1857-S Double Eagles

Double Eagle Gold Coins from the SS Central America

Gold coins from the SS Central America

By Greg Reynolds - Coinlink

In 1987, there was the greatest discovery of a shipwreck relating to the history of the United States. Yes, other shipwrecks may be especially important to the history of Spain and Latin America.

The loss of the S.S. Central America in Sept. 1857, however, had an impact on the history of the United States.

Although a recession had already started in 1856, and a major insurance company failed in August 1857, the loss of this ship caused upheaval in financial markets and exacerbated the “Panic of 1857.”

The Library of Congress website reveals that the S. S. Central America “had aboard 581 persons, many carrying great personal wealth, and more than $1 million in commercial gold. [This ship] also bore a secret shipment of 15 tons of federal gold, valued at $20 per ounce, intended for the Eastern banks

In this context, the Library of Congress website cites several pertinent, recognized 19th century books and other contemporary sources.

“As banking institutions of the day dealt in specie (gold and silver coins instead of paper money) the loss of some thirty thousand pounds of gold reverberated through the financial community.” In October, many banks suffered terribly or failed altogether. There were ‘runs’ on many banks by depositors.

The crisis reached its worse point on Oct. 14, about a month after the sinking of the S. S. Central America, which was Suspension Day, when banking was suspended in New York and throughout New England. The U.S. economy did not fully recover for years.

In the wreckage of the S. S. Central America, there were thousands of 1857-S Double Eagles ($20 gold coins), which were very scarce before the salvaging of the S.S. Central America.

Of all the Double Eagles found in the wreckage, however, only fifty were designated as being Prooflike, and only seven as Deep Mirror Prooflike, by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

In late 1999 and/or early 2000, the PCGS certified and graded most of the coins found in this shipwreck. As far as I know, these fifty-seven PCGS certified 1857-S Double Eagles and one NGC certified 1858-S Double Eagle coins are the only reliably certified, Prooflike gold coins from the early years of the San Francisco Mint, which formally began striking coins in 1854. 

The 1857-S Double Eagles that the PCGS has designated as Prooflike are unusual in that it is generally the policy of the Professional Coin Grading Service to not designate gold coins as being ‘Prooflike.’ In a Dec. 2000 Christie’s auction, it is stated that a PCGS certified ‘MS-65 PL’ 1857-S is “Tied with two others for finest of 50 PL examples from the S.S. Central America treasure certified by PCGS.”

According to the Christie’s cataloguer, who is an expert regarding the histories of coins found on shipwrecks, nineteen 1857-S Double Eagles are (or then were) PCGS certified as ‘MS-64 PL.’

Sources indicate just seven of the S. S. Central America 1857-S Double Eagles were designated as Deep Mirror Prooflike (DMPL) by the PCGS. The NGC has not designated any 1857-S Double Eagles as PL or DMPL.

Before the finding of the wreck of the S. S. Central America, it is likely that no Prooflike 1957-S Double Eagles were known to exist. Furthermore, probably all (or almost all) of these certified Prooflike 1857-S Double Eagles are in PCGS holders with their respective original gold foil inserts (labels) that were specially designed for coins found in the wreck of the S.S. Central America.

Therefore, it seems that there exist fifty-seven Prooflike (PL) or Deep Mirror Prooflike (DMPL) 1857-S Double Eagles. Only a handful of these have been publicly sold since the initial offerings in 2000 when coins from the S.S. Central America appeared in coin markets.