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S.S. Central America Gold Ingots Pace Heritage
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All four gold ingots from the S.S.Central America made the Top 10 list in the auction results from Heritages Long Beach Signature Sale.

The top performer was the 55.05-Ounce Harris Marchand Gold Ingot. Recovered from the S.S. Central America. CAGB-135, serial number 6526. 55.05 ounces, 875 fineness, stamped value $995.73. Sold For $172,500

From Q. David Bowers, A California Gold Rush History: “Large size ingot. All inscriptions on face with bar horizontally oriented. $ leans sharply left. Reverse finessed or dressed by tapping.”

Though the firm Harris, Marchand & Co. did not last into June 1857, the gold bars stamped that way did, and three dozen bars from the Sacramento office received an unexpected gift of numismatic immortality: they were loaded onto the S.S. Central America, and instead of going to New York to be melted down, they landed at the bottom of the ocean, and over the course of more than a century, they transformed into historic treasures.

Like the majority of known Harris, Marchand & Co. ingots, this example shows irregular punching on the serial number, weight, fineness, and value. The arcing HARRIS MARCHAND & CO imprint and circular MARCHAND / ESSAYEUR stamp, however, are precise and elegant as ever.

The runner-up was the 48.65 Ounce Kellogg & Humbert Gold Ingot. Kellogg & Humbert Assayers, serial number 947, 48.65 oz, 780 fineness, $784.43 face value. Medium to large size, per the classification system by Q. David Bowers in his A California Gold Rush History. Sold for $103,500

Bowers devotes a solid paragraph to the unusual characteristics of this ingot (italics his):

“Inscriptions on face. 48 in weight double punched. Fineness first punched as 87, then corrected to 78 ($784.42), with erroneous under digits still visible. $ sign high, leans right, and touches upper left of 7. Vertically oriented. Reverse stamped with repetition of serial number, but in different font. One of the most amateurishly punched of the many Kellogg & Humbert ingots.”

The top face also shows numerous air bubbles and weakness on the “Kellogg & Humbert Assayers” stamp. Bowers does allow, however, that the S.S. Central America ingots’ individuality is core to their appeal, noting that “[s]uch idiosyncrasies make them fascinating to study.”
Beyond the air bubbles, this ingot has a distinctive overall appearance. While most ingots show a measure of rust staining on one or more faces, this pieces’ surfaces are bright yellow, with evidence of rust and other dark stains virtually nil. There is a milky area is present over the “78″ of 780 FINE. Corner cuts are visible at the bottom right corner of the top face (relative to the punches) and its diagonal opposite on the bottom face. In sum, an attractive and distinctive example of the medium-to-large class of Kellogg & Humbert gold ingots found on the S.S. Central America. The ingot measures 42 x 98 x 22 mm

The third highest performer was the 38.76 Ounce Kellogg & Humbert Gold Ingot. CAGB-635. Mold K&H-02, Sold for $97,750.00

Recovered from the S.S. Central America, information on the top face: No. 838 / 38.76 oz. / 892 fine / $714.70 (in 1857 value). Bowers notes the ingot’s unusual dimensions, calling it “Thick, almost cubic.” On this small and compact ingot, the assayer’s imprint is visible on the north face relative to the main information, while the bottom face repeats the serial number just above a prominent hollow from the ingot-making process. Corner-cuts are at the bottom right of the information face and its exact opposite. Medium size, falling just below the 40-ounce cutoff for medium-to-large set by Bowers.

Recent Heritage auctions have brought a number of sizable S.S. Central America gold ingots to the market, including several massive ingots weighing in at over 100 ounces in the recent January 2010 FUN Auction. On the other hand, smaller ingots such as this Kellogg & Humbert example or the 23-ounce Justh & Hunter ingot also in this catalog also have an esteemed place in the collecting community, providing opportunities for Old West enthusiasts with a passion for assayer ingots but not necessarily the desire to own a massive “brick” of California gold. This Kellogg & Humbert representative, though small enough to rest on the palm of one’s hand, is weighty atop it–and the weight of its history is even greater.

The final example was a Justh & Hunter Gold Ingot. CAGB-352 which Sold for $74,750

Q. David Bowers, in his A California Gold Rush History, offers general notes about the Justh & Hunter ingots recovered from the S.S. Central America, including two key observations. First, “Surfaces often irregular, particularly on the reverse.” Second, “Some ingots from San Francisco [assay office] have part of the serial number, the last two digits, repeated on the reverse.”

Both are true in the case of this ingot, a small to medium-sized example in the Bowers scale.
All faces show considerable irregularities, with the top face surprising by showing the most irregularities of all. Through the valleys, the punched information from top to bottom: NO. 4341 / [arcing Justh & Hunter imprint] / 23.00 OZ / 890 FINE. / $423.15 [in 1857 terms].

Corner cuts at the upper right of the top face and its diagonal opposite; both corner cuts show rust stains, as does the bottom face, in and near the hollow from the ingot-casting process. This rust is prone to flaking, and appears to have done so within the plastic holder. As noted above, the digits 41 appear at the upper right part of the bottom face, a San Francisco office characteristic for Justh & Hunter ingots. The ingot measures 43 x 61 x 16 mm.

At just 23 ounces, this ingot is accessible to a variety of collectors and researchers, and the Justh & Hunter imprint also falls in a “sweet spot” of sorts, not so elusive as to be inaccessible, but at the same time it is not so broadly available as the Kellogg & Humbert ingots. In sum, it is a prize for the tasteful California gold collector.

 



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