the treasure as they had paid damages in the 19th Century for its loss.
Five years later, the court awarded 92% of the gold to the discovery team, which this year finally contracted Odyssey Marine Exploration to finish the job.
As for Thompson, he became and remains a federal fugitive since 2012, and sold $52m of his haul which his supporters say funded his legal fees and loans.
Now the SS Central America is open for business again. In its first dive in May, a two-hour exploration by Odyssey recovered about $1.3 million in gold.
And late last week, Odyssey released an inventory from its second dive. Along with 43 solid gold bars, it listed 13,500 gold and silver coins, which some reports estimate the value of up into the “tens of millions” of dollars.
A large part of the coin haul is made up of $20 “double eagles”, which have been known to sell for up to $7000 – each.
The team listed a pouch of 134 double eagles in its inventory found in just one passenger’s safe.
“The variety and quality of the coins being recovered is just astonishing,” Ohio scientist Bob Evans, who is on the expedition team, told Fox News.
“The coins date from 1823 to 1857 and represent a wonderful diversity of denominations and mints, a time capsule of virtually all the coins that were used in 1857.”
But it’s not just monetary rewards on offer. Scientists are equally excited about some of the historical Gold Rush era items that will take a lot more care to excavate, such as puzzle rings, gold-rimmed spectacles, figurines and guns.
Images stored on glass plates (known as ambrotypes) of at least 60 passengers have been sighted but are yet to be recovered.
“Photographs of any mid-19th century Gold Rush miners are rare, and these ambrotypes are the only examples found on any 19th-century shipwreck worldwide,” Odyssey Marine wrote in a court report.
Odyssey will release another report on Friday detailing work conducted between mid-June and mid-July.
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