SS Republic Artifacts and Treasures
Every shipwreck presents a unique cultural history and heritage which is the greatest treasure of all. Paramount to all of Odyssey Marine Exploration's shipwreck projects is the documentation, preservation, and sharing of the priceless artifacts and knowledge gathered from our deep-ocean sites. Odyssey maintains a permanent collection including rare and one-of a kind artifacts and coins, as well as representative samples of every type of trade good recovered. The many items in this permanent collection are featured in Odyssey’s exhibits, are loaned to museums and other public venues, and are made available for further study and interpretation.
Shortly after beginning the archaeological excavation in November 2003, a substantial number of gold coins was discovered at the stern of the ship, near the ship’s rudder. Using Odyssey Marine Exploration's proprietary Sediment Removal and Filtration (SeRF) system on the ROV ZEUS, sand was carefully removed from the site, revealing a dazzling carpet of gold hidden on the ocean floor for nearly 140 years.
More than 51,000 gold and silver coins were recovered from the seabed, including numerous $20.00 Double Eagles, $10.00 Eagles, silver half dollars and even a few silver quarter dollars each coin individually retrieved by the silicone limpet device attached to the ROV’s manipulator arm. All of the coins have been professionally conserved by Numismatic Conservation Services (NCS) and graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). Unlike other recently salvaged shipwrecks, a wide variety of dates and mints ranging from the 1840’s to 1865 have been documented in this remarkable hoard including many of the finest-known examples of United States gold and silver coins from the period and highly collectable today.
In addition to its extraordinary cargo of gold coins, the SS Republic’s treasure yielded some exceptionally unique silver half dollars and provided an unprecedented opportunity for numismatic research.
In 1861, three different governments (the United States Government, the Louisiana government and the Confederacy) had control of the New Orleans Mint and struck silver half dollars there. Due to the large number of 1861-O Liberty Seated half dollars found on the SS Republic, coin experts were finally able to determine which coins were minted by each government by analyzing the subtle variations caused by the use of different dies. This research was published in the Gobrecht Journal in November 2006 and for the first time ever has allowed 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollars to be certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation as being minted by each of the three governments operating in Louisiana in 1861. After thorough documentation and reserving a representative sample for the permanent collection, Odyssey has made these historic coins available to collectors as individual coins or in a set representing all three minting governments in the New Orleans Mint Three Government Set.
A full set of 1861-O half dollars containing all 17 die variations is currently on display with 28 other rare coins from the SS Republic at the Louisiana State Museum located in the old U.S. Mint where the coins were originally minted.
Also aboard the Republic were stunningly preserved silver half dollars struck in the North by the U.S. Philadelphia Mint. These were found on the wreck site laying side by side with equally remarkable silver halves struck in the South’s New Orleans Mint. Together they symbolize the mighty struggle that divided the country in 1865, and today they make up an impressive Civil War Blue & Gray 1861 Half-Dollar Collection.
Of the many historic coins recovered from the shipwreck of the SS Republic, none captures the imagination more than the mystery-shrouded Civil War Coin, an 1858 silver half dollar minted in New Orleans and hand-inscribed with the word “WAR” and “1861” on the front of the coin and “EC” perhaps someone’s initials on the reverse. Who was “EC”? A soldier for the South? Or a Yankee from the North? Was this a talisman or pocket piece carried in battle? Or was it a political or news commentary slipped into circulation? Authentic replicas of this one-of-a-kind piece have been crafted in .999 sterling silver.
A limited number of authentic gold and silver coins from the SS Republic are currently available to collectors.
When Odyssey’s team of skilled archaeologists, historians, technicians and researchers located the steamship Republic on the Atlantic seabed 1,700 feet (518 meters) deep, little did they expect that their discovery would reveal such a unique 19th century time capsule. While the shipwreck yielded an extraordinary cargo of gold and silver coins, worth tens of millions of dollars, also recovered from the depths of the Gulf Stream was another amazing treasure "nearly 14,000 artifacts "a stunning assortment of ceramic goods, religious items, and elegant glassware bound for New Orleans to help restock the merchants' shelves. It was a snapshot of a world of goods in demand just after the end of the Civil War.
Among the Republic’s enormous shipment of goods were thousands of bottles, over 6,000 glass and stoneware containers representing more than 175 types that had been stored in the ship’s aft and forward cargo holds. Their various shapes and sizes boasted a potpourri of products including bitters and inks, preserves and perfumes and a plethora of patent medicines claiming extravagant healing qualities "each reflecting a rich and diverse heritage of bottled goods popular in post-Civil War America. More detailed information about the many varieties of bottles recovered from the Republic is available in "Bottles From The Deep", a 112-page book filled with pictures and historical descriptions.
Upon discovery, the position of each artifact was painstakingly mapped, filmed and carefully brought to the surface where it received first-aid conservation aboard the Odyssey Explorer prior to being transferred to Odyssey’s land-based conservation facility. There, after 138 years hidden on the seabed, the new life of the artifacts began to unfold as additional research shed light on their extraordinary past.
