CoinWeek Podcast #89: Recovering Gold from the SS Central America with Bob Evans
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Bob Evans has been there from the start, serving as chief scientist and historian for the salvage and recovery effort of the famous SS Central America, the famous “Ship of Gold“.
SS Central America sank in 1857. On board were millions of dollars in today’s value of gold and silver coins, gold ingots, and other valuable artifacts.
In 2014, a second salvage of the site was conducted and the fruits of that work have yielded more than $40 million in new treasure. We talk with Bob about his life’s work, how it felt to go back, and get a preview of what’s in store as THE biggest story in numismatics for the year 2018 begins to unfold.
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The following is a transcript of Charles’ conversation with Bob Evans:
Charles Morgan: Oh hi, Bob! Thanks for joining me on the CoinWeek Podcast. With curation underway of the SS Central America treasure haul, this must be a very exciting time for you…
Robert “Bob” Evans: Well it’s my pleasure to be with you Charles, and yes indeed it is a very exciting time.
CM: You’ve been involved with this shipwreck for more than 20 years, and for those just learning about this amazing cache of gold and silver coins, gold ingots and artifacts, explain how you became involved with the SS Central America treasure story and what it’s meant to you in your professional and personal life.
BE: Well the project founder, Tommy Thompson, was literally my neighbor and I first heard about the SS Central America from him late in 1983. So this has actually been over 34 years for me now that I’ve been involved in one way or another with the SS Central America, its treasure, its story, the search for it at first… I am by, I guess, general acclimation, the chief scientist and historian of the project, the curator of the treasure and the major source of information about the science and the history – and the numismatics – of this wonderful historical treasure.
CM: And what was it like, that moment you hit pay dirt and found the ship? That must have been a tremendously exciting moment, but I’m sure at the same time terrifying… because you still have to go down there and bring the gold back up.
BE: Well I suppose one of the funny things about the actual finding of the ship is that of course we were looking for it, this wasn’t an accident. It took a lot of deliberation and a lot of years and a lot of research to take us to that moment. And I actually was there the moment we first came across the paddle wheel in the middle of this shipwreck. But my immediate concern was that I felt that the RV that we were employing at that time, and the direction we were going, was a little too low and that the sonar indicated that that was there was a high spot that we were about ready to run into [laughs], and… and so I… I guess my immediate ecstatic reaction, which was certainly the reaction of all those around me in the control room, the other four guys who were there, was somewhat tempered by my concern for our equipment. And it wasn’t until, I suppose a few moments after that, that it all began to settle in on me that, yeah, in fact we had found the Central America. I guess this is a… the, the clinical reaction of a scientist who’s dealing with information that maybe the others didn’t have at that moment… Yes I was extremely excited, but I was also concerned…
Then, when a week or so later we got to the point where we dusted off an area where there was a huge concentration of treasure, which turned out to be the commercial shipment area or a portion of it, on the shipwreck, and we just see gold bars and coins carpeting the sea floor… that was just beyond belief. I mean, talk about… we called it the “Garden of Gold”.
And it… it literally looked like it. There were sea creatures living on the gold, which is… is quite a scene to see these corals, and sponges, and everything else actually attached to gold bars on the bottom, the way you see them in coral reefs or the way you see them in other underwater scenes. And yet the substrate of this scene before us was this incredible treasure. It… quite a moment and, and quite a find.
CM: You know, at the time, when you were recovering this gold, I mean, what was Tommy Thompson’s reaction? Obviously, his legal problems, which persist to this day, have hung a cloud over your memories, I’m sure. But before all of that, this moment must have really been the realization of an amazing journey for him. He must have been on top of the world.
BE: Oh, it was an amazing experience for all of us. I mean, I’d been working on it since 1983 and this was… five years later.
You know, we’d gone through a lot of trials and tribulations. We had competition out at sea, we had… we spent a year on the wrong wrecks. I reviewed the sonar information that following winter and found another promising site in the sonar information, which turned out to be the actual SS Central America. It had been called geology–in other words, a pile of rocks–by the sonar operators. But it turned out to resemble another pile of rocks, a shipwreck we spent a lot of time on that had a huge pile of coal associated with it. We expected to find a huge pile of coal… coal was both the fuel and the ballast of the SS Central America. So… yeah, the culmination of… of, you know, a lot of effort, a lot of dreams for all of us.
