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Daily New Orleans

Historic New Orleans Gold Coin From 1854 Is Returning


Original article written by Ray Nelson for CoinWeek.

A unique submerged gold coin that made its way from New Orleans to the California Gold Rush and then the Panama Railroad before going down on a famous ship is now on public view at The Big Easy.

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


It left the United States Mint’s New Orleans branch 167 years ago and was submerged at the bottom of the Atlanta Ocean as part of America’s greatest lost treasure for 157 years.


“This historic coin is an 1854 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle, minted in the New Orleans Mint and later counter-stamped by the Californian merchant JL Polhemus. It was one of the sunken treasures that was recovered in 2014 from the fabled ‘Ship of Gold’, the SS Central America, which sank in a hurricane in 1857 when she sailed for New York, “explains Bruce Smith, director of numismatics at MS Rau Fine Art, Antiques and Jewels (“It is the only gold coin of this denomination known to have the advertising counterstamp of Polhemus, a pharmacist from the time of the gold rush in Sacramento, California. He used various other coins in circulation at the time to make loyalty cards called The Gold Coin was made in 1854 and had a face value of $ 2.50. It is now a New Orleans treasure and insured for $ 65,000 for its first visit in over a century and a half, “said Smith.


The PCGS XF45 graded coin is on public display, Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. at the Rau Gallery, 630 Royal St., New Orleans. Admission is free.


Close up of the New Orleans mintmark. Photo by Professional Coin Grading Service.


Scientist Bob Evans, who participated in SS Central America’s successful salvage missions, told the PCGS Rare Coin Market Report Price Guide Magazine that the countermarked 1854-O Quarter Eagle he spotted while exploring treasure in 2014 was one of his favorite coins.“This coin was made in New Orleans at a time when the New Orleans Mint may have used California gold to mint coins. The word about Gold Rush gold got around then! So this coin made its way to Sacramento, where a shopkeeper has his Names hammered on it, and then somehow it made it to SS Central America, and then we somehow got it back up 150 years later, a few hundred miles from North Carolina. That’s just great history! An example of a great trip in the Circle, “said Evans.


The SS Central America was a 280-foot, three-masted side-paddle steamer that carried tons of California gold when she sailed from Aspinwall (now Colón), Panama to New on September 12, 1857, during the last leg of the cargo. sank York City. The tragedy killed 420 of the ship’s 578 passengers and crew, and the loss of the gold cargo was a major contributor to the economically devastating financial panic of 1857 in the United States.

When the SS Central America was discovered on the ocean floor of the Atlantic in 1988, about 250 meters off the coast of North Carolina, Life magazine named it “America’s Greatest Treasure”.

For more information, contact MS Rau at 888-557-2406 or visit online at


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