Eugène Sue

A blog post from my friend Stephen Basdeo:

In 1848 the master of the “mysteries” novels, Eugène Sue, began the weekly serialisation of a new novel: Mysteries of the People. It was a chronicle of a proletarian family, and their descendants, who participated in all of the major class struggles and revolutions in France, from Caesar’s invasion of Gaul to the French Revolution of 1848. This was a socialist history of class struggle in the guise of fiction.

Eugène Sue (1804–57) was the son of Jean Joseph Sue II and his Marie Sophie Tison de Reilly. Jean Joseph was a surgeon who served Napoleon, and whose ancestors were surgeons to the French royal family. A well-connected family, Eugène had the Empress Josephine for his godmother. It was expected that Eugène would enter the medical profession but, with his father dying in 1829 and a vast fortune passing to him, Eugène decided to become a writer. His early works were stories of pirates and other historical tales, for he endeavoured to emulate the American writer James Fenimore Cooper.

Sue’s novels sold moderately well and, as G.W.M. Reynolds remarked, Sue’s novels were respectable enough for the drawing room. But Sue never truly distinguished himself until he wrote The Mysteries of Paris (1843)—a shocking exposé of the vice and depravity in French criminal underworld, and in the aristocratic French “upperworld.” After that, Sue was a household name and even inspired Reynolds’s Mysteries of London (1844–48).

Although Sue was brought up in a thoroughly bourgeois family, the time spent among the slums of Paris researching his Mysteries of Paris opened his eyes to the poverty suffered by the French proletariat. This brought with it a change in his politics. He became a socialist. He was never a Marxist communist. Indeed, Sue’s “conversion” to socialism predated the publication of Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto (1848). Instead Sue would have called himself a Red Republican—a member of an internationalist group of labour activists who called for universal suffrage; nationalization of the land and factories; and universal education. Sue was eventually elected, as a member of the Red Republican Party of France—nicknamed “The Mountain”—to the French legislature but he was exiled from Paris by Louis-Napoleon in 1851 after the latter’s coup d’etat.

It was after Sue’s conversion to Red Republicanism that Sue wrote The Mysteries of the People (French: Mystères du Peuple). The final part of the novel, which deals with the French Revolutions of 1789, 1830, and 1848, was translated into English and published ‘exclusively’ in Reynolds’s Miscellany with the somewhat longer title of Mysteries of the People; or, The History of a Proletarian Family from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time.

More at the link on this interesting figure. I haven’t read anything of his but I do recall his name’s appearance in my favorite novel, Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business, when Père Ignacio Blazon, S.J. says to Dunstan Ramsay:

“You have written a fine book! Not that I have read it all, but one of the nuns read some of it to me. I made her stop because her English accent was so vile she desecrated your elegant prose, and she mispronounced all the names. A real murderer! How ignorant these women are! Assassins of the spoken word! For a punishment I made her read a lot of Le Juif errant to me. Her French is very chaste, but the book nearly burned her tongue—so very anticlerical, you know. And what it says about the Jesuits! What evil magicians, what serpents! If we were one scruple as clever as Eugène Sue thought we should be masters of the world today. Poor soul, she could not understand why I wanted to hear it or why I laughed so much. Then I told her it was on the Index, and now she thinks I am an ogre disguised as an old Jesuit. Well, well, it passes the time.”

That a nineteenth-century French socialist should also have been intensely anticlerical is probably no surprise. I was pleased to see that Gustave Doré contributed twelve engravings to the first edition of Le Juif errant

Book Review

From Paul Halsall, a review of an interesting new book:

Ruth Goodman, The Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal Into Victorian Homes Changed Everything (2020).

Despite the title the book really discusses the replacement of wood fires by coal fires in London in the sixteenth century, and wood cooking first by coal fires, and then by coal-fired iron ovens in the nineteenth century.

Again the focus is mostly London, where a population increase from circa 50,000 to circa 200,000 in Elizabeth I’s reign meant that hard to find and hard to transport firewood (etc.) was replaced by easy to find and easy to transport sea-coal from the River Tyne region.

There has been a lot of writing on this change to coal, e.g. by John Hatcher, but before Goodman that has not much focused on the implication for cooking.

Basically, she argues wood fires burn in such a way that they allow some forms of cooking but discourage others. Wood and charcoal cooking she suggests retained an elite class aspect, but the urban poor, especially when grates and chimneys became widespread, used coal.

