Mona Lisa of the Deep

Courtesy California Gold Marketing Group

It’s hard to believe a photo could survive more than a century and a half at the bottom of the ocean, but in 2014, 10 remarkably preserved daguerreotype and ambrotype photographs were recovered from a ship that sank off the coast of North Carolina in 1857. The ship was carrying California Gold Rush gold bars, coins, and dust from Panama to New York, thus its nickname Ship of Gold. It sunk during a hurricane, killing 425 passengers and crew.

In 2014, as scientists worked to recover gold and other items from the ship, they found more than 100 photos, many in glass case holders. A majority were degraded beyond recognition, but 10 standouts are remarkably clear, including a portrait the group dubbed “Mona Lisa of the Deep” (above and at top), which was found in a pile of the ship’s coal on the seabed. The sunken treasure are offered at auction by Holabird Western American Collections.

Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.