NCS Conserves Coins Recovered from the Steamship New York Wed, May 14 2008,
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A steamship that sank off the Louisiana
coast during an 1846 storm has produced a trove of rare gold
coins, including some produced at two largely forgotten U.S.
Mints in the South, coin experts say.
Last year, four Louisiana residents salvaged hundreds of
gold coins and thousands of silver coins from the wreckage
of the SS New York in about 60 feet of water in the Gulf of
Mexico, said David Bowers, co-chairman of New York-based Stack's
"Some of these are in uncirculated or mint condition,"
Bowers said, predicting the best could bring $50,000 to $100,000
apiece at auction.
Of particular interest to coin experts are gold pieces known
as quarter eagles and half eagles, which carried face values
of $2.50 and $5 in the days before the United States printed
Those coins were struck at Mints in New Orleans; Charlotte,
N.C.; and Dahlonega, Ga. The Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints
operated from 1838, when the first significant U.S. gold deposits
were found in those areas, until the start of the Civil War
in 1861, said Douglas Mudd, curator of the American Numismatic
Association's Money Museum in Denver. Neither reopened.
The Dahlonega Mint produced 1.38 million gold coins, while
1.2 million were minted in Charlotte. Tens of millions of
gold coins were minted in the United States before the federal
government confiscated those held by individuals, banks and
the U.S. Treasury in 1933 and melted them into gold bars as
the country abandoned the gold standard.
"Relatively speaking, they are rare," he said of
the Charlotte- and Dahlonega-minted coins. "The Mints
were set up to take advantage of the resources there."
The treasure also includes $10 gold pieces, known as eagles,
that were minted in Philadelphia and New Orleans, Mudd said.
The New York was a 165-foot sidewheel steamer built in its
namesake city in 1837. By 1846, it was making regular commercial
runs between Galveston, Texas, and New Orleans. Seventeen
of the 53 people aboard were killed when the ship sank in
the Gulf; the others were rescued.
Four hobbyists who enjoyed looking for sunken vessels discovered
what was left of the SS New York around 1990. After making
several trips and bringing up a handful of coins at a time
from mud that nearly covered the ship, they invested in a
full-scale salvage operation in 2007.
"What we've found is varied, a little of everything,"
said Craig DeRouen, who is on a leave from his job as a mechanical
engineer in the oil industry. "There are different denominations
from different years, silver and gold."
DeRouen, along with fellow New Iberia residents Avery Munson
and Gary and Renee Hebert, have ownership of the coins after
obtaining title to the wreck from a federal court.
Mudd said that although the coins are worth much more today
because of current gold prices around $900 an ounce, that's
only part of their value.
"The collector value may be three, five, eight thousand
dollars more, depending upon their condition," he said.
"It depends upon the individual piece and its individual
John Albanese, a rare coin dealer in Far Hills, N.J., since
1978, appraised about 200 of the gold coins. "This is
the most impressive Southern-minted gold I've seen in my lifetime,"
Mudd said $100,000 might be possible for an exceptional coin,
and that $8,000 to $16,000 wouldn't be unusual for a coin
in high-grade condition.
"Historically, they are interesting. These are the first
coins produced by gold from the United States," he said.
"The California gold rush didn't occur until about 1850."
Gold resists saltwater corrosion, and mud that had collected
on the coins was removed with a chemical compound that does
not affect the metal, Bowers said. The silver coins are etched
by the seawater, giving them a "shipwreck effect"
that is popular with collectors, he said.
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