SS Central America treasure heading for sale includes notes

The unique $3 note, issued by the State Bank of Newark, New Jersey, is among a small number of notes on board that survived the sinking of the fabled “gold ship,” the SS, in 1857 Central America, and are to be offered to collectors for the first time.

They are among the many highlights of California Gold Rush era artifacts at an auction to be held December 3, 2022 in Reno, Nevada and online by Holabird Western Americana Collections (

The $3 bill, the only known example in circulation, was apparently used to purchase a ticket for the legendary ship.

Issued by the State Bank of Newark, New Jersey, the $3 bill is the only known example that was in circulation and, according to a press release from the seller, appears to have been used to purchase a ticket for the legendary ship.

Other numismatic items recovered from the ship, including gold treasure shipping crates, gold digger bags and bags from the purser’s safe that contained coins during the ill-fated voyage, are also part of the first of two planned auctions of ship artifacts.

“Some collectors have been waiting for these exceptional pieces to hit the market ever since the legendary submerged ship was located in 1988 and life The magazine declared it America’s greatest treasure ever found,” said Fred Holabird, President of Holabird Western Americana Collections.

The auction will be held Saturday, December 3rd at the Reno Convention Center and online. A second auction featuring hundreds of additional artifacts recovered from the famous shipwreck will be offered in February 2023.

“Five banknotes are found at the December auction. They are among 11 “broken bills” found in the purser’s safe, which was recovered from the seabed in 2014 after being submerged about 7,200 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina for 157 years. The other recovered notes will be auctioned in February 2023,” Holabird said.

The five banknotes in the upcoming auction are:

➤ Bank of Syracuse, New York, $5, cataloged as Haxby G12c in James Haxby’s Standard Reference of Obsolete Banknotes.

➤ Exchange Bank, Bangor, Maine, $5, Haxby G8.

➤ North River Bank, New York, $20, Haxby G50c.

➤ Volksbank $5, Charleston, South Carolina, Haxby G2a.

➤ State Bank of Newark, New Jersey, $3.

The State Bank of Newark was formerly a branch of the State Bank of New Jersey and later became the National State Bank of Newark when the national banknote program superseded that of the individual states. It operated from 1814 to 1865.

The central vignette at the top of the note’s obverse shows three women, with smaller vignettes at the lower left and lower center. A large numeral 3 displayed horizontally on the reverse uses the full length of the note, somewhat reminiscent of the lazy 2 design of early national $2 bills.

The Newark Note, like the others recovered from the shipwreck, shows the ravages of being underwater for more than a century. The $3 bill is colored brownish red and shows other signs of water damage, although its history and uniqueness may trump its condition.

The $3 bill is the first circulating issue of its kind to be discovered. Previously, it was only known from evidence notes.

The recovered notes were preserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Maryland.

“Some of the banknotes were undoubtedly used by passengers to pay for their tickets. The money was accepted, perhaps because the purser didn’t yet know that the banks that issued the paper money were broke,” said Dwight Manley, managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, which consigned the notes to the auction.

Cargo treasure chests in the auction include the lid of a Wells Fargo gold shipping chest and a treasure shipping chest from the San Francisco gold rush era bankers Sather & Church. There are also gold miners’ pokes (small knapsacks or pouches usually made of suede) and a cloth pouch found in the purser’s safe with the word “dimes” written in black ink on it, although records suggested it was ¼ US dollars and half contained dollars.

A gold lapel pin made with an Indian Head gold dollar from 1854-1856, the purser’s keys to the treasure storeroom, and a selection of nine unpreserved pocket change coins collected from the seabed around the SS shipwreck Central America are also on offer, along with nearly 300 lots of recovered Gold Rush jewelry, vintage clothing from the 1850s, and other unique artifacts from the ship.

The clothing items include the important discovery of the oldest known gold rush miner’s trousers, a button-fly jean that may have been made by or for Levi Strauss in his early years of business. The Brooks Brothers pants and early undershirts, featuring the company’s famous emblem, which are also being auctioned, were in the first-class passenger trunk of Oregon merchant and military veteran of the Mexican-American War, John Dement.

“Seemingly ordinary belongings belonging to passengers and crew today give us an extraordinary glimpse into the daily lives of the people who traveled on the steamboat,” said scientist Bob Evans, who was involved in each of the salvage missions.

The tragedy of the SS Central America The sinking claimed the lives of 425 of the ship’s 578 passengers and crew, and the loss of the gold cargo was a major factor in the economically devastating financial panic of 1857 in the United States.

Insurance claims for the loss were paid in the 1850s and the company that discovered and recovered the treasure beginning in 1988 settled with the insurers and their successors in 1992. With court approval, the California Gold Marketing Group acquired clear ownership of all remaining treasure in 1999, as well as all items recovered in 2014.

Holabird Western Americana Collections has prepared an extensive limited edition catalog of 280 pages with dozens of previously unpublished illustrations of the SS Central America Salvage operations, some reproduced in 3-D, as captured during discovery missions using a remote-controlled submersible nicknamed Nemo. Copies of the catalog are available while supplies last, priced at $100 each, with a refund on any purchase from the auction. Auction lots can also be viewed online.

For more information on the December 2022 and February 2023 auctions of salvaged artifacts and to obtain a printed catalog, visit the Holabird Western Americana Collections of Reno, Nevada at, call 775-851-1859 or email [email protected]

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