Of the thousands of artifacts brought to the surface after a long and silent rest in the deep Atlantic, many representative samples, as well as rare items of cargo, will remain in Odyssey's permanent collection for further study and display.
Some of the cargo and trade items, including authentic shipwreck bottles are now available for sale. Also available are pieces of the shipwreck coal that once powered the vessel’s massive walking beam engine, as well as unique artifact replicas, amazingly accurate renderings of some of the most impressive pieces recovered from the Republic wreck site.
Some of the artifacts recovered include the following.
Pressed Glass Crucifix Candlesticks (Green and White)
Among the treasured cargo items shipped aboard the Republic were green and white pressed glass crucifix candlesticks bearing the figure of Christ. Their wooden packing crates have long since eroded away, yet the glass remains beautifully preserved.
Hand-Blown Glass Oil Lamp Font and Base
The lamp font, hand-blown with ruby-colored overlay cut to clear glass, and an engraved, heavily faded vine decoration running along its shoulder, is accompanied by a pressed milk glass base. This lamp type was quite fashionable in the 1860's when kerosene was the lamp fuel of choice. The burner and chimney and other brass fittings did not survive the shipwreck intact. Research suggests the lamp was manufactured by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company of Massachuetts. The labor involved in the glassmaking and cutting made this piece considerably more expensive than most table lamps. Its use was intended for city homes and large estates, where a staff of servants could maintain it in pristine condition.
Redware Tea Set
This little tea set is indeed a treasure from the deep with so many of its delicate pieces still intact. The pear-shaped teapot with its broken handle was discovered with four cups and saucers, a waste bowl, and a sugar and creamer. The black figures in classical garb that adorn the red pottery background are a neoclassical theme suggestive of the black-figure decoration seen on ancient Greek vases. At the time, neoclassicism had been popular for many years, prompted by the 18th century discovery of the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy. The black figure embellishments were applied with transfer prints, much like one would apply a decal. The pottery was then fired to make the print permanent. Small tea sets such as this rare example were often given to young girls to teach them proper manners for attending to tea.
These porcelain figurines, likely of French production, are clearly intended as a pair and are among the prized artifacts discovered on the Republic wreck site. Dressed in courtly attire, their playful gestures portray a theme reminiscent of the 19th century neo-rococo art style, which placed an emphasis on the carefree and romantic lifestyle of the aristocracy. The focus was love and romance and the style suggestive of free and graceful movement. This charming duo would have been admired by ladies of the era and displayed as decorative pieces on their mantles or tea tables. It is the only such set found at the site, suggesting the pair were a personal treasure, carried in the baggage of a passenger aboard ship.
Mother and Children Figural Inkstand
For centuries potteries have produced a wide range of useful and ornamental wares associated with writing. Inkstands were produced in large quantities during the nineteenth century, especially in English Staffordshire potteries. Some of these inkstands were simple pen pots, while others were exceedingly elaborate, such as this lovely porcelain figural group portraying a mother sewing with her children at her side reading a book. The decorative figures are actually the cover that serves to hide the writing apparatus underneath. The hidden tray holds the covered ink pot and spill vase, both of which are embellished with faces. There may have been other parts as well, long since lost to the sea.
Holy Family Candlesticks (Virgin Mary and St. Joseph)
The excavation of the Republic yielded some truly exquisite artifacts, including these distinctive porcelain candlesticks, likely of French manufacture. The pair represents the Holy Family: the figure of the Virgin Mary carrying the Baby Jesus, and St. Joseph holding his characteristic lily. Discovered on the seabed in three different sizes, these candlestick sets were accompanied by dozens of other religious items including porcelain angels, Virgin Mary figurines and Crucifix holy water fonts. Yet, their original wooden shipping crates were unable to survive the corrosive salt water environment. The quantity found suggests these goods were among the ship’s cargo intended for retail in a local New Orleans’ market. The city’s Catholic population continued to grow in the 19th century, with many religious orders establishing schools, hospitals, convents, and other charitable institutions. Had the SS Republic reached its destination, its shipment of sacred cargo would have undoubtedly found a receptive clientele.
Ironstone Cup and Saucer
The recovery of the SS Republic yielded a large cargo of dinner ware, including this distinctive cup and saucer set made of sturdy white ironstone china. Also called “stone china” and “English porcelain”, ironstone was first produced in the Staffordshire district of England which had an abundance of clay and close proximity to a seaport. From here the finished ceramic wares were shipped to American markets where they were immensely popular; British ironstone was especially prized for its durability and was favored for every day use. Even today, “English porcelain” is admired and collected for its intrinsic beauty as well as its practicality. Recovered from the Atlantic seabed over 1,700 feet deep, this cup and saucer set proudly boasts its original lustrous finish. The saucer bears the stamp of John Maddock & Son whose Staffordshire pottery was first opened in Burslem, England in 1855 and was known for mass producing high quality ironstone pottery for American consumers.