CM: As you know, there’s always present a conflict between the collecting world and the science of Archaeology. Collectors view themselves as playing a crucial role in preserving and studying objects, keeping them relevant to people in the present, where archaeologists have more of a focus on a standard of scientifically dissecting an area, excavating objects, and accumulating data points about objects, for the sole purposes of a broader scientific study. These methods do not necessarily lend themselves towards the preservation of objects like coins–which I argue, archaeologists have almost no interest or specialized knowledge in.
Then when you add to this conflict, a shipwreck, things get even more interesting. A shipwreck is not only an archaeological site, but it’s also a graveyard.
So in that situation, when these coins and other objects are being recovered… they are being recovered from a hallowed site, where scores of people lost their lives.
How sensitive was the team to understanding and respecting the significance of recovering these coins given the human cost of the sunken ship?
BE: Well, the… the informational needs of a shipwreck such as this that it lies in the deep ocean, where you are spending tens of thousands of dollars a day working there go hand-in-hand with the archaeological need for both information and for the care that you take in preserving that information as you are disturbing the site. Archaeology, by its very nature, is… well, let’s say destructive. You are excavating it. I mean, you, heh, you cannot… you cannot do but do that except once. And so, you do it very carefully – particularly when every moment you are excavating on the site you are in the act of creating information but in fact also in the act of… of eliminating that information for all time.
As for the people, I have always been very mindful of the fact that 425 men lost their lives on this… I mean it was the… the greatest loss of life in… in American peacetime, maritime disaster at sea. There were two other, I believe, maritime disasters–one occurred in Lake Michigan; another on the Mississippi River–where there was greater loss of life. But these were riverboats or lake boats, and… and… and really not quite the same kind of story that what we’re talking about here, with a… a steamship carrying gold from the California Gold Rush… lost in a hurricane off the Carolina coast…
Every year on September 12, I send out a memorial email to a list of people that I’ve compiled over the year, reminding everyone to pause this evening at 7:00 Eastern Time and mark the moment when the Central America sank. In 2014 I had the… the honor and privilege of… of conducting a service on the bow of our ship, tolling the bell for that minute that commemorated the loss all those many years ago.
So we pay attention to these details and… and we are not… we’re not bulldozing an Indian mound here, we’re… we’re uh… we’re very careful about the way we excavate, about the… it goes hand-in-hand with what we’re excavating. You cannot abuse these coins and these ingots as you’re recovering them. You have to do it with great care in order to preserve its value and… both informational and in fact its monetary value.
CM: At the end of the first excavation, I mean, was the team aware that there was still quite a bit of material left to recover? Was it a matter of time and money that stopped the complete recovery? Or was it a technological limitation that led to a second excavation?
BE: I suppose it was a combination of factors, not really my decision, and not really my area, but, you know, the accounting, there was a listed commercial shipment of $1.219 million dollars and change. The face value of what we had recovered came to over 90% of that, but it was only that. It wasn’t, like, the entire amount, and then as well we knew that there was, according to the historical record, perhaps an equal amount of treasure that was in the hands of passengers. This was a very wealthy enterprise. The California steamers, twice every month–on the fifth and on the 20th of every month–a steamship left San Francisco, departed for the Pacific coast of Panama, the passengers in freight (including the treasure) would cross on a railroad across the narrow Isthmus of Panama and get on another steamship–in this case, the SS Central America–bound for New York City. And this was the fastest means of communication. It was the best way to move this massive amount of wealth that was coming from the new state of California and, in fact, making our nation into a world economic power at the time, had a huge impact on… on this nation’s trajectory in the… in the field of nations, and… Was treasure left on the site? There’s no doubt about that.
At the same time, for whatever reason: business, technological, legal… we got involved in court cases with insurance companies who claimed that they had paid claims on the site, and… and so we had trials in admiralty court – we had a number of things going on that made it so after 1991 we did not go back out to sea. And then the business went the way the business did. And later Tommy Thompson went the way that Tommy Thompson did, and… so it didn’t happen until the… [Charles interjects] Yeah. Go ahead.