She argues that the lower and variable heat of wood fires encourage slow “thick” recipes (since “catching” was not an issue), but much hotter coal fires encourage thinner soups and methods where you cooked food by boiling it in bags (i.e. puddings, which arrive in recipe books in the early seventeenth century).

She also argues that while roasting in front of a wood fire produced beautiful meat, that was less possible with coal where shape of the fire was not good for spit roasting, and the smoke spoiled the meat. What we tend to call “roast” is instead “baked” meat and owes its predominance to the late 18th and 19th century development of iron ovens.

It is her comments on bread that I found most interesting.

She argues that because bread-baking required large ovens to be done efficiently it was mostly done in the middle ages by professionals. Historians tend to have a lot of information on this because millers and bakers were often well enough off to leave wills and so on.

In actual houses, though, she argues that wood and peat fires (with low heat) meant that much or most grain was in fact prepared as frumentary (a kind of thick porridge) with versions made from wheat, oats, and barley. So while not denying bread was important, she thinks that in medieval England it was less a way of consuming grain calories than is sometimes thought.

Coal fires, however, tend to make thick frumentary recipes “catch” (i.e. burn on the bottom) and as a result she thinks that there was an increase in the amount of bought bread and pies that people ate. They cooked thinner soups and stews but bought bread for bulk. She shows that the percentage of bakers increased in the population of London. So, because coal-fired cooking made stodgy stews less easy to cook, the amount of bread bought outside the home increased.

When smaller iron ranges became available, it was much easier to cook bread at home (which Victorian male authors encouraged in order to stop plaster-adulterated bread), but in fact it was not very economical to heat an oven for one or two loaves, and people did in fact continue to buy commercial bread.

The Great Diamond Hoax of 1872

From Gail Heriot on Instapundit:

If you’ve ever been to NW Colorado, you may have seen Diamond Peak. If you’ve wondered if there are diamonds there, the answer, sadly, is no. But there is a story—one the San Francisco Chronicle called “the most gigantic and barefaced swindle of the age.”

It concerns two prospectors (or, more accurately, two grifters)—the flamboyant Philip Arnold, a Kentuckian born in the same county as Honest Abe Lincoln, and his taciturn cousin John Slack. Arnold had worked for a short while at the Diamond Drill Co. During that period, he had “acquired” a number of uncut industrial-grade diamonds. The diamonds were not especially valuable, but they looked impressive—enough so to thrill several San Francisco investors.

The cousins had a knack for causing such thrills. They told investors that they had found a huge diamond deposit. They appeared concerned—almost overly concerned—about keeping the location of their find secret. This only intrigued investors.

There’s a reason they called this the “Great” Diamond Hoax. Arnold and Slack could have taken the initial relatively modest amounts they were given as investments and run. But instead they traveled to London under assumed names, purchased more uncut diamonds and returned to San Francisco with more “proof” of their find. The list of willing investors grew and grew. It included Charles Tiffany, General George B. McClellan, and General (and Congressman) Benjamin Butler, among many other prominent citizens of the day.

These investors weren’t complete idiots. They insisted that a well-respected mining engineer be taken to the location and examine the evidence. But the engineer—Henry Janin—was duped by the diamonds and other precious stones that the cousins had “salted” the ground with.

The eventual hero of the story was Clarence King, a Yale-educated geologist, who was born on this day in 1842. He and his team of government surveyors had been carefully mapping out the large mountainous area around the so-called diamond field. They happened to be on the same train with Janin, who talked about what he had seen. King was alarmed at the story in part because he feared it would reflect badly on his work to have missed any evidence that such a find was possible.

Although winter was fast approaching, he took his team to the area Janin had described and eventually found the sign for the cousins’ claim. It didn’t take long for him to determine that it was an elaborate hoax. The diamonds and other precious stones were implausible places. The plausible places had no diamonds. The kinds of stones that were placed together would not be naturally found together.

He blew the whistle and the scheme came crashing down, much to the embarrassment of some of America’s most prominent citizens.

There’s more at Smithsonian Magazine

Murdoch Mysteries

Historical characters I have learned about from watching Murdoch Mysteries:

Florence Nightingale Graham (1881-1966), who went by the business name Elizabeth Arden, was a Canadian-American businesswoman who founded what is now Elizabeth Arden, Inc. and built a cosmetics empire in the United States. By 1929, she owned 150 salons in Europe and the United States. Her 1,000 products were being sold in 22 countries. She was the sole owner, and at the peak of her career she was one of the wealthiest women in the world.

