Treasure from the Ship of Gold to highlight September auction at Bonhams

Coins & Medals 2 Sep 2012
Los Angeles

Los Angeles — Bonhams is pleased to announce its September 2 auction of Rare Coins and Medals in Los Angeles. During the fall sale, the auction house is privileged to offer several Gold Rush rarities including a highly sought after Kellogg & Humbert gold bar, coinage from the S.S. Central America, known by many as 'the ship of gold,' and two rare Panama Pacific $50 gold coins.

A lovely and highly impressive example from the S.S. Central America, the gold bar weighs 40.56 ounces and sports gleaming yellow-gold color (est. $120,000-140,000). The ill-fated ship went down in a terrible hurricane 155 years ago on September 9, 1857 with great loss of life and property. The treasure was recovered in the late 20th century by the Columbus-America Discovery Group led by Tommy Thompson. This gold bar is a piece rich with historical appeal that is an indelible link to Gold Rush California. The lot includes a Certificate of Authenticity from the Columbus-America Discovery Group over the signature of Thompson indicating it was recovered from the S.S. Central America.

Also from "the ship of gold" is a frosty and brilliant honey-gold Gem 1857-S $20 MS66 PCGS with exceptional eye appeal and lively orange and olive highlights. Following the dispersal of the S.S. Central America's treasure, thousands of 1857-S $20 pieces were discovered but only a small amount of them were of the remarkable Gem quality offered here.

Paul Song, Director of the Rare Coins and Banknotes Department at Bonhams, states, "Bonhams is delighted to offer such rare and unusual pieces related to the Gold Rush. It is the perfect homage to the era and our corporate roots in San Francisco during that time period. We look forward to continuing success in this arena."

Additional examples from the Gold Rush era include two rare models of the 1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific Exposition coins. Contributing to the lore of these pieces is the Congressional Act that authorized the United States Mint to strike $50 gold coins for sale in conjunction with the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and specified that a total of 3,000 pieces could be produced. Since initial sales for these impressive, large-size gold coins went fairly well, the authorities decided to proceed to strike the entire allotment. The delivery was split evenly between Round and Octagonal examples, with a few extra pieces of each type struck for assay purposes.

Sales of the coin eventually lagged due to the asking price of $100 per coin, which proved too steep among exposition attendees. Although Farran Zerbe continued to sell these coins via mail order after the exposition closed, Treasury Secretary William McAdoo ordered the return of all remaining examples to the Mint for destruction on November 1, 1916. A total of 1,017 Round and 85 Octagonal coins were melted, leaving net mintages of 483 and 645 pieces, respectively.

As a representative of the rarer of the two varieties, Bonhams will proudly offer an exceptionally well preserved Round version of the 1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific Exposition coin with original case (est. $70,000-80,000) and an unusual Octagonal style mounted in an old-time custom screw-top bezel with gold chain attached with a key at one end and corkscrew at the other end (est. $15,000-20,000). The remarkable Octagonal coin was purchased in 1915 at directly from the Panama-Pacific Exposition by the current owner's grandfather. As an avid vintophile, he found a unique way to blend his two passions and had the item fashioned with a corkscrew.

Bonhams is also pleased to offer several examples of mint-marked Saint-Gaudens double eagles from the mid-1920s in the September auction. The present near-Gem 1925-S $20 MS64 PCGS is perhaps the rarest, and, indeed, a well-known key to this series (est. $45,000-50,000). Unlike other issues of this type like the 1924-D, 1925-D, and 1926-S, the 1925-S is seen most often in worn grades, a fact that makes the Choice specimen in this lot a condition rarity as well as an absolute rarity.

The illustrated auction catalog for the sale will be available online for review and purchase in the weeks preceding the sale at For more information about the department, please visit

Preview: August 31-September 1

Auction: September 2, Los Angeles


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and appraisal services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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