AMERICA'S
LOST
TREASURE

The S.S. Central America
More Gold .....
Coins Bars and Ingots


The quantity alone was overwhelming, but as Milt brought the camera in for close-ups we found the condition even more astonishing. We could even read the dates on coins that seemed, unbelievably, as if they had left the mint the day before. As we stared at this unbelievable sight, it seemed impossible that the world that gave birth to this treasure was now gone forever.

The tumult and the drama of the violent sinking, the slow wash of the sea, and the entropy of its surroundings had created a bizarre and fragile environment. It appeared inert, but we knew the ship's timbers and iron were being slowly ravaged by the inexorable dance of the ages: degradation and decay. Yet amid this imperceptible drama of collapse, the gold rested like a timeless, unchanging centerpiece. A million years from now the wood would be consumed by bacteria, the iron rusted away, and most artifacts gone. Still glistening under a heavy blanket of sediment, the gold once buried amid this benthic chaos would be all that remained.

By the time we saw it, much of the gold had fallen into curious arrangements. Early on, Nemo's cameras found a mysterious tower of 300 double eagle gold pieces standing alone, unsupported. The coins had been cemented together by a light glaze of sea salts and rust, a miniature golden, organic architecture resisting the constant push of gentle seafloor currents. We delighted in our early sightings. A range of early pioneer coins carried the distinctive mark of long-defunct assayers such as Moffat & Company and Wass, Molitor & Company-the lettering worn from jingling in the pockets of miners long dead. Coins were encrusted in the shape of wooden boxes that had rotted away or lay scattered as if they had only just settled quietly in the timbers.

In one place at the site, a remarkable cluster of eight gold coins (five double eagles, including one from the San Francisco Mint, and three eagles, mostly from private mints), a small ingot, and ten pieces of silver awaited discovery. As in the coin tower, rust derived from more than 750 tons of iron in the ship had bonded the mass together in the Central America's alien environment. In the center of one side of this accretion, a rare $10 gold piece from the private mint of Dubosq & Co.-one of fewer than ten known examples-had fallen free many decades ago. Exotic ocean art.

Despite our exhilaration and wonder, a magnificent gravity-perhaps radiating from the beauty, silence, and the timelessness of the scene-underscored the overpowering significance of the find. We knew we were looking at the wealth of early California, the hopes and dreams of true pioneers, a thousand stories of the 19th-century America, and of tragedy and success.

We also knew that no other quantities of California gold still existed in original form. The gold we encountered was "priceless" not only because of its extraordinary intrinsic value, but also because of its history and uniqueness. This was the very gold that drew people to California and fueled the nation's economy in the mid-19th century. It was the same gold that passengers cast onto the decks of the Central America in the panic of the storm and that bankers in New York had been awaiting so anxiously in September 1857. Part of our American heritage, this was history in the form of a national treasure. And we had found it.

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