CM: Well for people who are not aware, I mean, Thompson has been hounded by his investors for an amount of gold that allegedly he has retained and proceeds relating to the business…
BE: And rightly so. The investors who took the company into receivership were owed an accounting of the business proceeds, and they were not given that. And the… the resulting receivership is in fact how the company ended up finding a contractor and hiring me and others to go back out in 2014 and resume the excavation of the Central America, knowing there was treasure on this shipwreck site.
CM: So Bob, after all the legal slog relating to the first shipwreck, I mean it was a spectacular sale but there were still issues that lingered afterwards… and fortunately you were able to remove yourself from the controversy, having nothing to do with Tommy Thompson’s legal problems, and you have worked diligently, showing integrity the entire time… what was it like going back to the site where, you know, at first you had this, basically this crew or team of dreamers who fulfilled like a life’s ambition and now you’re going back, and it’s business, and it’s familiar, and so much has changed?
BE: Well, it’s really interesting going back to the site after 23 years. It was both poignant and emotional – as well as just utterly fascinating, because there were some things that had changed on the site.
Obviously it had been, you know, almost a quarter of a decade of further degradation, further rust deposit… I had left experiments down there that we had devised back in the early nineties to test for wood degradation, for instance. And these untreated posts that we had stuck in the sediment down on the bottom, they had vanished! So, they had been eaten all the way down to the mud line in just 23 years. It tells you something about how quickly that happened the first time around when the ship arrived there. This ship must have been reduced to essentially rubble very quickly in… in the first few years. And we did not find any live shipworm animals inside the remnants of those posts we left down there in 1990. So… this was… to be able to even conduct a 23- or 24-year experiment as a scientist is a somewhat unusual thing and… and so, the fascination was certainly there for that.
And at the same time it was the same old site. Things are in the same places and we can expect to find gold in the same places… gold in new places, that we hadn’t been able to explore before because the equipment was so rudimentary the first time around. I mean it was remarkable what we were able to accomplish, but… but back then, we were using an ROV [Remotely Operated (Underwater) Vehicle. —CoinWeek]–NEMO–of our own design, that had been… oh, you can think of it as having the power of a, say like a… a riding mower… 20 horsepower, or 25 perhaps. Now we have a 200-horsepower… you know, magnificent commercial ROV of much more modern design that we’re down there and we can scoot around on the shipwreck with much greater, you know, control and speed and everything else.
So it’s a whole new game, and it was just a… just a wonderful experience all around. And to see it after almost a quarter of a century again, it was… it was very emotional, and very, very exciting.
CM: Was there any chance when you went back to the site that, you know, there wouldn’t be a profitable recovery of gold? I mean, I read the great book Treasure Ship about the Brother Jonathan, and I know that you and Dwight Manley were involved in a late excavation of the site after that group had its own share of controversies and lawsuits. And that recovery didn’t really yield as much as one would hope. Was there ever a thought in your mind of Boy, what if we get out here and there’s not that much?
BE: I had been a champion for, you know, all that time of the idea that there had to be more treasure on this site. You know, the wealth of the passengers – in addition to the fact that, you know, there was… there was obviously another 90-some thousand dollars in… in 1857 face value that must be in the commercial area shipment, the commercial shipment area. You know, the passenger wealth just had to be… had to yield something. So, in the modern sense, I… I was never very concerned that we would not find gold.
There’s always a question of how much you will find, because when you get into the subject of the passenger stuff, it’s all speculative, you know? I mean, passengers left accounts indicating that they had two thousand dollars, or I lost 65 hundred dollars, or I lost 10 thousand dollars and… and, well that’s a… that’s an eye-witness personal account, but is it hearsay? Or is it… is it accurate? Who knows, you know? People will say anything after a harrowing experience like this one. You know, they were lost… the ship was lost in a hurricane. Some of them were rescued, some of them were rescued from the water after they sank, these people were… were through it. And… and whatever their accounts were afterwards, they were, you know, they were personal celebrities where they [laughs]… they ended up, the survivors of this shipwreck.
