1856-S $3 Indian Princess PCGS AU55 CAC (gold foil). Ex: S.S. Central America. SSCA 6778. According to the Christies Auction catalog of December 2000, lot#21, only three examples of the Three Dollar Gold DENOMINATION were recovered in the first effort. All of them are dated 1856-S. This is one of those three 1856-S three dollar gold pieces brought up by the Columbus Group over 25 years ago, and is tied with one other as the highest graded (both AU55’s). This is a remarkably well-preserved specimen is still in the original PCGS gold foil holder, issued in 1999. Inventory number 6778.
This $3 gold coin was later endorsed by CAC for above-average quality and eye appeal. San Francisco struck $3 gold pieces in the years of 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1860. One coin is known from the year 1870 and is considered uncollectible. Graded XF, it last sold for $687,500 in 1982 and is estimated to be worth $6 million today. There are 3 mintmark varieties for the 1856-S – small, medium and large. This is the small S and described by Breen as “Very Scarce” and also used for the 1860-S $3 coin. It means the first two dies must have been retired from overuse and the last die was selected four years later. Since the SSCA sank in 1857, one year earlier than when this coin was minted, nearly all were circulated, some heavily, especially since they first started out in Philadelphia, then went to San Francisco, only to find their way back on the same route, prior to the disaster.
Noted gold expert and author David Akers describes the 1856-S issue as “…the 1856-S is very difficult to obtain better than EF. In fact, this date is ranked third overall in rarity according to average grade” and he states further “…there are three different sizes of mint marks on the 1856-S – small, medium and large. The smallS is the same size as on the 1860-S while the large S is the same as on the 1855-S and 1857-S. This is a superb example of the small S mintmark.
The Central America went from being an almost-forgotten maritime disaster to an oft-told treasure tale after the discovery of the wreck — and the golden cargo within.
Of the thousands of American ships lost – over 8,000 in the Great Lakes alone (Bowers, 2008: 63) – relatively few are known to have carried large amounts of specie and, of these, only a handful have been found and valuable coins recovered. The SS Central America is the perhaps the most widely recognized in this very exclusive roster. Indeed, there are just two other confirmed and documented major finds (SS Republic and SS Brother Jonathan), the decades of the 1850s and 1860s, to which can be added a fourth possibility (SS Yankee Blade), information about which is vague. Two other relatively minor coin cargoes derive from the loss of the SS New York in 1846, yielding several hundred gold coins and over 2,000 silver ones, and from a small boat dispatched from the schooner William and Mary in 1857, also known as the Fort Capron hoard.
The earliest documented major recovery comes from the wreck of the SS Central America, lost off North Carolina on 12 September 1857. The ship carried to the ocean floor a vast cargo of gold coins and ingots headed from Aspinwall, on the Atlantic side of Panama, north to New York City. The wreck was found in 2,194 meters of water in the late 1980s by the Columbus- America Discovery Group. About 7,500 gold coins were recovered, dominated by more than 5,400 mint-fresh 1857-S double eagles, plus more than 500 gold ingots. There were few, if perhaps what could be considered as a “handful” of small denomination coins, brought up and offered for sale to the collecting public. Originating in San Francisco, the cargo had been shipped south to Panama City by the SS Sonora, from where it was transported 77km overland on the Panama Railroad to Aspinwall. The gold coins and ingots, plus a small number of heavily corroded silver coins, were distributed mostly by the California Gold Marketing Group. The recovered treasure is reported to have yielded well over $100 million in sales.