1853 California Gold Rush Circulating Fractional Gold G$1, BG-530 Liberty Octagonal PCGS MS63 R3
Fifteeen (15) examples were recovered by divers from the S.S. Winfield Scott shipwreck. The S.S. Winfield Scott was operated by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to carry passengers and cargo between San Francisco and Panama. On December 1, 1853, she left San Francisco bound for Panama with about 400 passengers and $884,861.50 in treasure. Two days out she was caught in a storm and ran aground 30 miles west of Santa Barbara. The passengers and most of the treasure were rescued. What remained were mainly items of small value abandoned by the passengers in their haste to evacuate the sinking ship. Originally made by A.L. Nouizillet located at 58 Kearney Street in San Francisco, California.
Article by Fred Holabird, March 25, 2013:
SS Winfield Scott, sank December 2, 1853
This ship wrecked off the coast of Santa Barbara, hitting rocks off Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Islands. There was no loss of life, but the ship ultimately sank in shallow water. Recovery efforts were made immediately, and most of the treasure was recovered within a few weeks. In 1894 a second major salvage operation recovered as much of the metal parts of the ship as possible, possibly including the ship’s bell, in a private collection today. No mention was made of any gold or gold coin, as it was generally thought that the gold was recovered on the initial recovery effort of 1853. But divers in modern times using modern equipment went at it again in the 1950s—1970s, recovering even more gold coins, probably from abandoned passenger belongings.
The first formal record of a fractional Cal gold coin from the Winfield Scott came in 1957. That coin now rests in the Smithsonian, discovered (and traced) in modern times by Totheroh, Bob Lande, and Ken Glickman. In 1967, a suction dredge was used on part of the site, recovering at least two gold nuggets, and an unknown number of coins. Skin Diver Magazine published an article about treasure hunting on the Winfield Scott by Dick Anderson in September, 1969. It enthralled Totheroh and many others. Later that year, it was reported that divers found and recorded other California fractional pieces, and the rush was on for more gold coin, which had worked its way deep into rocky crevices through gravity over time. Eventually, many US gold coins, private or territorial California gold coins, and fractional gold pieces were found. The site became a park in 1979, off-limits to treasure hunters.
Jack Totheroh authored a book on the subject published by the Ventura County Historical Society, entitled Small Change; California Small Denomination Gold and the Wreck of the Winfield Scott (2003). Totheroh’s article discusses the wreck in detail, as well as the subsequent salvage efforts over the next century and more. He reported that numerous authors have claimed that more than 200 California gold pieces were recovered from the Winfield Scott, though only 57 were eventually specifically inventoried as known today. Undoubtedly, Totheroh tried to run down the many divers who searched the Winfield Scott, hoping to obtain their caches of California gold coins. According to his son, he never found any.
Rumors of up to 200 additional California fractional pieces found by the early divers abound in the Santa Barbara area. For more than twenty years (1970s—1990s), these rumors were traced and investigated by many collectors, but to no avail. If they ever existed, they have probably now been disbursed into coin collections.
After the “embargo” on the Winfield Scott site in 1979, treasure hunters were still at it. Anxious to put a “halt” to the illegal treasure salvage operations, a sting operation took place in 1984, as stated in Small Change. One of the early collectors related to me recently that treasure hunters regularly ignored the law. This gentleman (we’ll call him “Mr. Smith”) related to me a story about one of the more famous of the local Santa Barbara treasure hunters (I’ll leave his name out as well). Mr. Smith had met the guys, who had said they were out fishing, and needed some help getting something ashore, and asked Smith if he could take a dingy out and meet them at the boat. Smith, an avid fisherman as are many residents of this coastal community, pestered them with questions about what they had caught. None of the answers made sense, so he dropped the subject. It wasn’t until years later that he learned that the ship was anchored over part of the Winfield Scott site, and he was being used as a mule to get treasure on land and away from the ship.
A summary of the published 57 Cal gold coins from the Winfield Scott follows. None are holdered (certified by a grading service) with a special label:
Octagonal: 5 found, all BG 101.
Round: 18 found. These are BG 204 (1), 205 (1), 206 (1), 209 (2), 217 (1), 222 (2), 223 (10).
Octagonal: 3 found, BG 303 (3). It should be noted that the coin illustrated by Totheroh in “Small Change” is a BG 302, not 303, a much more common coin. This inconsistency is currently an unsolvable problem. The data was supplied to Totheroh by others.
Round: 7 found. BG 401 (1), 414 (1), 421 (1), 428 (1), 430 (3).
Octagonal: 23 found. BG 514 (1), 519 (2), 525 (1), 526 (2), 530 (15), 531 (2).
Round: None recorded
|Denom Type||California Fractional Gold|
|Numeric Denomination||Gold $1|
|Mint Location||Private Issue|
|Grade Add On||NONE|