Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered thousands of gold and silver coins and more than 40 heavy gold bars easily worth millions of dollars from an 1857 shipwreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
The haul included several personal items that are a virtual time capsule of the California Gold Rush, according to newly unsealed court documents that provided the first detailed inventory of the SS Central America, located about 200 miles off the South Carolina coast.
The recovery effort began in April and was expected to continue throughout the summer.
The operation is being directed by a court-appointed receiver of an Ohio company, led by a treasure hunter and dreamer named Tommy Thompson, that first found the Central America in 1988 in what was then a monumental achievement funded by a group of central Ohio investors.
Immediately after finding the ship and recovering a fraction of its garden of gold, Thompson became embroiled in a decades-long legal battle over who had rights to the treasure and how it was being dispersed. None of the investors ever saw a return, and in August 2012 after failing to show up for several court hearings, a warrant was issued for Thompson’s arrest. He has been a federal fugitive ever since.
Meanwhile, the Central America and its gold sat untouched since 1991, the last time Thompson and his team were at the site.
The new recovery operation was made possible after an Ohio court appointed a receiver over some of Thompson’s companies, and he awarded a contract to conduct the efforts to Odyssey Marine.
The inventories, unsealed by a federal judge in Virginia late Wednesday, show that Odyssey Marine has brought up 43 solid gold bars, 1,300 $20 double eagle gold coins, and thousands more gold and silver coins.
Odyssey Marine could not immediately provide an estimate of what the gold is worth, but it’s easily in the millions, based on past sales of such items.
Included among passenger items recovered from the Central America are a safe that contained two cotton pieces of clothing wrapped tightly around gold coins, nuggets, and dust, a pouch with 134 gold double eagles, a leather saddlebag with more nuggets, and a small packet filled with paper and sealed with twine.
Other personal items include the photographs of at least 60 passengers, which were left at the bottom of the ocean until Odyssey Marine can figure out how to safely recover them. The photos are known as ambrotypes, a short-lived type of photography that used glass plates.
“Photographs of any mid-19th century Gold Rush miners are rare, and these ambrotypes are the only examples found on any 19th-century shipwreck worldwide,” according to a court report by Odyssey Marine.
The inventories document what Odyssey Marine recovered at the shipwreck from the beginning of the operation April 15 through June 15. An inventory of operations in the last month should be filed soon.