So, I was confident that we would find a wonderful treasure. And in fact we did.
CM: Well let’s shift focus to the topic at hand. A great many people are very interested in finding out what is in store. Especially collectors who have caught the SS Central America bug and have already purchased some coins from the shipwreck, the last time they were offered. These coins remain spectacularly popular.
BE: The first time was a magnificent time capsule of the commercial enterprise that I described earlier, about the fifth and 20th of every month treasure – gold – would leave San Francisco bound for New York. This was the economic lifeblood of the nation at that time. They counted on this. Somewhere between a million and two million dollars in gold during the heavy seasons, meaning after the… well, it’s geological. The spring floods… after the thaw, there’s lots of water in the Northern California rivers. It produces lots of placer gold. It goes through assay offices and gets turned into ingots and its value is determined. Then it goes to the branch mint in San Francisco and wonderful, brand-new coins are produced. Eventually it gets put onto a steamship like that, and a lot of it is headed out for commerce elsewhere, to pay for the burgeoning economy of California at the time.
So, that commercial shipment that we recovered the first time… like I said, over 90% of it… was a wonderful picture of that. Now, in 2014 we recovered the rest of that, so we have 45 gold ingots from the assay companies, just as we had ingots the first time around. We got the rest of those. We have lots of double eagles.
But then we got into… well, we had a completely new technology with a lot more horsepower. A lot more computer control. A lot more information gathering and we completely explored the shipwreck site. So we got into areas where we found lots of smaller deposits, which were obviously, and likely, passenger deposits. These were bags or parcels which had fallen into debris-field areas and now constituted a small deposit of gold – in an area, oh, say roughly two or three feet square on the sea bed. And if you were to think about the SS Central America site like a… like an abandoned town, a ghost town, or something of that nature in the West… every one of these deposits would be considered a treasure unto itself. And every one of them has a suite of gold in them that says something about that entity, about that person.
And, some of these are just absolutely fascinating. Some of them are just festooned with foreign gold, or California fractional gold; we recovered four Calfractional quarter dollars the first time around back in 1990 or 1991. They came up in the sweepings from that commercial shipment area. Who knows? It intermingled from a passenger area or something like that had happened. But now we have over a hundred of all different kinds: quarter dollars and half dollars and dollars… and both round and octagonal… fascinating stuff. We’ve got…
CM: [Charles interrupts] …I was gonna say, and if you’ve never seen a calfractional quarter dollar gold, I mean this is a minuscule, wafer-thin coin…
BE: They defy description [laughs]. I mean, I mean… people would not even think of them as a coin. We look at them now and we marvel about how did you handle this, you know? I mean, it’s… you had to have them in some little leather pouch or something in order to just keep track of ‘em. They’re about the profile of a… the end of a cigarette, or a pencil. And… and yeah, wafer-thin. Made by jewelers in San Francisco at the time.
Then we have… we have U.S. Mint material of every denomination that was in circulation: dollars, quarter eagles, three dollar pieces, five dollar pieces, 10 dollar pieces and of course double eagles. So, we’ve got the whole suite of smaller gold that constituted the street money, and that’s what’s exciting… Well, it’s all exciting to me but that’s something that is particularly exciting to me because you can, like, you can just imagine. This is what you used to pay for a night’s lodging, or for a loaf of bread, or for, you know, it’s your day-to-day commerce. It’s not the vast shipment of business wealth from San Francisco to New York. It’s… it’s like, what’d they… what did they use on the street? How did you pay for an evening’s entertainment, you know? It’s great stuff.
And the foreign gold mixed in there, you know, this is a time when gold was money. Now, in 1857, the Mint had removed the legal tender status of what they considered to be foreign coinage, but obviously that was not exactly accepted in California immediately. Gold was gold. There was a popular book around at the time from Eckfeld and DuBois, the assayers at the U.S. Mint, that gave the values of all of these foreign coins, and you can imagine the merchants out there in California had copies of this. So they could say “Oh, yeah, a sovereign… that’s worth, you know, $4.85,” or whatever it was, and not… I have the book, but [chuckles] but I don’t have it in front of me right now. What was 20 francs worth? What was 10 guilders worth? What was a Peruvian, you know, 2 escudo worth? These things were … this was the money, and… and so we… we really are just, you know, it takes you right there. I’ve never… I’ve never experienced anything like this before, in terms of looking at this and just the flights of the imagination and the mystery involved and looking at a suite of these coins and trying to figure it out. It’s… it’s just very exciting.
