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The SS City of Cairo hoard - recovery and restoration

"Goodnight and sorry for sinking you"

      - Kapitain Karl-Friedrich Merten, U-68

On the night of Friday, November 6 1942, the cargo and passenger ship SS City of Cairo was steaming through the waters of the South Atlantic bound for Pernambuco, off the northeastern coast of Brazil. Wary of sailing alone in dangerous seas patrolled by German U-boat Wolfpacks, captain William Rogerson had orders to sail 45 miles off the coast of Africa deep into the Atlantic territory before turning northwest towards South America. Unbeknownst to the passengers and most of the crew, the SS City of Cairo was carrying a secret cargo that would soon become a major archaeological discovery.

The still of the evening became an instant scene of chaos as the sudden impact of a German torpedo exploded into the ship's hull. Attempting an organised order to abandon ship, the SS City of Cairo soon rocked from the force of a second torpedo which damaged the ship's stern irreparably. As the stricken vessel slipped beneath the waves, Kapitain Merten surfaced his U-boat by the survivor's boats, victorious after his hunt, and delivered the famous quote to the weary survivors. Two thirds of these souls would later be rescued by merchant ships, and the tale of the City of Cairo quickly became lost among the ongoing battle of the Atlantic.

Among the cargo of the sunken SS City of Cairo was a huge cache of Indian silver rupees, destined to be transported to Britain to be melted down for war materials. These coins had been a part of the Indian economy for decades and were now lost on the ocean floor, where they lay undisturbed for 69 years until a British expedition, the Deep Ocean Search, discovered them 1,000 miles off the African coast in 2011.


This incredible treasure trove was divided up; most of the 100 tons recovered were returned to the British Treasury to be melted down as per their original journey, but hearing of this discovery the Norwegian company Samlerhuset decided to embark upon a unique mission of their own; purchasing 22,000 of these coins, we began a long and careful quest to restore these coins to their former glory and allow them to live on in the collections of avid collectors. 


This monumental task became a special project for our restoration team; check out an invaluable window into the restoration work below.

The process involved a great deal of sorting through the hoard to determine viability and the overall condition of individual coins; many of the found coins had crystallised under the water to clump together. Selecting the coins that were in recoverable condition, our team conducted a specialised cleaning process on the complete coins to remove salt erosion and sea detritus. The cleaned coins have a remarkable finish, once again having the initial shine and fine detail they originally had many decades ago.

The hard work of the team paid off immensely, giving the coin collecting world a rare chance to be part of a forgotten tragedy that has resulted in one of the most thorough and technically impressive recovery operations in British maritime history.

To become a proud owner of one of these invaluable links to British seafaring history and the story of the SS City of Cairo, click here

Sources: The Treasure from the SS City of Cairo – The Coins & History Foundation - The Treasure from the SS City of Cairo – The Coins & History Foundation (coinsandhistoryfoundation.org)

BBC - WW2 People's War - "Goodnight sorry for sinking you" - An Apology