Gold and Silver Coins from the SS Republic Shipwreck
Many gold and silver coin collectors appreciate having coins with an interesting story behind them. What could make a more fascinating addition to your collection than a set of coins that came from a sunken treasure trove at the bottom of the Atlantic? When the SS Republic shipwreck was found in 2006, many gold and silver coins were recovered.
Here’s the tale of the disaster, the coins that coin collectors are looking for, and how you can have a piece of the cache.
The Day of the SS Republic Shipwreck
On October 25, 1865, a sidewheel steamship called the SS Republic was in route from New York to New Orleans. The ship, originally named the USS Tennessee, was a famous one. It had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to England and back and later transported ‘49ers’ during the California Gold Rush.
However, on that fateful night in 1865, the ship was carrying cargo for the rebuilding and restocking of New Orleans after the war. Along with the consumer goods and supplies, the SS Republic was carrying many gold and silver coins. Many passengers were on board, along with the captain and crew.
However, when a massive, destructive hurricane struck, the ship was lost. Even though the passengers and crew were able to swim to lifeboats and rafts, it was a devastating loss. Still, most of them survived and were picked up from turbulent seas by another ship, the Horace Beals.
Unfortunately, not only did the ship go down, but all its valuable cargo, including the precious metals coins, sunk along with it.
Recovery of Artifacts and Coins
Less than 140 years later, beyond all expectations, the ship was found.
At around 100 miles out from the coast of Georgia, the Odyssey Marine Exploration happened to come across the SS Republic shipwreck. Using advanced technology, the team excavated the shipwreck site. Making an archeological recovery at a depth of 518 meters was a phenomenal feat and paved the way for future deep-sea explorations.
In all, the team brought up over 14,000 artifacts.
Even better for coin collectors, within the recovered cache, there were over 51,000 United States silver and gold coins. Among the coins, many were in Mint condition, and some had never been circulated at all.
Spread across the ocean floor, the team found Seated Liberty half dollars that had been stowed in a barrel. In all, it took 12 years to complete the recovery effort.
Displaying the Recovered Treasure
Many modern Americans got their first introduction to the SS Republic shipwreck story when the archeological project of recovering the artifacts was shown on a National Geographic TV documentary, Civil War Gold.
There is a permanent collection, as well as media presentations available across the internet today. In addition, you can see these artifacts in person at several places around the country.
Gold and Silver Coins from the SS Republic Shipwreck
For coin enthusiasts, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Republic shipwreck is the gold and silver coins retrieved from the bottom of the Atlantic. How were the coins handled when found? What coins were in the stash? What happened to the coins?
Here’s that piece of the story.
After the coins were brought up out of the ocean, the Numismatic Conservation Services (NCS) took over the professional conservation of the coins. NGC designated them as authentic shipwreck coins because they were properly recovered in an archeologically sound way and had a proper chain of custody.
Some of the gold coins were in especially good condition, but many of the silver coins were in terrible shape.
What was the difference? Gold, being an inert metal, tends to stay well-preserved in saltwater. However, the silver coins were mostly in worse condition because of the silver’s chemical reaction with the salt on the surfaces of the coins.
Then, NGC graded all the coins that were retrieved from the SS Republic shipwreck. NGC gave some of the coins the “SHIPWRECK EFFECT” special designation to describe the effects of saltwater on the coins’ surfaces. The higher grade coins include a letter designation on the label, such “A,” “B,” and “C,” with “A” being the highest of the three grades.
What Coins Were Found?
The coins that had originally been in the cargo deck had a face value of around $400,000, and at the time, the estimated value was $180 million. Of course, not all were recovered, but there were enough found to equal a face value of about $54,000. So, what coins made up this incredible find?
- $10 Coronet Eagles
- $20 Coronet Double Eagles
- Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollars
- Capped Bust Half Dollars
- Silver Quarter Dollars
There were many MS-60+ coins found, and certain rarities were discovered, such as the 1853-O “Rays and Arrows” half-dollar.
Analyzing Seated Liberty Half Dollars
Among these items was a special type of rare coin. These coins were Liberty Seated half dollars from the New Orleans Mint, with the year struck being 1861. Interestingly, Liberty Seated half dollars were minted for three different governments or governmental entities during that year, including the Confederate States of America (CSA), Louisiana and the New Orleans Mint. CSA coins tends to carry the highest premiums due to their rarity.
The problem was that, before this, numismatics experts had had a hard time telling for which entity the 1861-O coins were made. However, because such a vast number of Liberty Seated half dollars was found on the SS Republic shipwreck, the coin grading professionals at NGC analyzed the shipwreck coins.
NGC’s team was able to decipher the variations to determine which government’s dies were used for the different coins. In the process, NGC graded a full 17-piece set with each of the die variations. It and 28 other rare coins are on display at the Louisiana State Museum.
Where Can I Get SS Republic Shipwreck Coins?
Because there were so many coins discovered and recovered, it is not extremely hard to get your own piece of the SS Republic shipwreck.
At Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, we sometimes get specimens that have been graded, encapsulated, and sold as sets. Some of these coins have the Shipwreck Effect designation, while others do not, but all of them are specified as having come from the SS Republic shipwreck.
If you would like to add some beautiful shipwreck coins to your collection, view our eBay store where we usually list shipwreck and other certified coins and items.
If you have shipwreck coins and want to sell them, we do buy gold and silver coins. We offer reasonable and transparent pricing so that, whether you are buying or selling, you will always receive a fair price.