By Donn Pearlman
It was 3 p.m. Chicago time on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1999, when Dwight Manley unexpectedly phoned. He was already a numismatics superstar who I’d only met once or twice before that unforgettable call.
Dwight swore me to secrecy and revealed he and his partners at California Gold Marketing Group had quietly acquired all the available recovered sunken treasure from the fabled “Ship of Gold,” the S.S. Central America. The legendary ship, carrying tons of California Gold Rush coins and ingots, sank with a loss of 425 lives off the North Carolina coast in 1857.
Retrieved from more than 7,000 feet below the Atlantic Ocean’s surface in scientific missions between 1998 and 1991, the historical treasure trove had been stored in security vaults for a decade while an ownership battle wound slowly through the courts.
Historic Numismatic Negotiations
A skilled negotiator, the process still had taken 18 months of complex,
time-consuming, and under-the-radar negotiations with various entities for Dwight to obtain all 92.5 percent of the available treasure successfully; the remainder went to lawsuits’ claimants. In addition to his esteemed role as a professional numismatist, Dwight was an accomplished sports agent for such well-known athletes as Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone, among others. Dwight and his partners later acquired all of the additional Central America treasure recovered in 2014.
The brilliant marketing of the eagerly anticipated coins and ingots did not consist of merely putting up a For Sale sign. Dwight is a marvelous showman who successfully told the compelling story about the historical significance and drama of the treasure and how it lay on the ocean foor for over a century and a half until its enthralling recovery.
Treasure Exhibition Education
Starting in early 2000, he set up an educational Ship of Gold traveling exhibit displaying at locations across the United States with between $20 million and $40 million at a time of recovered treasure. More than a million people viewed these captivating treasure exhibitions in museums, at coin shows, at Christie’s auction house in New York City, and the California State Fair in Sacramento.
The thousands of recovered coins and hundreds of ingots were examined and cataloged by Dwight and the recovery missions scientist Bob Evans. They publicized many discoveries, such as the finest known examples and rare varieties of U.S. and world coins, so that the hobby would have information for research.
Dwight recently “retrieved” another kind of treasure. He purchased at auction about 850 of the 1,102 historic George Washington medals that languished in storage for a century in a Pennsylvania museum. He’s now loaning the outstanding, long-hidden collection to the American Numismatic Association for public exhibition and study. Dwight has another impressive hobby: silent movie posters, assembling the world’s most extensive private collection of more than 2,000 posters. He created a $2 million exhibit of posters, issued between 1910 and 1929, for the 2017 centennial of his beloved hometown, Brea, California.
I’ve happily worked with Dwight Manley for two decades. I can confidently state he not only markets numismatic national treasures, but he is a numismatic treasure.