Owning a Piece of History

One of the great things about collecting shipwreck coins is that you are holding a piece of history. It doesn’t matter if the coin is from a Greek vessel lost in the Aegean, from a Spanish Galleon off the coast of Florida, or a sidewheel steamer from the 1850s, each coin is historic and has its own story to tell. To a collector like myself, knowing what shipwreck a coin came from and its connection with history is exciting. It can’t get better than that! Or can it?

Our featured coin here is an 1849 Moffat $5.00 gold piece. Moffat and Company were private coiners that operated out of San Francisco from 1849 to 1853. In 1849 they issued $5.00 gold pieces that had “California Gold” on the reverse. What could be more historic than that? But, in addition, this particular piece (below) was recovered from the wreck site of the S.S. Central America which adds to its appeal. What can get better than that? Well, how about knowing the details of its recovery?

Obverse with the words ”MOFFAT & CO” (barely visible) in the Coronet of Liberty.
Reverse proudly proclaims “CALIFORNIA GOLD”.

I reached out to my friend Bob Evans who was the Chief Scientist on the S.S. America Project. I asked him if he could give me some details of just when and where this coin was found. Sure enough, he sent this letter which is a remarkable account of the recovery of this famous coin.

As a collector, it really doesn’t get better than this. Ten years ago today this already historic coin was 7,200 feet below the surface of the Atlantic. Today it sits in my collection. August 7, 2024, will be the tenth anniversary of its recovery. I will be in Chicago at the World’s Fair of Money. I will have the coin with me. I will marvel at how its journey from the ocean floor to my cabinet managed to take place. And, how lucky I am to have this piece.

Moffat $5.00 gold piece in its final resting place.

Ben Costello

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