S.S. Brother Jonathan Reveals Treasure Trove of $20 Gold Double Eagles
When the ill-fated S.S. Jonathan sank to its watery grave on the Sunday afternoon of July 30 1865, taking some 500 tons of
cargo with it, including a quartz-stamping mill destined for an Idaho gold mine, over 300 barrels of whiskey, machinery for a
woolen mill in Oregon, and precious cargo given to the purser for safekeeping. That valuable cargo was said to have included
hundreds of thousands of dollars in large $20 gold double eagles, $10 gold coins and $200,000 in newly printed federal
The sidewheel steamboat set sail from San Francisco, bound for Portland, carrying 150 or more passengers. Among them
were the illustrious Gen. George Wright, prominent Civil War hero of Calif., his wife and a close friend of the late President
Lincoln, Anson G. Henry, who was on his way to take his post as the new governor of Washington Territory. William Logan,
one of Henry's friends, was heading to Oregon boom town The Dalles to oversee construction of the newly-authorized federal
mint. Well-known madame, Rosanna Keenan was also aboard, accompanied with seven attractive women, their intent
seemingly apparent. The editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, James Nisbet, planned to continue onwards to Victoria, British
When the elegantly appointed steamboat met foul weather in its second day of travel, it smashed into a large uncharted rock
shortly after one o'clock in the afternoon. As the ship collapsed around them, those who were able, made their way to
life-boats in a desperate attempt to make it to shore. Only one small wooden boat was successful, some of its occupants still
dressed in their night clothes and soaking wet. They watched the popular and luxurious S.S. Jonathan slip beneath the waves.
Many have searched for the lost treasure trove of the S.S. Jonathan over the past century, but it wasn't until 1993 that the wreck
was finally located. In 1996, the tumbled cargo containers and debris including parts of the steam engine were found, but still
no gold. Finally, on August 30, 1996, Harvey Harrington and David Slater, of Deep Sea Research, Inc. (DSR) spotted gold while
they were exploring the wreck in Delta, a two-man submersible.
The first bags of coins brought back to the surface that day, contained 564 gold $20 double eagles, some of them in mint
condition. A total of 875 coins were recovered in 1996, and an additional 332 coins were salvaged the following year. Battling
the elements and difficult bottom conditions were not the only obstacles the DSR team faced, however. The State of California
tried to deter their activities through several court battles leading all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled
unanimously in DSR's favor.
SS Republic treasure is discovered!!
In 1865, the SS Republic set off from New York carrying 90
passengers and crew. The double sidepaddle wheel
steamship was headed for New Orleans, a city whose
economy had been wounded by the Civil War and was
starved for hard currency. The Republic reportedly carried
the solution: a consignment of gold and silver coins worth
$400,000 at the time. But the ship never reached its
destination, it sank in a hurricane off the coast of Georgia.
For 138 years, the Republic and its lost cargo of riches
represented every explorer’s dreambut it was the dedication
and hard work of Stemm and Morris that eventually led to its
discovery. After combing countless square miles of the
Atlantic with a variety of sonar equipment, the team of
underwater explorers finally located the Republic’s remains
over 1,600 feet to the bottom of the sea.
With the help of the state-of-the art exploration and salvage vessel Odyssey Explorer, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV)
named Zeus and an arsenal of other high-tech tools and sensors, Stemm and Morris have begun to recover what could
potentially be the richest treasure ever discovered at sea.
Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered the shipwreck in the summer of 2003 nearly 1700 feet below the surface of the Atlantic
Ocean approximately 100 miles off the Georgia coast.
AMERICA'S LOST TREASURE - The S.S. CentralAmerica
When the United States Mail Steamship Central
America sank in deep water off the coast of the
Carolinas during a monstrous 1857 hurricane, it
created just such an accidental accumulation of
treasure. Bound for New York with 578
passengers and crew, and 38,000 pieces of
mail, the Central America also held tons of gold
ingots, coins, nuggets, and dust mined from the
western gold fields during a defining
quarter-century when the country came of age.