CM: So were any of the minor coins, the silver coins or the copper coins… I mean, these are obviously metals that don’t react well to salt water over a period of time, but whether they’re salvageable or usable or not, did any of that material come up as well? Or was it all lost?
BE: Oh yeah! In fact, there are a couple large cents sitting over here in a [chuckles]… in a container not far from me in the lab. I’m talking to you from my laboratory right now because I’m working day after day curating this material and preparing it for market. Yeah, the copper coins are, you know, compromised, let’s say. They don’t do well.
Now there was a good deal of silver that we found – dimes and quarter dollars and half dollars – that were in bags that were inside a safe that we found. And those are extremely exciting and have some considerable chance, I think, of turning out okay. That was an anaerobic environment, very blackened. Oxygen was quickly used up inside that safe, which is probably about the… oh, I can’t think of an easy analogy for how big it was, but, you know, it’s not a very big box. Maybe two feet by three feet by three feet high – something of that nature. And we actually measured it on the ship but I don’t have that readily at hand. I mean we put a measuring stick down and tried to get a handle on how big it was before we… tested it, found that it was not going to be movable. Iron does not do very well at all down there. And so we opened it on the bottom and removed the contents. The contents are fascinating. Part of the contents was a bag that held close to 9,000 dimes. Inside the bag of dimes there was another bag that had exactly $400 in small gold. And there was another sack that was all quarters and half dollars.
This, because of its position in the safe and because of the nature of those coins, I believe, was the ship’s money. This was the actual money that it took to operate the steamship from New York to Aspinwall, which is [on] the Caribbean coast of Panama and back. So this is what they’d be buying their victuals and coal and paying the… those dimes were the daily pay of the sailors that were operating the ship.
So we have the cash box of a major, mid-19th century business – what a find! It is just amazing, you know?
CM: One of the images that I saw come my way, which is very interesting, is a… sort of a leather-looking poke that contained gold dust…
CM: I can’t imagine such thing’s very common any more, to be preserved intact. I mean, tell me about this item.
BE: To say the least Charles. I mean, it’s… it is a… it takes you right there. I mean… I mean there were a couple of parcels inside the safe as well, obviously had been consigned by a passenger or a couple of passengers. A few… that were… well one of them was a saddlebag – literally a saddlebag – that you put on a horse or a donkey or a mule. It had been wrapped up and then sealed with wax, so that it was tamper-evident. And inside of that saddlebag were these big pokes of gold dust. And, we have not opened those yet; in fact, we hope to put those on display at the upcoming Long Beach Expo.
And, they’re absolutely amazing, talking about pieces that take you right there, wrapped in the original… well, they’re actually canvas, not leather. But they’re… on the ship, when we would find these bags inside the safe, you could tell by the impressions in the side of the bag whether or not it held coins or whether or not it held gold dust. If you see, you know, round impressions pushing against the side of the bag, because all the bags were cinched up very tightly and tied at the top. In some cases sealed, if they were not inside something else that was sealed. But all of these parcels were sealed, to be tamper-evident for their owners. And the bags that did not show coin impressions we left the way they are.
There were a couple of vests; people would actually wear their treasure. But someone on board this ship had decided that Okay I’m gonna just consign this to the captain or the purser or whatever and he’s gonna put it in this safe for the voyage so let’s bundle it up, seal it with wax and it will go that way. The vests had individual, sewn-shut compartments, in which there was a poke of gold dust. In some case [sic], there was a poke of gold coins. We opened the gold coin parcels on the ship because we needed to account for that, but the gold dust parcels we recovered separately. Some of them had degraded badly so they were put inside of Ziploc bags and such so we could contain all of this material. But some of them have survived quite nicely and they’re… it’s amazing. Can you imagine, you know, somebody… this is the way you would move stuff around, you know?
