SANTA ANA, Calif. (CBSNewYork) — A once-lost treasure worth upwards of $50 million dollars is set to make it’s debut this month after years of legal wrangling.
Slowly and carefully, more than a century’s worth of sediment was removed from the riches — some 3,100 gold coins and more than 10,000 silver coins were recovered in 2014 from what’s been dubbed the “Ship of Gold.”
“This is a whole new season of discovery for me,” Chief Scientist and Treasure Curator Bob Evans told CBS News’ Jamie Yuccas. “There’s something new and wonderful that comes out every day. They have stories to tell.”
The story begins in 1857, when the S.S. Central America sunk in a hurricane roughly 160 miles off the coast of South Carolina. 425 people perished in the storm, but it’s an incident largely forgotten due to the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War several years after that.
During the California Gold Rush, the 285-foot steamship shuttled tons of gold from the west to banks in the east. The gold deliveries were essential in helping maintain the nation’s economic stability.
Evans began hunting for the treasure more than 30 years ago. He was on board the expedition led by Captain Tommy Thompson in the late 1980s, which was the first to spot what they coined “The Garden of Gold” more than a mile below the surface.
“Gold bars and coins, and lightly covered with sediment,” Evans said. “That’s kind of what was fascinating about it in some ways, is you’ve got coral that is like, growing right out of the block of gold.”
Using a robotic vehicle they build in a garage, they were able to scoop up some $50 million in gold. But investors who helped finance the $13 million expedition claimed Thompson never paid them, alleging he disappeared along with the hundreds of gold coins.
Evans says the investors hunted after Thompson for over two-and-a-half years before authorities finally found him in 2015. He remains behind bars for refusing to answer questions about the missing coins.
A second salvage effort was launched in 2014 after years of legal wrangling over ownership of the treasure. Former sports agent and coin enthusiast Dwight Manley purchased the rights to the fortune.
“There are dozens of coins this time that are the finest known,” he said. Manley’s passion for coins began as a child collecting pennies. By age 12, he had his own business cards.
“They’re like little time capsules, every time you hold one,” Manley said. “Who had it before? What was it for?”
Manley is putting the coins up for sale. He believes even one in good condition could fetch a few thousand dollars, but you’ll need much deeper pockets if you want to buy a gold bar. Some are worth as much as $250,000.
A safe was found during the 2014 expedition. Inside was a saddlebag, packed with bundles of personal treasures seen for the first time since 1857. It was a small addition to the find of a lifetime.
The treasure will go on display at the Long Beach Expo in Newport Beach, California Thursday, Feb. 22, through Saturday, Feb. 24.