Dan Seavey, also known as “Roaring” Dan Seavey (1865-1949), was a sailor, fisherman, farmer, saloon keeper, prospector, U.S. marshal, thief, poacher, smuggler, hijacker, human trafficker, and timber pirate in Wisconsin and Michigan and on the Great Lakes in the late-19th to early-20th century.

John Joseph Kelso (1864-1935) was a newspaper reporter and social crusader who immigrated to Canada from Ireland with his family in 1874 when he was ten years old. They suffered hardships of hunger and cold in their early years in Toronto and, throughout his life, this motivated Kelso’s compassion towards the poor and unfortunate. While a reporter for the World and the Globe, Kelso founded the Toronto Humane Society in 1887 for the prevention of cruelty to children and animals, the Fresh Air Fund and the Santa Claus Fund in 1888 to provide excursions and cheer for poor women and children, and the Children’s Aid Society (Canada) in 1891.

John Ross Robertson (1841-1918) was a Canadian newspaper publisher, politician, and philanthropist. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons for the electoral district of Toronto East in the 1896 federal election defeating the incumbent. The world of sports was also a focus for Robertson’s public-spiritedness. A fervent advocate of amateur sport, he served as president of the Ontario Hockey Association from 1899 to 1905, which was a critical time period in the history of the sport. His battle to protect hockey from the influence of professionalism caused him to be called the “father of Amateur Hockey in Ontario.”

Cassie L. Chadwick (1857-1907) was the most well-known pseudonym used by Canadian con artist Elizabeth Bigley, who defrauded several American banks out of millions of dollars during the late 1800s and early 1900s by claiming to be an illegitimate daughter and heiress of the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Newspaper accounts of the time described her as one of the greatest con artists in American history. She pulled off the heist in the Gilded Age of American history, during which time women were not allowed to vote or get loans from the banks, leading some historians to refer to her bank heist as one of the greatest in American history.

Margaret Haile was a Canadian socialist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a teacher and journalist by profession. She was active in the socialist movements in both Canada and the United States. Frederic Heath’s “Socialism in America,” published in January 1900 in the Social Democracy Red Book, lists her, along with Corinne Stubbs Brown and Eugene V. Debs, among “One Hundred Well-known Social Democrats”.

Clara Brett Martin (1874-1923), born to Abram and Elizabeth Martin, a well-to-do Anglican-Irish family, opened the way for women to become lawyers in Canada by being the first in the British Empire in 1897. In 1888, Martin was accepted to Trinity College in Toronto. And in 1890, Martin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics at the age of sixteen, which was almost unheard of because of the masculinity associated with that field. In 1891, Martin submitted a petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to permit her to become a student member, a prerequisite to articling as a clerk, attending lectures and sitting the exams required to receive a certificate of fitness to practice as a solicitor. Her petition was rejected by the Law Society after contentious debate, with the Special Committee reviewing the petition interpreting the statute which incorporated the Law Society as permitting only men to be admitted to the practice of law. W.D. Balfour sponsored a bill that provided that the word “person” in the Law Society’s statute should be interpreted to include females as well as males. Martin’s cause was also supported by prominent women of the day including Emily Stowe and Lady Aberdeen. With the support of the Premier, Oliver Mowat, legislation was passed on April 13, 1892, and permitted the admission of women as solicitors.

(Quotations from Wikipedia and Murdoch Mysteries Fandom)

Liberté! Liberté!

My friend Jerry Hales shared a YouTube video of a recent anti-lockdown protest in Montreal. Check out the flags on display!

A horizontal tricolour of green, white, and red, in a Canadian context, represents the Patriote movement of the 1830s.* The movement did not succeed in winning republican independence for Lower Canada but its flag remains in occasional use as a nationalist and “rebellious” statement.

A variant on the Patriote flag features a gold star in the top left and a superimposed figure of “Le Vieux de ’37,” from a painting done in 1880 illustrating an archetypical participant in the rebellion of 1837. This is designated the flag of the Mouvement de libération nationale du Québec, a separatist group founded in the wake of the 1995 referendum on independence. You’ll notice more than one of them if you watch the video. 

