(AP) – More than $50 million worth of gold bars, coins, and dust that has sat at the bottom of the ocean since the ship it was on sunk in 1857 is about to go on public display in California, while the man responsible for its discovery continues to sit in an Ohio jail.
The 3,100 gold coins, 45 gold bars and more than 80 pounds of gold dust recovered from the S.S. Central America's wreckage are part of what's been described as the greatest lost treasure in American history.
The gold is now sitting in a makeshift laboratory just south of Los Angeles.
Bob Evans, the chief scientist on the original voyage that discovered the shipwreck containing the treasure in 1988, is now painstakingly cleaning each piece by hand, soaking the gold in a solution and brushing off rust and grime that accumulated as the treasure sat on the ocean floor for more than 150 years.
"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."
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. He will continue that work through February, when the treasure will go on public display at the Long Beach Convention Center, about 20 miles south of Los Angeles.
The gold is all for sale. Just one tiny coin alone could go for $1 million because of its 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 are 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."
Meanwhile, the man responsible for finding the gold in the first place has been jailed for more than two years over his handling of the original treasure recovered from the ship.
Treasure hunter and Ohio native Tommy Thompson found the S.S. Central America in 1988 after convincing 161 local investors to fund the voyage for nearly $13 million.
A lengthy battle ensued over who owned the gold, with Thompson and his investors eventually emerging as the victors over a group of insurance companies. Thompson's company sold 532 gold bars and thousands of coins to the California Gold Marketing Group for about $50 million in 2000.
However, investors never saw any of those proceeds. In 2005, they sued Thompson, who then 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 down to a Florida hotel room in 2015. A judge has held Thompson in contempt since December 2015 for violating terms of a plea deal by refusing to respond to questions about the location of 500 missing gold coins.
Thompson has previously said the coins were turned over to a trust in Belize. He has also said that the $50 million from the sale of the gold mostly went toward legal fees and bank loans.
The S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold, sank in a hurricane about 200 miles off the South Carolina coast in September 1857. Four hundred and twenty-five people drowned and thousands of pounds of California gold were lost, contributing to an economic panic.
The gold recently recovered from the ship is set to be on public display Feb. 22-24 at the Long Beach Convention Center.
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