Reno, Nevada—Bidding for the lost treasures of the “Ship of Gold” was strong in one recent auction.
The S.S. Central America sank off the coast of South Carolina during a hurricane in 1857 while traveling from Panama to New York City.
In addition to losing the lives of more than 400 of its passengers, tons of gold bars and coins from the California Gold Rush valued in the millions also went down with the ship.
Recovery from the shipwreck occurred in stages: between 1988-1991 and then again in 2014.
In a Dec. 3 sale, Holabird Western Americana Collections auctioned off gold jewelry, vintage clothing, and other historic items recovered from the site.
The top jewelry lots smashed their pre-sale estimates.
One highlight was a pair of gold watch case covers featuring customized California Gold Rush engravings—one side has a miner leading his pack burro with supplies away from Yerba Buena (the early settlement that became San Francisco) while the other shows the miner heading out of town with San Francisco in the background.
The pair sold for a total of $26,400 (including buyer’s premium), against a $5,000 estimate.
A gold ring with a 10 x 8 mm oval of gold-bearing white quartz went for $14,400, compared with its $1,000 estimate, and a rare medal/badge presented by the Order of Saint Maurice and Saint Lazarus, the world’s second oldest order of knighthood, went for $13,200, compared with a pre-sale estimate of $2,000.
See: Highlights from the S.S. Central America Auction
There was also a double stickpin featuring two gold nuggets, each of which are soldered to a 1.5-inch stick pin, that are then joined by a four-inch gold curb chain, that sold for $12,000 against an initial estimate of $1,000.
A gold pendant made from a 25 x 22 x 4 mm piece of gold-bearing white quartz mounted in a frame that lets the stone spin on a horizontal axis and featuring an engraving reading “G.F.C. Banks” sold for $11,100 compared to a pre-sale estimate of $2,000.
A dome-shaped pinback with 15 irregularly shaped diamonds—with the largest at center, surrounded by seven slightly smaller diamonds and again by another seven smaller diamonds—in 18-karat gold garnered $8,400 at the sale.
There were also several rings with heart shapes that would’ve eventually been engraved with lovers’ initials that sold for above their estimates.
The auction also featured many other interesting items from the sunken ship.
The top lot of the sale overall was a pair of men’s work pants recovered from a trunk in the ship. According to Holabird, the five-button fly suggests they were an early manufacture of work pants sold by Levi Strauss and appear to be miner’s pants.
They went for $114,000 at the auction, more than doubling their pre-sale estimate.
A ring with three brass keys and a brass key tag engraved with “// S.S. Central America / Purser Hall / S. L. //” recovered from the purser’s safe went for $103,200; and a Wells, Fargo & Co. engraved treasure box lid—the only known piece of an original Wells Fargo gold treasure box from the California Gold Rush of the 1850s, according to Holabird—sold for $99,600.
A second auction featuring hundreds of additional artifacts from the shipwreck will be held in February.
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