A Brief History
On September 12, 1857, the SS Central America sank in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina, taking with her most of her passengers and crew and 30,000 pounds of gold from California. For over 130 years, the Atlantic Ocean protected this treasure, that was until 1988, and a massive jackpot of about $150 million in gold has been recovered so far. Are you hoping to discover treasure that will put you in the top tax bracket? Every so often throughout history, a lucky few were blessed with that Midas touch. Here 10 such spectacular finds are listed.
10. SS Central America, 1988.
As briefly mentioned in the introduction, this 278-foot long side-wheel steam and sail ship that displaced just over 20,00 tons of water went down with 550 people and enough gold that the U.S. economy was actually adversely affected. Found in 1988 by the Columbus-America Discovery Group of Ohio who used remote-operated submersibles to locate and salvage the treasure, court decisions have allowed the salvage crews to keep 92% of the treasure. More gold is still down there, and salvage operations continue.
9. Oil and Natural Gas, 2014.
In the past several years the meteoric rise in the price of oil and gas has made smaller wells profitable, and the process known as “fracking” has enabled the extraction of previously unreachable resources. Thousands of Americans have found themselves a new source of income as energy companies buy the rights to pump oil and gas out of privately held property. In North Dakota, for example, this massive bonanza has caused the average income in the last few years to rise from 39th among the U.S. states to 6th. Many other states can also boast lucky property owners who have found themselves their personal golden goose. Woe to those property owners who bought their land without retaining the mineral rights!
8. Captain Kidd’s Treasure, c. 1699.
Although the belief that pirates buried their treasure is largely a myth, William Kidd is apparently the exception to that rule. One of his buried treasures was dug up on Gardinaer’s Island by British authorities and used as evidence against him in his piracy trial. Other alleged caches may be on or around Long Island, on islands off Connecticut, on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy or even in Viet Nam. It may be that Captain Kidd and his buried treasures were the inspiration for the Robert Louis Stevenson book Treasure Island and the Edgar Allen Poe story The Gold Bug. Somewhere out there is a pirate’s treasure waiting to be found by some lucky devil.
7. Cullinan Diamond, 1905.
On January 26, 1905 the South African earth gave up the largest gem-quality diamond in history. Named the Cullinan Diamond, it was over 3,106 carats and over 4 inches long before being cut and polished into smaller gemstones. The largest of those cut gemstones is the 530.4-carat Great Star of Africa which is currently mounted in the royal sceptre of England. The Great Star of Africa remained the largest cut and polished diamond in the world until 1985 when the 545-carat Golden Jubilee Diamond was found, ironically in the same South African mine. This mine is still yielding diamonds of enormous size. For example, in the days immediately preceding publication of this article, a 232-carat diamond worth an estimated $10 million was unearthed. This diamond is the largest diamond obtained from that mine since the 507-carat Cullinan Heritage Diamond that was found in 2009 and which sold for $35 million. To put these enormous gemstones in perspective, the famous Hope Diamond “only” weighs 45.5 carats. Most men are shocked at the price of a one-carat diamond, and “rocks” of several carats make news when celebrities give or receive them. If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, the Queen of England has some very good friends indeed!
6. Staffordshire Hoard, 2009.
In an English field near the village of Hammerwich, a man using a metal detector to find curios in a freshly plowed field found gold and silver objects dating back to the 7th century. Over the next 5 days, he filled 244 bags with gold and silver combat- and arms-related objects (such as adornments for weapons). In an area only 30 by 43 feet, he recovered 3,500 (mostly small) pieces. In 2010 the excavation area was expanded. The hoard was found to be from the Kingdom of Mercia, an Anglo-Saxon culture. Valued at a whopping £ 3.285 million (about $5.4 million) the landowner and metal detector hobbyist were allowed to split the proceeds from the sale of the items to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery between them. Although this hoard may be the biggest found in Britain so far, there have been others, and only time will tell what else remains to be discovered. If you have some vacation coming up, perhaps you can buy a metal detector and visit “Merrie Olde” England!
