With her curly corkscrew hair and gothic clothing, she looks like a modern cast member of the popular Netflix show Wednesday. But in fact, this haunting portrait of a young lady was found in the wreck of a ship that sank in 1857.
The picture is a 19th-century daguerreotype metal plate photograph, the first publicly available photographic process. And now the item has been sold for £61,591 ($73,200) in an auction of items recovered from the S.S. Central America.
The vessel was carrying tons of Gold Rush treasure from San Francisco and the northern California area when it sank 7,200 feet deep in the Atlantic. The scientific mission recovery team nicknamed the unidentified woman “Mona Lisa of the Deep”, after retrieving the photo in 2014 from the seabed where it was discovered in a scattered pile of the ship’s coal.
No records have been found so far of who the person may be. The two-day auction was conducted in Reno, Nevada over the weekend and online by Holabird Western Americana Collections.
Other items included a large 18-karat California Gold Rush gold quartz engraved brooch which sold for £41,470 ($49,200). California’s first millionaire, San Francisco businessman Sam Brannan, was sending it in 1857 to his son in Geneva, Switzerland as a gift to the son’s teacher.
Also sold was a 32.15-ounce Kellogg & Humbert assayer’s California Gold Rush ingot selling for £116,218 ($138,000). The saloon sign from the ship attracted a winning bid of £11,116 ($13,200).
Fred Holabird, President of Holabird Western Americana Collections, says: "We had about 7,000 registered bidders, including some from Canada, Europe, and South America.
“Many collectors were waiting for these extraordinary items to come on the market since the legendary, submerged ship was located in 1988 and Life magazine proclaimed it America’s greatest treasure ever found. This was an incredible time capsule of the California Gold Rush era."
This was the second and final auction of never-before-offered artefacts from the S.S. Central America. The first auction of 270 other items in December attracted nearly $1 million in winning bids, including £96,000 ($114,000) for the oldest known pair of miner’s heavy-duty work pants - or jeans - that may have been made by or for the Levi Strauss Company.
The S.S. Central America was hit by a hurricane on a voyage from Panama to New York City, with 425 of the 578 passengers and crew perishing. Recovery missions were made in 1988 to 1991 and again in 2014.
According to a Holabird release: "Insurance claims for the loss were paid in the 1850s and the company that discovered and retrieved the treasure starting in 1988 settled with the insurers and their successors in 1998. With court approval, California Gold Marketing Group subsequently acquired clear title to all of that remaining treasure as well as all the items recovered in 2014."