On Christmas, GreatCollections auctioned off one of the last $20 double eagle gold coins recovered from the SS Central America shipwreck for $72,500 USD (about $82,000 with Buyer’s Premium) after 59 bids. The 1857-S gold piece is graded MS-65 PL by NGC with a CAC sticker.
Of the over 7,000 coins that have been recovered from the Central America shipwreck since its discovery in 1988, perhaps this last grouping of 123 gold double eagles recovered in their original San Francisco Mint box is among the most interesting. Even though the ship sank during a violent storm, many of the coins remained in their original positions, and later became concreted in place over the following decades. During conservation, the positions (also called coordinates) of the coins were carefully recorded for future identification. As they were stacked in two rows, the coins are labeled either as “A” or “B”, with A representing the front row and B the back. Next comes the stack number, with “1” being the leftmost stack and “5” being the rightmost. Lastly the place number, with “1” being the lowest coin in the stack.
Therefore, as coin A4-4, this particular piece was the fourth coin in the fourth stack from the left in the front row.
So well preserved are these coins that NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg stated they appear as if they were “fresh off the die” and Bob Evans, Chief Scientist of the SS Central America recovery efforts, stated that they are “exactly the way they looked in 1857” (NGC, 2022). This was due as much to the non-reactivity of gold as it was to the fact that the Mint box protected the coins. As such, it is not surprising that this particular coin, graded as MS-65 Proof Like, survived in such good condition.
While the 1857-S Without Motto Liberty Head double eagle is considered a relatively common type (the shipwreck alone carried 5,400 examples), the history and provenance do establish a premium over a standard specimen.
United States Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre’s classical left-facing Liberty on the obverse is said to be modeled after an old Hellenistic sculpture type, the Crouching Venus. A beaded-edged coronet with the word LIBERTY is placed on her head and curled locks both drape down the back of the neck and sweep from the front to form rolled curls at the back of her head. Thirteen six-pointed stars encircle inside a denticled rim, and the date (1857) is centered at the bottom.
The reverse displays the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the top two-thirds inside a denticled rim, and the denomination TWENTY D. is centered at the bottom. An eagle with outstretched wings is in the center, clutching three arrows in the left claw and a small olive branch in the right, with a shield placed across its breast. The eagle, head turned to its right, is holding in its beak one of two top extensions of an elaborately curled and parted double scroll or ribbon, which some suggest represents the double eagle denomination. E PLURIBUS is in the center of the ribbon to the left, and UNUM is in a similar location on the ribbon to the right. Above the eagle’s head, below STATES OF, are 13 small six-pointed stars forming an elliptical shape. Seven of the stars are on the blank field and six overlap sunburst-like rays that form an arc between the eagle’s wings. As this piece was struck by the San Francisco Mint, there is an “S” mintmark between the denomination and the eagle’s tail.
The edge is reeded.
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