Millions of dollars worth of gold has been recovered from a famous 19th-century shipwreck off South Carolina being fought over in court, the first inventories of the salvaged cargo show.
A federal judge in Virginia overseeing the recovery effort from the SS Central America released the mid-April-to-mid-June tallies late Wednesday, the Associated Press and The Columbus Dispatch reported Thursday. An updated list is likely soon.
AP based the estimated value of the gold coins and bars on treasure that was sold for $50 million to $60 million after the shipwreck was found in 1988 by Tommy Thompson of Columbus, Ohio, now a fugitive and the target of lawsuits from jilted investors who bankrolled his expedition.
The New York-bound mail steamship sank during a hurricane in 1857, killing 425 people and sending tons of California Gold Rush fortune to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, about 160 miles off South Carolina. The lost cargo caused a financial panic.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith settled an ownership dispute and granted salvage rights to Recovery Limited Partnership, which is run by a court-appointed receiver. Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration had been hired to lead the latest operation, which began in April.
The inventories show that 43 gold bars, 1,302 $20 double-eagle gold coins, 37 $10 eagle gold coins, and 9,053 10-cent silver coins have been brought to the surface. The chief scientist of the recovery told the Dispatch that the quality and variety of the coins, some dating to 1823, were "astonishing."
AP estimated that the $20 and $10 coins could sell for "up to $9 million, potentially more" based on proceeds from treasure recovered at an 1865 shipwreck.
Valuing gold bars is more complicated, because of "myriad factors," AP wrote. Citing Sotheby's estimates in 2000, bars weighing up to 54 pounds that were recovered initially from the SS Central America were worth "$8,000 to $250,000 each."
Salvage crews have discovered a trove of personal items, including eyeglasses and glass-plate photographs of at least 60 passengers. The salvager is working on how to safely retrieve the photos, known as ambrotypes.