duped: to deceive by underhanded means..to dupe; Dupe suggests unwariness in the person deluded. Synonyms: Trick, Hoax...Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

In 1857, the steamship S.S. Central America sank somewhere off the south Atlantic coastline. Four hundred and twenty-five men aboard that ship were returning home from working in the fields of the California Gold Rush and they and their gold ingots went down with the ship. They had departed San Francisco together on the steamer Sonora and traveled to Panama where they boarded the S.S. Central America for what they believed would be a journey up the Atlantic coast to New York City. But, they never made it. A hurricane would intervene and not having the luxury of today's weather technology, the ship went under on September 12, 1857. In 1987, that ship was discovered off the South Carolina coast and its contents were recovered by a team led by geologist Bob Evans. On board the S.S. Central America were more than three tons of gold in the form of 532 assayer's ingots. Evans has become quite familiar with such collections and has since spent some time as a consultant examining other similiar collections. So when Evans visited the Smithsonian collection housed in the National Museum of Natural History, something amiss caught his eye.

In 1968, a pharmaceutical executive by the name of Josiah K. Lilly died and left an enormous collection of gold coins to the Smithsonian Institute. A portion of Mr. Lilly's collection was purported to be from the 19th century California Gold Rush and was stamped with the date of 1857. It was also stamped with an inscription identifying the assayer as Justh & Hunter, a company that did in fact have an assaying facility in Marysville, California. This same five ounze gold piece also had an ingot number, 1798. Coincidentally, the gold coins recovered by Mr. Evans from the sunken ship also bore the inscriptions of Justh & Hunter, but had no date or location. Dating and inscribing locations was not something the assaying firm did; not then, not ever. At least one, and possibly two, of the gold bars in the Smithsonian's collection is a fake, a forgery.

The Lilly collection has 6,800 objects, most of which are gold coins, so the discovery that two are counterfeit won't tarnish the collection; they'll just be moved and relabeled. Nor will this incident tarnish the Lilly name, for all concerned are in agreement, that his purchase of said coins was made unknowing of the forgery, which probably occured in the 1950s. Evans concurs and adds, "whoever the forger was, and we don't know, couldn't have known that nearly 40 years later the shipwreck would be recovered and expose this piece as a forgery." The Smithsoniam cooperated with the investigation and much of the tests were done at their laboratory at the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education. The conclusions reached were also published in the magazine Numismatic and presented at the American Numismatic Association convention in Baltimore.


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