I read somewhere, and I can’t say exactly where right now, but they got a slightly better price for raw gold on the East Coast than they did on the West. And someone also could’ve just arrived from the gold fields and didn’t have the chance to take the gold dust to either the Mint or an assayer and have it converted into money. So they were just taking the raw stuff with them. Amazing.
CM: So looking at the different denominations of gold, and how it was maybe stored or distributed or littered about the wreckage, what does it tell you about the typical passenger on that ship, and what they would’ve had on them? What sort of person would take that voyage?
BE: Well, the passage on the California steamers, from San Francisco to New York, cost $3,000 to go in first class; $2,500 in second cabin, which was just down another deck; and $1,500 in steerage, which was simply a dormitory of bunks set up with a curtain for privacy and such in the forward part of the ship. You had to be pretty successful to even be on this ship. In other words, in steerage, if you were to go in that dormitory with the bunk beds, it would cost you seven-and-a-half ounces of gold. That’s a lot of money. So, these people were well-heeled.
What we found on the site, in terms of these deposits, is that, yeah, they had gold with them, obviously and, you know, wealthy folks. I mean, that’s about all that sums it up, you know? They were… this was the way to go if you had made it.
CM: So essentially the passengers were carrying gold, and the crew were being paid in silver dimes. So that kind of tells you pretty clearly about the class distinctions between people who could afford to take the ride and people who were paid to make that ride happen.
BE: Oh yeah. You know, the monthly pay of a sailor was somewhere around three to five dollars. And, you know, the people that were going on this voyage, you know, were paying $1,500 for the privilege. So, you know, it’s obvious what an attraction the California Gold Rush was.
And California in general, in terms of its economy, was just booming at this time and becoming ever more internalized.
The loss of the Central America made Californians think more about keeping more of their wealth at home, and not shipping so much of it out and maybe developing industry locally. The loss of the Central America spurred on – in both editorial comments in the newspapers and in fact – more ideas about the construction of a transcontinental railroad in order to avoid the perils of the sea. It was quite an impetus for a number of historical developments.
It exacerbated the Panic of 1857, which was initiated by over-speculation in western rail stocks and various other things… [the solving] of the Crimean War, and so not as much grain was being shipped overseas, and there were a number of things like that but when this… Imagine. Imagine if wire transfers of wealth, like we have today… Imagine if a wire transfer of wealth could cost over 400 lives. That’s the kind of impact, psychologically, that this had on people. All of a sudden, this transfer of wealth that we’ve counted on all the time, it’s deadly. Or it’s potentially deadly. It’s a hazardous, perilous voyage. A hurricane could sink you. It’s bound to change people’s ideas about the consequences of this industry, this shipping and this voyage.
CM: By the same token, though, if you go on ground across the vast expanse of the American continent, I mean that was also a highway of death for people. So, it was really not easy…
BE: Yeah, and it’s four or five months instead of 24 days, so that’s the difference in the price, you know? I mean, this ship also carried the mail. There were, like, over 30,000 letters that were lost when the Central America sank. This was… you know, it’s hard to imagine a time when California is now a state, we have to… people on the East Coast, in the halls of government, in the halls of commerce, have to communicate with California, and one-way communication takes 24 days. Two-way communication takes like a month and a half. The telegraph didn’t go through until 1862. Which, you know, was instantaneous – or as they said in [sic] the time, now it can carry messages at the speed of the lightnings. So, before that it was either the speed of a horse or the speed of steamship. So, information flow was a very important part of the steamship trade, as well. It’s… It’s just a fascinating period! I mean, that part is very foreign to our modern experience.
And at the same time, these people – these Americans – who were on board, are not so very different than we are now. They worshipped their technology–perhaps like similar to the way we currently worship the internet, or something like that. But you know, there’s always some kind of downfall or some kind of pitfall that you have to watch out for when you’re so enthralled with your marvelous technological age that you live in.
CM: So were there any great rarities that were recovered? Any coins that are gonna make a big splash in the market because they’re seldom seen?