A friend comments:

Anti-mask demonstrations around the world seem to attract various members of the lunatic fringe and so the MLNQ would definitely fit the bill. Note though that the MLNQ doesn’t really seem to exist these days as a single, organised entity at least overtly as their website and affiliated sites went down some years ago. I suspect many people using the Patriotes flag, defaced or not, in this particular demonstration are using it as an anti-governmental or anti-conformist symbol more than anything.

I assume that the inverted Quebec flag is “anti-governmental”!

The current Quebec flag started life in 1902 as the Carillon-Sacré-Coeur flag, when Catholicism meant a lot more to French Canadians than it does now. My friend comments:

I would assume the bearer might be part of one of the local fringe Catholic group such the Pilgrims of Saint Michael (AKA “the White Berets”) who tend to mix integrist religious belief with various conspiracy theories.

It is rare to see expressions of pro-American sentiment in Canada. It is astounding to see pro-Trump sentiment. Craziness!

* The Patriote Movement broke out into armed rebellion in 1837. Both it and William Lyon Mackenzie’s simultaneous Upper Canada Rebellion are seminal events in Canadian history. The flag for Mackenzie’s “Republic of Canada” deserves to be better known. 

Wikipedia.

Hail, Lafayette!

A story for an election year, by Ronald Bailey on History Net (hat tip: Wanda Cronauer). Who would play such a role in 2020?

The spirit of 1776 had faded as America expanded westward. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 papered over festering sectional rivalries by balancing Missouri’s admission to the union as a slave state with Maine’s admission as a free state. But by setting a geographical boundary on slavery, the compromise also effectively defined a line on which the nation might split apart. Lafayette’s old friend Thomas Jefferson likened it to “a fire bell in the night [that] filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”

The first months of Lafayette’s tour coincided with a bitterly divisive presidential campaign, which brought James Monroe’s two-term Era of Good Feelings to an end. Monroe ran unopposed four years earlier, but now the host of candidates who threw their hats in the ring seemed unable to agree on anything but the apparent certainty that the union was on the verge of collapse.

America was in desperate need of a hero….

When Lafayette arrived in America, newspapers were filled with vitriol as the presidential campaign devolved into a contest pitting the interests of the North—represented by John Quincy Adams—and the South and West—represented mainly by Andrew Jackson. But soon Lafayette’s tour “paralyzed all the electoral ardour,” observed James Fenimore Cooper. “At the public dinners, instead of caustic toasts, intended to throw ridicule and odium on some potent adversary, none were heard but healths to the guest of the nation, around whom were amicably grouped the most violent of both parties. Finally, for nearly two months all the discord and excitement produced by this election, which, it was said, would engender the most disastrous consequences, were forgotten, and nothing was thought of but Lafayette and the heroes of the revolution.”

Lafayette himself, in a letter home, concluded that his trip had “contributed to tighten the union between the states and to soften political parties, by bringing them all together in common hospitality toward a ghost from another world.”

“Kindly Call Me God”

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George was established in 1818 by the Prince Regent, who two years later became King George IV. It was an aspect of Britain’s meddling in the Mediterranean following the defeat of Napoleon, and used to recognize British allies in the region. People are now appointed to it for “extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country” or “important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.” For instance, those prime ministers of Canada who received knighthoods (e.g. Abbot, Thompson, Laurier, or Borden) were mostly Knights Grand Cross or Knights Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.* It has everything one expects in a British order of chivalry: a chapel (in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London) with stall plates, crests, and banners, elaborate costumes, regalia, and rituals, a motto-circlet for a member’s coat of arms, and various officers with quaint names (e.g. chancellor, King of Arms, or Gentleman Usher of the Blue Rod).

Badge and Star of a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

I do not know why the order was dedicated to St. Michael and St. George in particular (nor why a winged lion – the symbol of St. Mark – appears on the order’s collar).† Obviously Michael and George are warrior saints, although the Order is more for diplomats than soldiers. In its regalia the order seems to alternate between depicting St. Michael and St. George, as shown above in the sketch of the badge and star of a Knight Commander: St. George is on the badge, St. Michael on the star. 

Star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

Here is a better rendition of the Order’s star, in this case for a Knight Grand Cross. Note that in this one St. Michael actually has wings, given that he is an angel. Note also what St. Michael is standing on, which became controversial this past week. From the Guardian:

Campaigners are calling for the redesign of one of Britain’s highest honours personally bestowed by the Queen because they say its badge resembles a depiction of a white angel standing on the neck of a chained black man.