5. Sutter’s Mill, 1848.
Located in California, this mill was owned and operated by John Sutter and James Marshall. It was Marshall’s discovery of flakes in the American River that sparked the California Gold Rush during which 300,000 treasure seekers streamed to California in search of their fortunes. This mass of fortune hunters became known as the “Forty–Niners“ and later inspired the name for the National Football Leauge (NFL) team from San Francisco. Finding gold was initially quite easy, with the first gold hunters able to find nuggets on top of the ground. In the first 5 years, it is estimated at least 370 tons of the precious metal were recovered. After the easy gold was scooped up, it became harder to find more gold, and other methods of separating gold from dirt, rock and stream beds were used. In the early years of the Gold Rush, the average gold seeker was able to make several years worth of money in only a few months.
4. The Black Swan Project, 2007.
A somewhat mysterious marine salvage operation, outsiders do not even know what treasure ship is actually being salvaged. Her treasures which include $500 million in silver coins certainly have drawn attention to the Odyssey Marine Exploration shipwreck-salvaging and treasure-seeking company. Even the nationality of the coins is being kept secret, but the treasure was flown from Gibraltar to Florida, and the rumored source is the 1804 wreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes off of the coast of Portugal. Ownership of the treasure was contested in court by both Spain and the U.S. and was eventually awarded to Spain. The treasure has for now been returned to Spain pending any further court action. Incredibly, Spain has no intention of paying the salvage crews any money whatsoever for their efforts in recovering a treasure that probably sat on the ocean floor for over 200 years! Other candidates for the source of the treasure are the ships the Merchant Royal and the Sussex.
3. RMS Republic, 1909.
A massive ocean liner for its time, the 570-foot long Republic displaced over 15,000 tons of water and carried as many as 2,800 passengers and 300 crew. In 1909 in fog near Nantucket, Massachusetts, while carrying 742 people, the great ship was struck by another large ship, the SS Florida, and sank. In a stroke of good fortune and thanks to the disciplined crew members, only 6 people died in total, the rest being taken off the stricken ship and ferried to rescue ships in lifeboats. On board the Republic was a cargo of gold and coins valued in today’s dollars to be between several hundred million dollars and as much as 5 billion dollars. The shipwreck was found in 1981, and though salvage efforts have been taking place since then, the treasure has yet to be recovered. Planned salvage operations for 2014 may well reach the “specie room” where the gold was kept, and perhaps this year will finally be a happy one for those working the wreck. History and Headlines Fact: The Republic was the first ship to send the radio distress message CQD.
2. King Tut’s Tomb, 1922.
Finally found by Howard Carter after years of searching, it took 8 years to empty out the 3,000-year-old tomb of its “wonderful things!“ which included the “Boy King’s” mummy and sarcophagus. The priceless treasures, gold and other precious materials are numerous and have toured the world for millions of people to see. They now reside in Cairo, Egypt, not far from the tomb, which incidentally can also be toured if you care to see it.
1. Nuestra Señora de Atocha, c. 1622.
Once carrying a spectacular quantity of gold, silver and gemstones taken from Spain’s South American colonies, this Spanish treasure ship is the stuff of dreams. Sunk in a hurricane just off the Florida Keys in only 55 feet of water, Spain mounted a salvage effort, but failed to find the wreck. Her sister ship was found and salvaged to about 50%, but it was not until 1985 when an American treasure hunter finally found the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha after having looked for it for over 16 years. The treasure is vast and spectacular, and one ring alone is worth $500,000! The total value of the treasure has been variously estimated from $450 million to $7.5 billion.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which of them do you wish you found? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting event that happened on September 12, please see the History and Headlines article: “September 12, 1942: U-Boats Engaged in Rescue Efforts Attacked by U.S. Bomber! (The Laconia Incident).”
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For more information, please see…
Haughton, Brian. Ancient Treasures: The Discovery of Lost Hoards, Sunken Ships, Buried Vaults, and Other Long-Forgotten Artifacts. Weiser, 2013.
Horner, Dave. Shipwreck: A Saga of Sea Tragedy and Sunken Treasure. Sheridan House, 1999.