Lost for 131 years, the Central America
shipwreck is a unique time capsule of
information and artifacts of an era in which the
very character and spirit of America blossomed.
1852 to1857: The Central America transported an estimated one-third
of the entire California Gold Rush output. That one-third was valued at
the time at approximately $150 million.
September 3, 1857: The Central America left Aspinwall (now Colón),
Panama carrying 476 passengers, 102 crew members and over three
tons of gold.
The precious cargo included approximately 5,200 recently-minted
$20- denomination ("Double Eagle") gold pieces produced in 1857 at
the San Francisco Mint. The gold for these coins was mined during the
California Gold Rush. There also was a much smaller quantity of other
historic gold coins that circulated in the Wild West. (These will be
released later for purchase by individuals).
The cargo also contained privately-made gold coins and ingots
produced by such historic, government-supervised San Francisco Gold
Rush-era assayers as Blake & Co.; Kellogg & Humbert; Wass Molitor
& Co.; Harris, Marchand & Co.; and Justh & Hunter.
The largest ingot recovered is an astonishing gold brick that weighs
933 ounces, nearly 80 pounds, made by assayers Kellogg & Humbert.
Friday, September 11, 1857: In the second day of a hurricane the ship sprang a leak at 9 a.m. Passengers were ordered to
assist the crew in bailing. The ship sank at about 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 12, about 160 miles east of Cape
Hatteras, North Carolina, drowning a total of 426 passengers and crew, including Captain William Lewis Herndon.
Unable to meet payrolls or pay creditors because of the loss of the gold cargo, New York banks began to fail and stores
and factories began to close, touching off a financial crash in the United States and Europe. It was "The Panic of 1857."
The shipwreck site of the Central America contains four types of gold:
coins, assay ingots, individual nuggets that miners pulled directly from
the ground and streams, and - amazingly, gold dust strewn amid the
sediment. Each is characterized by the extraordinary variety and texture
and offers fascinating insight into the history of the fledgling and
somewhat haphazard economy of San Francisco and Sacramento during
the gold rush era.
Dust and nuggets, which were among the most intriguing finds of the
expedition, were the rawest form of gold coming out of the streams and
gold fields in and around the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Gold dust
represented the base of San Francisco's earliest monetary system.
Sending dust and raw nuggets all the way to the US governments main
mint in Philadelphia for assaying and coining was too costly and time
consuming. Thus, San Francisco relied on a "dust economy," in which the
gold dust, measured by the weight or by the "pinch," served as currency.
Despite the near mint state condition of a wide
variety of rare coins, the most unusual element of
the Central America treasure may be the hundreds
of "assay ingots." These range from pocket-sized,
such as the small, rectangular five-ounce Blake &
Company ingots produced in Sacramento, to a
massive, 63-pound, "two by four" (2 by 4 by 11 ½
inches) ingot from Justh and Hunter. Their purity
varies as widely as their size, differing from 580
find (just over half gold) to the 973 fine (indicating
a nearly pure gold value).
Although less common in the consumer
marketplace than the coins, the ingots are as
revealing of the era and are also more unusual in
that they are all in private issue. Many began as
dust and nuggets in the pockets of miners, who
brought the raw gold to private assayers for
weighting and valuation. The assayers melted
down the gold, molded it into ingots, and then
shaved off a corner for their commission and to
measure the purity. Finally they would stamps the
gold with unique identifying marks, indicating the
weight, purity, and value, as well as their own
maker's marks, and return the ingots to the
owners. Gold in this form was the preferred type
shipped to banks and other businesses, as well as
the US government. Commercial shippers also
brought their gold to private assayers, but did so
in larger allotments.
Five assayers are represented in the treasure of
the Central America: Blake and Company, Kellogg
& Humbert, Justh and Hunter, Harris, Marchand &
Company, and Henry Henstch.