Costs & Values in Today’s Dollars


Valuing the shipwrecked steamer United States

What she would have cost today

At the time of her loss, the screw steamer United States was described as valued at about $60,000 and her cargo as worth about $25,000.[1] If those values were figured at the relative price of an ounce of gold ($18.93 per ounce in 1864 and 1881 and $1342 per ounce on June 19, 2013), the seventeen years old steamer would have cost about $4,253,565 in today’s dollars, and her cargo, which would have cost just over 1,320 ounces of gold in 1881, would have cost about $1,772,319 today.

Value of her cargo today

The antiquity,[2] provenance and a documented, unique history behind an artifact can greatly increase its value[3] especially from a historic shipwreck, sometimes multiplying its original cost[4] hundreds or even thousands of times.


[1] Savannah Morning News, (Savannah, Georgia, USA), April 13, 1881, p. 3, c. 2

[2] “Valuing Antiquity,” Leiden University,

[3] “Provenance Guide,” International Foundation for Art Research,

[4] “Titanic Artifacts Set for Auction in 2012, 100 Years After Shipwreck,” ABC News,

Read more about the SS United States:

Information on: Her loss off Cape Romain

Information on: Discovery of the wreck

Ownership of Salvaged Gold & Artifacts

This page deals with the steamer United States, which was shipwrecked off Cape Romain, South Carolina in 1881 and discovered and identified by underwater archaeologist Dr. E. Lee Spence. He also discovered other abandoned wreckage in the same general vicinity. In 2012, the Federal District Court ruled that Spence was the “true and exclusive owner of the abandoned wreckage” (which includes the United States and all of the other shipwrecks that he had found in the specific area designated in his court filing), which means he is already the legal owner of any and all shipwreck gold, silver, cannons, hulls, engines, rigging, and other artifacts on those wrecks. To learn more about shipwrecks in general, check out Spence’s page on Facebook. This is not and should not be considered part of any offering memorandum.