More than $50million worth of gold bars, coins and dust that were lost in a shipwreck 150 years ago is about to go on display for the first time.
In total 3,100 coins, 45 gold bars, and more than 80lbs (36kg) of gold dust sank along with the S.S. Central America when it was ripped apart by a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina in 1857.
The trove was tracked down in 1988 in a expedition led by treasure hunter Tommy Thompson but has been tangled up in legal battles ever since.
3,100 coins, 45 gold bars, and more than 80lbs of gold dust were lost when the S.S. Central America sank off the coast of South Carolina in 1857, but discovered in 1988
425 people drowned as the Central America went to the bottom of the ocean, taking with it a haul of California gold so large that it cause economic panic
Treasure hunter Tommy Thompson discovered the gold in 1988 (left) and sold it in 2000, but failed to reimburse his investors and went on the run. He was eventually tracked to Florida in 2015 (right) and is now in jail having failed to reveal the location of some missing coins
The fight began when a string of insurance companies tried to lay their hands on the fortune, but ownership was eventually granted to Thompson and his investors.
He then sold the gold through a company he had set up for $50million in 2000, but failed to reimburse his backers, who eventually sued him in 2005.
He went into seclusion in Florida and later became a fugitive after an Ohio judge issued a warrant for his arrest in 2012.
Authorities tracked Thompson to a Florida hotel room in 2015 and a judge has held Thompson in contempt since December 2015.
He is guilty of violating terms of a plea deal by refusing to answer questions about the location of 500 missing gold coins and has been jailed ever since.
Thompson has previously said the coins were turned over to a trust in Belize.
He has also said that the $50million from the sale of the gold mostly went toward legal fees and bank loans.
Each gold coin has been soaked in a chemical solution and brushed clean by hand, removing a century and a half of rust and grime
All of the gold on display is up for sale, with valuers estimating that a single small coin could fetch $1million because of the story behind it
Bob Evans was the chief scientist on the expedition that discovered the treasure, and oversaw the work to clean them up
The rest of the gold was recovered in 2014 and bought from the investors by the California Gold Marketing Group earlier this month.
Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the original voyage that discovered the shipwreck is now painstakingly cleaning each piece of gold by hand, soaking it in a solution and brushing off rust and grime that accumulated as the treasure sat 7,000ft (2,134m) below sea level.
‘This is a whole new season of discovery,’ Evans told The Associated Press this week from the laboratory in Santa Ana.
‘We are now peering beneath the grime and the rust that is on the coins, removing those objects and those substances and getting to look at the treasure as it was in 1857.’
The Central America was laden with booty from the California Gold Rush when it sank in a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina in 1857.
Four hundred and twenty-five people drowned and thousands of pounds of California gold were lost, contributing to an economic panic.
Using sable paintbrushes and a cleaning solution, Evans has been restoring the gold -some of which is completely caked over in black gunk – to its original luster for the past two weeks.
The S.S. Central America was carrying a haul of gold uncovered during the California gold rush when it sank off the coast of South Carolina in a hurricane
Just a few dozen of the 3,100 coins lost aboard the Central America sit in water baths while being restored at a lab in Santa Ana
He will continue that work through February, when the treasure will go on public display at the Long Beach Convention Center, just south of Los Angeles.
The gold is all for sale. Just one coin could go for $1million because of a combination of rarity and the history behind it, said Dwight Manley, managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group, which is displaying and selling the gold.
‘This is something that in hundreds of years people will still be talking about, reading about, looking back on and collecting things from,’ Manley said.
‘There’s no other ships that sank that haven’t been recovered that rival this or are similar to this, so it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime situation.’
The gold will be on display Feb. 22-24 at the Long Beach Convention Center