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Rare 1856-S/s Quarters Discovered in Amazing SS Central America Treasure

Rare 1856-S/s Quarters Discovered in Amazing SS Central America Treasure. Image Credit: PCGS / CoinWeek
Rare 1856-S/s Quarters Discovered in Amazing SS Central America Treasure. Image Credit: PCGS / CoinWeek

Nine elusive examples of the large mint mark over small mint mark variety now confirmed from treasure retrieved in 2014


The fabled SS Central America, the famous “Ship of Gold” that sank in 1857 carrying tons of California Gold Rush treasure, continues to surprise and delight the numismatic world. California Gold Marketing Group LLC (CGMG) of Brea, California has confirmed discovery in the ship’s latest recovered sunken treasure of nine rare 1856 San Francisco Mint large S over small s mint mark Seated Liberty No Motto quarter dollars.

“This is a major numismatic finding! The ‘Ship of Gold’ has brought us over a half dozen 1856 S/s large mint mark over small mint mark silver quarters. The S over s is the most pronounced I have ever seen with two overlapping mint marks clear even to the naked eye. We’ve nick-named this latest SS Central America discovery as the S over s Central America,” said Dwight Manley, CGMG Managing Partner.

“Considering the preponderance of Philadelphia and New Orleans Mint coins found in the recovered treasure, it would appear these came from a batch of coins brought aboard by a miner, and ended up in the safe as did the miners’ pokes (packets containing gold and/or coins). What a numismatic miracle to have such a treasure trove aboard the SS Central America,” Manley stated.

The coins were part of the amazing treasure retrieved from SS Central America in 2014. Most of the 1856-S/s coins were among the 503 silver quarter dollars discovered in a canvas bag in the purser’s sealed iron box in the ship’s safe 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 by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and each encapsulated 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. beginning with the February 16-20, 2020 Pre-Long Beach Auction in Los Angeles.

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 had certified just 38 examples of the 1856-S/s repunched mintmark, with the majority in only Good to Fine condition and none in Mint State.

These are the grades of the recently certified sunken treasure1856-S/s quarter dollars: PCGS XF45; PCGS XF40; four are graded PCGS VF35 and another one is PCGS VF25. Two other coins exhibit environmental damage (PCGS designation 97) and are graded PCGS97-AU and PCGS97-XF.

In addition to the large over small mint mark examples, two, rare mint state “normal” 1856-S quarters were discovered in the treasure; one graded PCGS MS63, the other PCGS MS62.

“Silver coins that were found in the purser’s bag in a lockbox 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 watertight, but it essentially sealed off the interior environment and its chemistry from the outside seabed environment,” explained Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the 1980s mission that first located and recovered a portion of the fabulous sunken treasure and who served in that same role and as a numismatist with the 2014 recovery.

Evans recently found the two 1856-S and nine 1856-S/s quarters while finishing the coin-by-coin examination of the last portion of the treasure.

“…SS Central America has once again revealed another ‘time capsule effect’ of what coins were in daily commerce at the time and on the steamship route between San Francisco and New York via Panama in 1857. It is delightful to see this effect yet again in this treasure, as the contemporary usage and details are revealed to us as if we are transported back in a time machine,” said Evans.

Central America was a 280-foot long, three-masted side-wheel steamship carrying tons of California gold that had been shipped from San Francisco to Panama. She sank off the coast of North Carolina on September 12, 1857, during a hurricane while on the final leg of a voyage from Aspinwall (now Colón), Panama to New York City. The loss of the ship’s gold cargo was a major factor in the economically devastating financial panic of 1857 in the United States.

In a court-approved transaction in November 2017, the California Gold Marketing Group acquired all the treasure recovered in 2014 from Ira Owen Kane, Receiver for Recovery Limited Partnership and Columbus Exploration, LLC. In 1999, CGMG acquired all of the available SS Central America treasure that was recovered in the 1980s.

Certifying coins since 1986, Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) is a division of Collectors Universe, Inc. (NASDAQ: CLCT), a leader in third-party authentication and grading services for high-value collectibles including rare coins, trading cards, tickets, autographs, memorabilia, and stamps.

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