Sunken Silver – The SS Gairsoppa Shipwreck

Finding sunken treasure is a common fantasy among divers and would-be adventurers. It’s an exciting image: hauling up a chest from the depths bursting with pirates’ gold. However, a recent record breaking find isn’t related to pirates or made of gold. It’s a British shipwreck containing an estimated 219 tons of silver.

The ship in question is the SS Gairsoppa which sank from conflict during World War II in 1941. The Gairsoppa was not a warship or a part of any military exercise. It was just a simple cargo ship carrying a load of tea, pig iron, and silver from India to Britain. It was even sailing with a convoy of ships for safety. However, disaster struck on the high seas. A big storm hit, and the Gairsoppa was low on fuel. Desperate, it broke away from the convoy and headed to Galway, Ireland to make port. However, when it crossed into the contested north Atlantic waters, it was shown no mercy and torpedoed by a German U-boat almost immediately.

With that, the Gairsoppa’s vast haul of silver sank more than 15,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. Now that it’s been found, recovery operations for the silver are expected to begin in the spring of 2012. Because of the good condition of the wreck, scientists are confident that the depths will not hinder recovery of the entire load of silver. At modern silver prices, the sunken treasure is worth about $210 million. At that price, it should be history's largest recovery of precious metals lost at sea.

Precious Metal Measurements

Companies in the precious metals business such as jewelers, pawnbrokers, and metal refiners (like Manhattan Gold & Silver) deal with a lot of uncommon measurements. When it comes to payouts or exchanges, it helps to be familiar with these two systems of measurement:

•    Avoirdupois: This is the everyday measure of weight in the United States using pounds of 16 ounces. It’s also used to varying degrees in Canada and the UK. Ironically, avoirdupois measurements are only related to the precious metal industry in that they are a measurement that is commonly converted from. Precious metals dealings do not use avoirdupois, they always use the troy system instead. Average customers looking to sell their scrap gold or silver often know the weight of their lot in pounds or ounces, but refiners always convert this to troy measurements when dealing with others in the business.

•    Troy: Interestingly, this measurement system is named not for the city in Homer’s Illiad, but rather, the French city of Troyes. Unlike the avoirdupois pound, the troy pound in measured in 12 ounces. Although the troy pound is no longer used, troy ounces are commonly used to weigh precious metals. That’s why, in the bullion market, all references to ounces mean troy ounces. The troy ounce differs from the avoirdupois ounce, being somewhat heavier, with 1 troy oz = 1.097 oz. The pennyweight, the unit on which Manhattan Gold & silver bases its payouts, is a unit of the troy system.

If you need help converting the weight of your precious metals, Manhattan Gold & Silver happily provides free conversion charts and calculators to make estimates and sales easier.

Ask MGS: How much can I get for my flatware set?

One of customers recently wrote in, asking: “I have a sterling silver flatware service set for 12 weighing approximately 4 lbs. Would you be interested in purchasing it, and at what price?”

Yes, we will purchase a silver flatware set. Our payout would be based on the London Daily Fixing. However, you should note that sterling silver is not pure silver. Therefore, you wouldn’t be paid for 4 lbs. of silver; you would need to deduct the impurities from the weight.  Keep in mind knife handles are estimated because they have steel blades.

Usually, sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver. However, flatware can vary depending on where it was made. Examine your flatware set and look for a number stamp. Check this number with our silver purity chart to determine how much silver is in the set.

The easiest way to get an estimate for your payout is to register with MGS. Once you do, you’ll gain access to our payout calculator. Simply input the weight and the type of metal, and our calculator will tell you our estimated payout. You can then ship the metal straight to us, and we can send you a check or wire payment, usually on the same day we receive your lot.