SS Central America Gold Rush Ingot
On December 5, 1848, in his annual message to Congress, President James K. Polk stated that gold had been found in California, and in large quantities. Specimens were sent to the Philadelphia Mint for analysis, where the assayers found the metal to be of unbelievable quality.
California, a desert wasteland, which was considered undesirable and much too far too risk leaving the comforts of the Eastern United States, had changed forever and the California Gold Rush was on! Immigrants began flooding into the Buena Vista Region; you probably know it better as San Francisco, of the Northern Territory of California.
They came by land and by sea carrying pans, shovels, containers for gold, contraptions for processing gold, etc., but few thought to bring much in the way of money. Thus, by the summer of 1849 there were tens of thousands of newcomers in California, but not enough coined currency to go around. Early California literally became a gold dust and nugget economy.
Since paper money was not accepted in the West and certainly not accepted in foreign exchange most of the trade was conducted in gold dust and nuggets. This made it very difficult for merchants and the economy to maintain any sort of reliable exchange rate. Congress ignored the outcry for help to do something to help stabilize California trade; merchants began to encourage the minting of private assayer coins and gold ingots, even though it was illegal. But, as in all markets, reliable businessmen from all corners of the world met the response to these needs. To be successful, an assayer had to have a completely unblemished reputation, his word to be, literally, “as good as gold.”
Many private assayer offices opened for business and begun to conduct transactions by providing an efficient means for miners to convert their hard-earned raw gold into a form that was readily accepted. This necessity caused the advent of the private monetary gold ingots. Assayer ingots soon became the standard method to deal with the massive flow of new California gold.
First, a gold miner would stockpile a cache of raw gold dust and nuggets. Then, based on word of mouth reputation, location and fees, the miner would select one of the competing assaying offices. The miner would deposit his bag of gold and get a written receipt with the assayers inventory identification number and a gross weight.
The assayer would then melt the raw gold and refine-out the impurities and base metals such as iron. What remained was gold and silver. Gold ingots of this form are called unparted gold monetary ingots. The molten gold was poured into a mold of a size that corresponded to that miner’s lot size. After the bar cooled, the assayer would clip off two opposite corners of the bar to retain as his fee and also to use for the assaying process. Once assayed to determine the purity of gold, the precise weight and fineness were hand counter punched on the ingot along with its unique I.D. serial number, which matched the miner’s receipt. Also, the assayer would stamp the exact U.S. Dollar value. This transformed bullion into a medium of exchange, which was easily accepted for large transaction domestically and internationally making it REAL money.
Although, most of these California Assayer ingots were ultimately melted and coined, some survived and stand among the most numismatically important currencies in existence. Many have sold for $100,000’s of dollars dating back some 25 years like the small two and one-half ounce F.D. Kohler ingot auctioned in 1980 from the Garrett Collection. It realized a whopping $200,000!
These very rare 19th Century gold artifacts were primarily, until recently, reserved for the very wealthy and for those who were well connected to a Territorial Gold specialist. This fact change dramatically with the discovery of the SS Central America, a US Mail Steamship that sunk in 1857, and today the monetary gold ingot market is much more attainable! Over 500, never seen before, gold assayer ingots representing some five different companies were recovered and after many years of litigation were made available to collectors and investors.
Because of the rarity and unfamiliarity with these artifacts the market was both excited and nervous when they were first available for sale to the public. The first of the SS Central America ingots were seen in June 2000 at the Sotheby’s Auction House. The ingots in this sale were eagerly bought up even though at that time the actual number of the ingots recovered from the depths, over 8,000 feet, of the Atlantic was still unknown to the general public. One of these ingots sold in the Sotheby’s Sale, Serial #5228 assayed by Blake & Co., weighed 12.09 ounces, realized $40,000. This very same ingot was in the Heritage Platinum Sale at the Florida United Numismatic Convention in early January 2004 and realized a final price of $132,250. That is over 300% increase in value in just over 2 years. Wow!
But that’s not the whole story! Because of this ingot realizing such an exciting price, an increase in activity and comfort has begun to take hold. Immediately following this sale, my phone began to ring by those dealers who originally had a wait and see attitude when the ingots were released. You see dealers in ultra rare coins and currencies, thought for some reason that the supply of SS Central America monetary ingots was high and they believed there was some kind of forever glut of supply. But then again most dealers I know and do business with are way too focused on the present. The facts that I knew and believed were that the supply side would soon be gone and the sale of all the ingots is forgone conclusion.
Now all of a sudden, dealers are standing in line to buy Blake & Co. ingots among others that have sold out. But, back to the sale and it’s caused reactions. I was able to confirm the sale of another, EVEN smaller ingot, which took place within weeks of the previous mentioned. Blake & Co. ingot barring serial #5217, an ingot with only 4 pure ounces of gold, sold for an AMAZING $27,500 per ounce or $110,000 to a dealer who has told me it is in very strong hands for a very long time!
These sales among others are only evidence of what we at Monaco Financial believed when we became involved as the primary dealer of these wonderful artifacts. You see, unlike many of our less successful competitors, we do look to the long-term. And that is that these incredible and historically significant artifacts from our countries most economically important era can be a tremendous storage of wealth. Less than 30 of the 456 surviving SS Central America ingots are still available for acquisition for those who can appreciate the history, intrigue and value. If you would like to discuss the opportunity to participate in owning one of these wonderful specimens, I invite you to call me direct, Adam Crum, Vice President of Numismatics, at 888-900-9948. Please mention your interest in Gold Rush Ingots to my assistant and I will call you back personally. I have more information about availability and prices realized than anyone in the country and can cater a special finance package for those with the means to explore the possibilities.