Justh & Hunter Gold Ingot. San Francisco
Serial No. 4244. 144.25 ounces, .886 Fine
Face Value in 1857 of $2,641.96
Approximately 95 x 55 x 47 mm
By Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
A large and handsome bar from this firm’s San Francisco office in a narrower and shorter, but double-thick format, poured into Mold J&H S.F. #8, as per the detailed study of the treasures of SS Central America undertaken after the material was salvaged. The vast trove of coins and bars offered an unparalleled research opportunity, perhaps on par with the incredible historical significance of the loss and recovery of the ship – truly unprecedented!
This bar is bright yellow gold, with a fine satiny luster and light brush marks on all sides. A few small scratches are noted, but such is virtually unavoidable on these ingots. While their history is unique, they were originally intended only as utilitarian and ephemeral objects, not things of wonder and beauty as we might judge them today.
The finished bottom side of the bar, as poured, features the markings of the firm, JUSTH & HUNTER, at the upper center, with the serial number above. The weight and fineness are at the lower center (at left and right, respectively), while the face value is given on the base. All numbers are from individual punches, while the units and firm name are from gang punches. An assay clip at the upper left corner of this side is paired with another at the opposing corner, as usual.
The back of the bar, or top as it was poured, features a central cooling depression with some remaining encrusted deposits that formed naturally while this bar sat on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean for comfortably more than a century as part of one of the greatest maritime financial disasters ever. The truncated serial number, “44”, is punched at one end. Plated on page 761 of Q. David Bowers’ A California Gold Rush History featuring the treasure from SS Central America.
The Ship of Gold
The story of the “Ship of Gold“, the SS 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 USD 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 SS Sonora and in Panama was transferred aboard the narrow-gauge Panama Railroad 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. 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, Central America slipped beneath the waves, coming to rest on the sea bottom 7,200 feet below, about 200 miles off of 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 plotted a section of sea that could possibly include the wreck. After much effort, the wreck 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 SS Central America wreckage 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 SS 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.
Justh & Hunter
San Francisco and Marysville
Emanuel (“Emil”) Justh, a lithographer from Verboca, Hungary, fled the revolution of 1848-49, arriving in San Francisco on November 14, 1850. He set up a lithography business in his new city and later was a partner in a customs-house brokerage and served as assistant assayer at the newly opened San Francisco Mint in 1854-1855.
Solomon Hillen Hunter, a Maryland native and merchant in the shipping trade in Baltimore, came to California on March 2, 1855.
On May 15 of that year, Justh & Hunter commenced their assaying business in San Francisco. Business was excellent, with millions of dollars’ worth of gold assayed and formed into bars.
The following May the firm opened a branch assay office in Marysville, with S.H. Hunter in charge.
In May 1857, Justh & Hunter was joined by Captain Charles Uznay who had worked with Wass, Molitor & Co. and interrelated assayers and refiners. The new firm became Justh, Hunter & Uznay. This partnership proved to be short-lived, dissolving on August 15 after which the old name was revived.
Justh & Hunter continued to be an important assayer until the firm closed July 10, 1858, and Hunter left for the East, returning to New York City on August 27. Emil Justh remained in the assaying trade in San Francisco for a short time thereafter, and in Marysville until 1859. Later his facilities were sold or leased to others, for whom Justh worked as an assayer, and for a short time in 1861 he was back in the business on his own.
Later in the year, he sold his refinery to Kellogg, Hewston & Co. He returned to the East, living in New York City. Justh died in Paris on December 11, 1883, at the age of 55.