Portrait found in 1857 shipwreck sells for £61,000
9th March 2023

This young woman has been dubbed the Mona Lisa of the Deep after her haunting portrait was found in the wreck of a ship that sank in 1857. Notable for its superb resolution, the picture is a 19th-century daguerreotype metal plate photo, ­the first publicly available photographic process.

The image was sold for £61,591 in an auction of items recovered from the SS 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.

It was hit by a hurricane from Panama to New York City, with ­ the deaths of 425 of the 578 passengers and crew.

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.

Other items at the two-day auction in Reno, Nevada, included a large 18-carat California Gold Rush gold quartz engraved brooch, which sold for £41,470. San Francisco businessman Sam Brannan was sending it to his son in Geneva, Switzerland, as a gift to his teacher.

A 32.15oz Kellogg & Humbert assayer’s California Gold Rush ingot sold for £116,218. The saloon sign from the ship fetched £11,116.

Fred Holabird, of Holabird Western Americana Collections, said: “Many collectors were waiting for these extraordinary items to come on the market since the submerged ship was located in 1988 and Life magazine proclaimed it America’s greatest treasure ever found.”

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