The Order of St Michael and St George is traditionally awarded to ambassadors and diplomats and senior Foreign Office officials who have served abroad. 

The imagery on the award’s badge portrays St Michael trampling on Satan, but campaigners say the image is reminiscent of the killing of George Floyd by white police officers in the US that led to worldwide protests.

Both St. Michael and St. George kill dragons, but because St. Michael specifically killed the “old serpent, that is called the devil, and Satan,” his dragon is often more humanoid than St. George’s dragon.** An old post on this blog intended to illustrate different versions of St. Michael’s coat of arms also illustrates the variety of creatures that he subdues, some of which look like proper dragons, others of which look more like men (although grotesque). It is unfortunate that the Order’s standard depiction of the dragon is both humanoid and dark, while St. Michael himself is light-skinned, which is not a model we want for contemporary race relations. And in general, it is most unfortunate that one of the side effects of mediating reality through sight, as humans do, is that in many cultures lightness is “good” and darkness is “bad.” If you’ve got light you can see, if you don’t you can’t – thus does light come to be identified with knowledge and awareness, and darkness with ignorance and insecurity. Note the Roman anxieties about nighttime, reflected in their laws. Furthermore, in a time before the widespread availability of bleach it was expensive and difficult to keep white garments looking white, thus is whiteness associated with status and cleanliness. Such things have, unfortunately, influenced the reception of human skin tone. Although the amount of melanin in one’s skin is purely an evolutionary artifact of one’s ancestors’ exposure to sunlight, those with lighter skin found it flattering to believe that they were morally good in a way that those with darker skin were not. (Traditionally, among white people darker skin also indicated that one worked outdoors, and thus had less status than someone who got to stay inside – only with the advent of jet travel to sunny climes in winter did suntans become fashionable for white people.) In this way did Early Modern Europeans come to justify their version of slavery – it might be bad, but it’s not quite as bad to enslave those people, who are clearly morally inferior. It is true that in the European Middle Ages, some saints were regularly depicted as black, showing that Europeans knew about the subsaharan phenotype and that they believed that its possessors were capable of sanctity and salvation. But it is also true that they regularly depicted the devil and his minions as black, in a general reflection of the cultural significance of that color. Courtesy Paul Halsall, here are two images illustrating this phenomenon:

I think that this artistic convention has seen its day, and I am absolutely not against redrawing the dragon as it regularly appears in the insignia of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Make it more dragon-like, or keep it humanoid and make it some other color – green or red, perhaps. Heck, make St. Michael himself black! There’s no reason why he can’t be. It’s not a bad thing to dissociate “white” from “good” and “black” from “bad.”

Ethiopian St. Michael. Pinterest.

***

The post title is from a joke about the supposed arrogance of membership of the Order, deriving from the post-nominals for the three grades: CMG (Companion), KCMG (Knight Commander), and GCMG (Knight Grand Cross), which are jocularly interpreted to mean “Call me God,” “Kindly call me God,” and “God calls me God.” 

* Though note that Sir John A. Macdonald was a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and you can see his stall plate in Westminster Abbey. He was appointed to the Bath just before the Victorian expansion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George beyond its Mediterranean origins.

† UPDATE: The seven Ionian islands, under British protection from 1815, had been part of the Venetian Republic until the 1790s; St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. According to The Gazette, the Order’s badge:

showed St George for England on one side, with the Archangel St Michael trampling on Satan on the other, in an allusion to Napoleon being crushed by the allied powers. Both saints were surrounded by the motto auspicium melioris aevi, which is usually rendered as ‘token of a better age’, and perhaps reflected [Secretary of State for War Henry] Bathurst’s hope for the future of his Mediterranean enterprise when he signed the founding patent in 1818.

** Revelation 12:7-9: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Iron Furnaces of the Etowah Valley

Longtime readers will know that, prior to the Civil War, northwest Georgia was home to an iron-smelting industry – and that Reinhardt’s own Ken Wheeler has become quite an authority on it. 

be-roberts.com

I found this illustration at the website for B&E Roberts Photography. It shows a nineteenth-century smelter in action, with the dry-stone charcoal-fired furnace at the center, a causeway for the dumping-in of ore on the one side, a water-powered bellows on the other, and iron (and slag) pouring out the bottom. 