BE: Well there’s… there’s a lot of really cool stuff. I mean, you know, because we have such a… such a time capsule here of… You know, obviously there are finest-knowns that are coming out of the lab. I can’t cite them for you right now but, you know, some of these coins were made mere days before they were put in a bag or a box and sent to the East Coast. Some of them also have freakily survived a few years of commerce without actually circulating, either… or actually showing any signs of circulation. So there are very-high-grade coins.
There are also coins like… like there are some 1856 Three Dollar Pieces that look like they were spent every day of their lives [laughs]. I mean, it’s… it’s funny, but you find these marvelous little things.
Just this morning in the lab, I took this little cluster of two coins… well yesterday I took it… and I put it into the curation process, into the solutions, and this morning they had separated. And there’s an 1855-S half eagle and it was stuck to an 1844-O half eagle. Well there’s 10 bucks worth of story. That’s… that’s the kind of fascinating stuff that we find.
Now the ‘55-S… it’s hard to tell what condition these are in yet, because there’s still a lot of deposits on them and it will take another few days of curating in order to reveal them for what they really are. But there’s… there weren’t any astonishingly rare coins, although there’s stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like all of the Charlotte and Dahlonega coinage that we have this time, the vast number of gold dollars… Like I said, it was the street money, and so we have a lot more numismatic variety this time around than we had in the initial 1988-1991 recoveries.
There’s a… we filled out the list of the privately minted stuff, the pioneer gold coins. We have $20 gold coins from the U.S. Assay Office. We have $20 gold coins from Wass Molitor and Moffat and Company. Those were oddly missing last time around… although we found a great number of pioneer $10 coins the first time around, we didn’t have a whole lot of twenties. A few Kellogg and Companies; this time we have very many more. Yesterday we opened up a little parcel that had all Kelloggs and like how often do you get to open up a roll of Kellogg twenties?
Not very often, I would say. That’s a… that’s a fairly singular experience, and unique to this treasure.
Really, it’s just… it’s a new season of discovery here. I had… I was on the ship, and I was the one who at first identified this material as it came on board. I was there as my role as chief scientist and historian. And it was handed to me in the secure coin room and I identified it until it… the archaeologist would then put the coins into storage that would then go into a vault. But I had 10 or 15 seconds a coin to identify stuff. It has deposits all over it, rust and limestone and organic deposits. It’s come from a geological environment, where it sat for… well in 2014 it would’ve been 157 years. So, stuff has accumulated on it. And I was able to read in most cases the bare identities of this material but I couldn’t tell anything about its condition. I didn’t have much time, with it. And now I’ve got… now I have it to discover all over again. It’s a.. It’s wonderful. It is absolutely wonderful.
CM: Sure. One of the coins in the picture set that I’ve seen that I’m sure will cause quite a splash if it does come to the market is this beautifully rainbow-toned double eagle. Can you tell me a little bit about that one?
BE: Well, yeah. There’s a fantastic array of blue and golden tones on this double eagle that came out. It’s an 1857-S, the signature coin of the shipwreck. And for whatever reason, it sat in an environment where this wonderful toning got on it, and we’re all of us just utterly fascinated by it. It’s got blue and golden and reddish and… it doesn’t happen under normal circumstances, let’s put it that way. And it’s in both fabulous condition and it’s got beautiful toning.
CM: So, what’s the next step for the coins after they’re curated? Are they going to go to PCGS for certification and grading and then perhaps to the market?
BE: Well that’s my understanding, that PCGS is going to grade them, and then they will be packaged for the market. Exactly how that goes about is somebody else’s business, but I’ll definitely be with it hand-in-hand at all exhibitions and coin shows and everything else. People can look forward to talking to me – probably at great length – about this whole matter, here in the very near future, as soon as the curating is done.
CM: Well I look forward to seeing the coins myself. I’m going to be at the Long Beach Show, and I’m going to bring my camera so maybe we can take a few minutes to go over some of the amazing things that you have on display. And I look forward to seeing the coins; I think this is going to be THE numismatic story of 2018, and I thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
BE: It’s been my pleasure, Charles, and I look forward to seeing you and all other curious individuals, both at Long Beach and at other venues in the future. Thank you.
CM: Okay, take care Bob, and good luck with your work.
BE: Okay, thank you.
CM: Sure, thanks, bye bye.
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