SS Central America shipwreck treasures total $1M at Holabird
RENO, Nev. – An auction of 270 never-before-offered historic California Gold Rush sunken treasure artifacts, conducted on December 3 by Holabird Western Americana Collections, totaled nearly $1 million. The recovered jewelry, mid-1800s clothing, glassware and other items were retrieved from the legendary vessel dubbed the Ship of Gold, the S.S. Central America, which sank during a voyage to New York in 1857. More than 7,500 registered bidders across the United States and in six other countries participated.
“There has never been anything like the scope of these recovered artifacts which represented a time capsule of daily life during the Gold Rush. The auction took over eight hours for only 270 lots because of the exceptionally large number of bids,” said Fred Holabird, president of Holabird Western Americana Collections. He added that there will be only one more opportunity to acquire previously unavailable S.S. Central America artifacts when the last items recovered from the fabled ship are auctioned on February 25, 2023.
Highlights of the December 3 auction included the unique wooden lid to a Wells Fargo & Co. treasure box, which sold for $99,600; the purser’s keys to the ship’s treasure room, where tons of Gold Rush coins and assayers’ ingots were stored, which brought $103,200; and the oldest known pair of miner’s heavy-duty work pants. They sold for $114,000, the highest price ever paid for jeans.
“Those miner’s jeans are like the first flag on the moon, a historic moment in history. We can precisely date them because we know the Central America sank during a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean on September 12, 1857. There are no earlier five-button fly jeans in existence,” said Dwight Manley, managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, consignor of the recovered artifacts.
The auction catalog contained an extensive explanation of why the jeans may have been made by or for Levi Strauss Company. The miner’s pants as well as early Brooks Brothers undershirts with the company’s famous emblem were discovered in 1991 in the first-class passenger trunk of merchant and Mexican-American War military veteran John Dement of Oregon.
Two of the three recovered Brooks Brothers shirts were offered in the auction and sold for $3,240 and $1,320, respectively. A third shirt will be in the February auction. An 1849 edition of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo, also found in Dement’s trunk, sold for $3,720.
The Central America was carrying tons of Gold Rush treasure from San Francisco and the northern California area when it sank 7,200 feet deep in the Atlantic off the North Carolina coast while on a voyage from Panama to New York City. Recovery missions were made from 1988 to 1991 and again in 2014.
Most of the recovered coins and gold bars were sold starting in 2000. The unique items in the December 3 auction and the one scheduled for February 2023 had been kept in secure storage since their recovery.
Insurance claims for the loss were paid in the 1850s, and the company that discovered and retrieved the treasure starting in 1988 settled with the insurers and their successors in 1998. With court approval, California Gold Marketing Group subsequently acquired clear title to all of that remaining treasure as well as all the items recovered in 2014.
For additional information about the auction and the February 2023 auction of S.S. Central America artifacts, visit Holabird Western Americana Collections at www.HolabirdAmericana.com, call 775-851-1859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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