Wanda Pirtle Cronauer

Several of these furnaces remain in various stages of repair around these parts. The best preserved (and most accessible) is Cooper’s Furnace, at Cooper’s Furnace Day Use Area. I have seen this one before but the photo shown here is by my former student Wanda Cronauer, which is better than the one I took. 

Other furnaces are more decayed and more remote, and have a real “lost Mayan temple in the jungle” feel to them. I have made it a goal to see as many of them as I can during this time of enforced social distancing. Stamp Creek, which runs not far from my house, is home to a few of them. This one is called Pool Furnace.

This one is the Lewis Iron Blast Furnace, aka Oak Grove Furnace, aka Earl Brown Furnace, also on Stamp Creek.

It’s in pretty good condition and still has remnants of the interior firebrick chimney. 

Slightly downstream we find the Diamond Furnace, also known as the Fire-Eater Furnace, which has unfortunately collapsed in on itself. 

Nearby on Guthrie Creek one finds the Bear Mountain “New Stack” Furnace. 

I don’t know what makes it a new stack furnace but it features this small chimney behind and above the front door. 

Finally, this one is Donaldson Furnace on Shoal Creek, near the Georgia National Cemetery (whose director I thank for permission to access it). It was never used, and the story is that Judge Donaldson built it as a means of keeping his sons from being conscripted into the army of the CSA, since iron production was an essential wartime activity. But the war ended before it was finished. And because it wasn’t finished, you can easily go inside it and look up through the chimney, as though you’re in the Pantheon. 

Other images of these furnaces may be seen at the web pages for B&E Roberts Photography and the Etowah Valley Historical Society

The Auto-Icon

One of the stranger items on display at University College London is the stuffed remains of its spiritual founder, utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), who believed that education should be free of church influence (unlike Oxford and Cambridge, which at the time were restricted to members of the Church of England). Bentham called this his “auto-icon” (i.e. “self-image”). The auto-icon:

was inscribed in the late philosopher’s will, which requested that a number of fixtures be put in place to preserve his remains, that they be dressed in the clothes he wore in life, and that they occasionally be brought into meetings involving his still-living friends, so that what’s left of Bentham might enjoy their company.

You might be inclined to think that this was an elaborate joke on Bentham’s part, but he doesn’t strike me as the joking type. The auto-icon, according to the linked article in Atlas Obscura, has found a new and much more public home at UCL: in a glass case in the student center. (Previously it was in a closet that was only opened on request.) 

Bentham might have been an atheist, but it is interesting to note how the preservation of human remains is a custom that extends beyond religion. 

The Copper Pot

From the Charlotte Observer (hat tip: Judi Irvine):

19th-century shipwreck is suddenly turning up gold coins off South Carolina coast

A 180-year-old shipwreck popular with scuba divers is proving to be a trove of rare coins and artifacts for a salvage project launched 20 miles off the South Carolina coast.

Known to divers as “The Copper Pot,” the wreck is actually the Steamship North Carolina, which collided with another boat in 1840 with hundreds of gold coins stuffed in passengers’ steamer trunks.

The first of the newly found coins — “several” $5 gold pieces dating from the mid-1830s — were brought up in late September, along with 19th Century dinnerware and marble, according to Blue Water Ventures International based in Florida.

“I can’t believe what we’re finding,” Keith Webb, president of Blue Water Ventures, told McClatchy news group. “The coins look almost as if they were just minted and it’s blowing our minds. It’s because they were hidden by a large piece of copper and were not moved around in the sand by the current.”

Blue Water Ventures and its partner Endurance Exploration Group issued a report that contends “the aggregate loss in money was large” when the ship went down, and would today be valued in the tens of millions of dollars — mostly in gold coins. This includes one passenger who claimed he lost $15,000 in the incident.

However, Webb’s research suggests these won’t be the usual gold coins found on 19th Century shipwrecks. Many of the passengers were likely carrying coins from the newly commissioned U.S. Mint in Dahlonega, Georgia, which operated only 24 years.

Coins from the Dahlonega mint are rare and coveted by collectors and historians.

“Regardless of denomination, any high grade Dahlonega gold coin with a good strike… is a real treasure and based on past history has been a blue chip coin investment,” according to the DahlonegaGold.com.

The S.S. North Carolina was previously searched for treasure by an outfit called MAREX, which salvaged $700,000 worth of coins in the late 1990s. MAREX ceased working the site in part because the coins were difficult to salvage.

More at the link.