Historic 1854 New Orleans Gold Coin Returns Home

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A unique, sunken treasure gold coin that made its way from New Orleans to the California Gold Rush and then to the Panama railroad before going down with a famous ship has now come home to The Big Easy for the public to see.

1854 New Orleans Quarter Eagle gold coin
Unique 1854 New Orleans Quarter Eagle gold coin. Note the “O” mintmark on the “tail’s” side. (Photo credit: Professional Coin Grading Service.)

It left the United States Mint branch in New Orleans 167 years ago, and for 157 of those years it was submerged on the floor of the Atlanta Ocean as part of America’s greatest lost treasure.

"This historic coin is an 1854 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle struck at the New Orleans Mint and was later counterstamped by California merchant J.L. Polhemus. It was among the sunken treasure recovered in 2014 from the fabled ‘Ship of Gold,’ the S.S. Central America, that sank in a hurricane in 1857 while sailing to New York," explained Bruce Smith, Director of Numismatics at M.S. Rau Fine Art, Antiques and Jewels (www.RauAntiques.com).

"It is the only gold coin of this denomination known with the advertising counterstamp mark of Polhemus, a Gold Rush-era pharmacist in Sacramento, California. He made so-called store cards with various other coins in circulation at the time. When this particular gold coin was made in 1854 its face value was $2.50. Today, it’s a New Orleans treasure and insured for $65,000 for its first visit home in over a century and a half," said Smith.

The coin, graded PCGS XF45, is on public display at the Rau gallery, 630 Royal St. in New Orleans, Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 5:15 pm. Admission is free.

Closeup of New Orleans mintmark
Closeup of New Orleans mintmark. Photo by Professional Coin Grading Service.

Scientist Bob Evans, who was on the successful S.S. Central America recovery missions, told PCGS Rare Coin Market Report Price Guide Magazine, the counterstamped 1854-O Quarter Eagle he discovered while examining treasure retrieved in 2014, is one of his favorite coins.

"That coin was made in New Orleans at a time when the New Orleans Mint may well have been using California gold to mint coins. Gold Rush gold got around back then! So, then this coin made its way all the way to Sacramento, where a shopkeeper hammered his name on it. And then, somehow, it made it on to the S.S. Central America, and then, somehow, we brought it back up 150 years later, a couple of hundred miles from North Carolina. That’s just a great story! An example of a great, full-circle journey," Evans stated.

The S.S. Central America was a 280-foot long, three-masted side-wheel steamship carrying tons of California gold when she sank on September 12, 1857 hurricane during the cargo’s final leg of the voyage from Aspinwall (now Colón), Panama to New York City. The tragedy took the lives of 420 of the ship’s 578 passengers and crew members and the loss of the gold cargo was a major factor in the economically devastating financial panic of 1857 in the United States.

When the S.S. Central America site was discovered in 1988 on the seafloor of the Atlantic, 7200 feet down about 150 miles off the North Carolina coast, Life magazine proclaimed it "America’s greatest treasure."

For additional information, contact M.S. Rau at 888-557-2406 or visit online at www.RauAntiques.com.

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Kaiser Wilhelm

Makes you wonder if there was anything this man didn’t stamp his name and address on!

Last edited 10 days ago by Kaiser Wilhelm
Seth Riesling

He was an attention whore…& he sold drugs too! Lol.

NumisdudeTX

Kaiser Wilhelm

It appears he was the pattern for the modern version. Now we just have to find the proof. It might not be too difficult to certify that considering all the circulation he got. The one thing we know for for sure is that eventually he ended up on a slab.

Mark D.

Oh, oh, it’s terrible, just awful…oh the pun-manity!!!

Kaiser Wilhelm

I guess I’m relieved it didn’t rate a more apocalyptic pronouncement.

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Last edited 8 days ago by Kaiser Wilhelm
Mark D.

Are the Hindenburgs friends of yours, maybe even family? Too bad about their namesake air ship.

Seth Riesling

“Honey, can I have the keys to the dirigible?”…The Hindenburg family members were full of hot air! Lol.

NumisdudeTX

Kaiser Wilhelm

Needless to say, Seth and Mark, you two never fail to crack me up (just like my distant cousin’s airship). That being said, while hydrogen and helium are the two most abundant elements in the universe, thanks to [geo]political reservations and considerations – and don’t those somehow always manage to sneak into just about everything one way or another – the Americans wouldn’t sell the helium-bereft Germans any of that non-flammable gas so the Zeppelin operators had to utilize precariously flammable hydrogen instead. The rest of the story, we might say, has been burned into the history books.

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