Holloway’s Ointment Jar
This small ceramic pot once contained Thomas Holloway’s ointment for the “Cure of Inveterate Ulcers, Bad Legs, Sore Breasts and Sore Heads.” Thomas Holloway of England began his patent medicine career selling his prized ointment to the sailors at the docks. The ointment as well as “Holloway’s Pills” soon reached across the Atlantic where they were received with enthusiasm in America. Marketing was the key to Holloway’s success.
Yet, whether the products actually healed the various ailments claimed is doubtful. The 19th century was the height of fraud in the patent medicine business. Shrewd opportunists took advantage of the lack of federal drug controls when virtually anything could be packaged and sold. The public was easily swindled by false claims of medicinal cures that in many cases were entirely unfounded.
Thomas Holloway amassed a fortune selling his products, some of which he used to establish the Royal Holloway College for Women which today is a part of the University of London.
Kneeling Ceramic Angel
Kneeling in quiet prayer, this small and graceful ceramic angel may have been intended for children, offered as a prize in school for learning one’s lessons and prayers. Its origin is uncertain; perhaps imported from a pottery in England or France, although American potteries produced similar ceramic figurines during the mid-19th century.
One such company, The Bennington Pottery in Vermont, produced a figure of a praying child kneeling on a pillow, very similar to the kneeling angels discovered at the Republic wreck site. While this particular pottery closed in 1858, well before the ship departed on its last voyage, the original molds may have survived. It is astonishing that such delicate pieces survived intact during both the hurricane and the shipwreck, followed by nearly 140 years in the strong Gulf Stream currents.
Willow Ware Platter
Prized among the Republic’s rare artifacts is this willow ware platter, the only one found at the site. The willow pattern is without doubt the most popular china pattern ever invented, used by potteries ever since Thomas Minton of England first engraved the motif in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. By 1880 there were more than sixty potteries in England and America making Willow ware. And it is still produced today. This fine example bears no maker’s mark, making it virtually impossible to determine the identity of the pottery that produced it.
The willow pattern is based on legend and presents a story about a beautiful Mandarin maiden, Koong-Shee, who fell in love with Chang, her father’s secretary. Her father, however had other plans for her marriage, and dismissed his secretary. The two lovers then eloped, and fled from the palace grounds across a bridge. They are pursued by her father, who is about to beat them to death. But the Gods transform the lovers into a pair of doves. On the platter one can see the three figures on the bridge, Koong-Shee carrying her distaff, a symbol of virginity, Chang carrying a box of jewels, and the Mandarin pursuing them with his whip.
Cathedral Pickle Bottle
The SS Republic carried an impressive cargo of what collectors today call “Cathedral Pickle” Bottles. The ornate cathedral-pattern including fancy windows and arches was intended to entice the customer to purchase the product. Recovered from the wreck site in four different sizes, these bottles once contained a diversity of preserved foods from pickles to peppers, to plum tomatoes and honey. Many of the bottles are in subtle shades of aquamarine, while others exhibit deeper hues of green. Some of the containers hold the eroded remains of their cork stoppers, which may at one time have been covered with coal tar and a plain foil seal.
When the SS Republic sank in 1865, mustard was an indispensable enhancement to the diet. Sold in this distinctive barrel-shaped bottle, it was often used to disguise the taste of foods turned rancid from lack of refrigeration. The sizeable cargo of glass mustard barrels recovered from the shipwreck is certain proof that this pungent condiment was a sought-after staple and would have surely been valued in post-Civil War New Orleans. The jars may have held either dry or prepared mustard, both of which were sold in these uniquely designed containers.
Barry’s Tricopherous for the Skin and Hair
Hair restorers, invigorators and scores of miracle creams flooded the 19th century market, all competing for the attention of the balding consumer. Shrewd marketers were always thinking of new ways to promote their products with claims that were often false and misleading. Hundreds of these phony hair preparations were aboard the Republic when the ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic, including Barry’s Tricopherous for the Skin and Hair. Advertisements touted the product was “guaranteed to restore the hair to bald heads and to make it grow, thick, long and soft.” Sold by the self-declared professor, Alexander C. Barry, the product’s most active ingredients "Cantharides" was the dried, crushed bodies of the Spanish fly. Today, it is recognized as a toxic substance which if swallowed, can lead to convulsions, coma and death.
Plantation Bitters Bottle
Dubbed the "Golden Age of Quackery", the 19th century was an era in which snake oil, worm pills, invigorators and elixirs were touted as remedies for any and all afflictions. They promised to cure everything from coughs, fever and nervous excitement to sore throats, frost bite and constipation. With the lack of federal drug controls, virtually anything could be bottled and sold without prescription and without disclosing their potent ingredients. Many of the “medicinal” bottles recovered from the SS Republic were bitters, sold under the guise of their herbal contents. Yet many bitters products contained high alcohol levels, in particular, Dr. J. Hostetter’s Stomach bitters whose secret formula tipped the scales with a whopping 47 percent.
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