Watch stopped at moment of Pulaski shipwreck goes under the hammer

A watch recovered from the wreck of the steamboat Pulaski marking the precise time of its sinking is going up for auction. The ship sank off the coast of North Carolina the night of June 14th, 1838, when its starboard boiler exploded, taking 128 souls down with it. Only sixty or so survived.

The wreck was discovered under 100 feet of water in January 2018 and conclusively identified as the Pulaski that May from artifacts stamped with its name. The passenger list read like a who’s who of southeastern society and the artifacts recovered in the exploration of the wreck reflected their wealth. The estimated value of property lost in the wreck was $150,000 in 1838. That was a huge amount, and because wealthy people traveled with a lot of cash in those days before paper money, a good amount of it was in coin, perhaps as many as 100,00 gold and silver coins.

Over several dives in 2018 and 2019, Blue Water Ventures International and project partner Endurance Exploration Group recovered hundreds of coins from what used to be passengers’ steamer trunks along the wreck trail. The wooden trunks rotted away in the salt water, leaving behind the metal bands, fittings, locks and the contents. Divers found stacks of coins standing up as if still inside the trunks. By February 2019, they’d recovered 502 gold and silver coins, including some of the oldest US coins ever salvaged from a wreck. The oldest coin overall is a British gold guinea from the 1750s.

That first set of coins was sold to a dealer for an undisclosed sum with the goal of recouping the expenses of the 2018 season. Now four gold pocket watches recovered from the wreck are going up for auction, including one particularly notable survival: a British-made 18-carat gold watch whose hands are set at 11:05, five minutes after the boiler explosion that tore the steamship apart.

S.T. Tobias & Co. 18kt Gold Open-face Watch, Liverpool, wonderfully chased and engine-turned case retaining much of its detail, with what was originally a silvered or multicolored roman numeral dial that still shows the engraved floral center, and gilt hand set marking 11:05, minutes following the explosion, swing-out key-wind, key-set movement marked “S.T. Tobias & Co./Liverpool,” with dust cover, interior case back markings “5725” below the 18 mark and partial retailer’s hallmark depicting an eagle, dia. 48 mm, 94g.

The Liverpool watch marking a major historical event to the literal minute is going under the hammer at Skinner’s Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments sale. It and the other three gold watches recovered from the Pulaski are all estimated to sell in the $12,000-15,000 range. Online bidding opens Monday.

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