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1852 Moffat $10 gold from the S.S. Central America shipwreck

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Posted 8 years ago

(13 items)

This is one of my favorite coins. It has history written all over it.

It was minted privately by Moffit & Company of San Francisco in 1852 from gold recovered during the height of the California gold rush.

In 1852, there was a shortage of coins in San Francisco and merchants were desperate for coins. It would be another 2 years before the San Francisco Mint opened its doors. To help relieve this shortage (and to make money), Moffat & Co. struck some 8,650 $10 gold pieces. Contemporary accounts refer to these coins as "Moffat's gold."

Later that same year, Moffat & Co. was reorganized as the United States Assay Office. Most of Moffat's $10 gold coins never left California and many made their way to the new United States Assay Office and were melted and restruck into $50 gold slugs.

This example was one of the few to leave California. It made its way onto the steamship S.S. Central America, enroute to New York from Panama, when the ship sank during a hurricane on September 12, 1857. Unfortunately only 153 of the more than 400 passengers and crew are believed to have survived. (Read more about the SS Central America shipwreck at http://www.acdwyer.com/stories/ss-central-america-shipwreck-treasure.php)

What makes this coin interesting is that it is considered "passenger gold" by shipwreck hunters. In other words this a well worn coin that was probably among coins carried by a passenger, in contrast to the thousands of freshly minted $20 double eagles that the ship carried in bulk down below decks in large wooden kegs.

It is easy to imagine all the California saloons and poker games that this coin probably participated in. Perhaps it was in the pocket of one lucky miner on his way back from the California gold fields when it wound up at the bottom of the ocean where it would lie for the next 130 years.

In the late 1980s, a group led by Tommy Thompson recovered from the S.S. Central America shipwreck over 5,000 mint state 1857-S double eagles, hundreds of gold ingots, and numerous other coins including this one. The value of the treasure is estimated to have been over $100 million dollars. This coin was among the small amount of passenger gold that was recovered.

With a historical pedigree like that, there is no wonder why this coin is one of my favorites.


  1. Belltown Belltown, 8 years ago
    What a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it! I also like your interview here:
  2. potrero potrero, 8 years ago
    By the way, the book about Thompson's discovery and recovery of the S.S. Central American, "Ship of Gold on the Deep Blue Sea" is a really great read: http://www.amazon.com/Ship-Gold-Deep-Blue-Sea/dp/0871134640
    talk about persistence...

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