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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 3, January 18, 2009, Article 4


David Gladfeler forwarded this review of Dave Bowers' latest book. -Editor
Treasure Ship S.S. New York

The 1846 sinking of the steam packet S. S. New-York in a hurricane encountered during a scheduled run from Galveston to New Orleans, with the loss of 19 lives and a safe containing an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 in gold and silver coins and currency, and the search for and location of its wreck in 2005 and recovery of its treasure, is the subject of Q. David Bowers's latest book, The Treasure Ship S.S. New York, published last week by Stack's and for sale by them at $29.95.

Bowers located a detailed first person account of the tragedy, written by the New-York's captain, John Y. Todd, for the New Orleans Bulletin, and reproduces this, along with other contemporaneous accounts, in a chapter titled A "Perfect Gale" Strikes. Along with this, Bowers provides a description of life in the port cities, Galveston and New Orleans, and other historical background information to give the reader an "I was there!" experience.

Bowers knows the team of shipwreck hunters who set out to find the remains of this ship, with the hope, of course, of also finding the contents of its safe. In this, they were fortunately successful, as the salvage operation was costing the team and its investors $5,000 per day. Bowers was there during the recovery operation, and his readers can look through the greenish water at the debris and artifacts, and over his shoulder at the scenes on board the recovery ship. More than 2,000 gold and silver coins were recovered, along with the ship's bell, bottles, silver utensils and other found items. You, the reader, are there.

The coins were carefully documented, certified and placed in special holders. Most of them went to auction on July 27, 2008, realizing more than $1-million in total value.

Finds such as this should always be documented. Bowers does so, listing all of the gold coins found and illustrating the best of each denomination, date and mintmark. Of the silver coins recovered, representative examples are shown. As might be expected, the gold coins, especially those minted at the Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans branch mints, had seen little circulation at the time of the shipwreck and, except for light seawater etching described as "shipwreck effect", were in excellent preservation and among the finest known. (Readers, hang onto your socks when looking at the 1845-D quarter eagle or you will be barefoot fast.)

The silver coins suffered somewhat more immersion damage, but many do remain in quite decent shape. What was the biggest surprise of this hoard? The absence of Spanish-American gold; only three pieces, one each from México, Chile (Santiago), and Colombia (Popayán) were found.

Recoveries at sea of treasures containing coins of United States mints are far less frequent than those containing coins of the Spanish New World mints. Bowers mentions only four such shipwrecks, in addition to that of the S.S. New-York. They are the S. S. Central America, the S. S. Brother Jonathan (read about these two in prior Bowers books), the S. S. Yankee Blade and the S. S. Republic.

You will find this book to be a fast and enjoyable read, with good historical backup for the numismatic content.

Dave adds:

One more thing, as Peter Falk would say. Stack's says they will ship you the book free (for a limited time) if you mention the code SSNYFREE.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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