Security Measures
Security Measures


To reiterate, when market conditions were conducive for gold exports to Europe, bankers would secure bars from the Assay Office. Bars were packed in kegs (also referred to as "casks" or "barrels"), six bars to a keg, each keg worth approximately $48,000 and weighed approximately 165 pounds.1 Bars would be purchased and exported by weight. Only if the Assay Office were to exhaust its supply of gold bars, and market conditions remained favorable for the continued export of gold to Europe, would bankers purchase gold coin from the Sub-Treasury.

Sub Treasury, interior, circa 1920

It [gold coin] was stored in the mint in canvas sacks holding $5000 each. It was weighed in the sacks, one of which was occasionally opened to show that its contents were really what they were supposed to be. Then the sacks were packed in strong pine boxes, bound with iron bands, $40,000 to each box, weighing about 140 [160] pounds. The lids of the boxes were screwed on and then the boxes were sealed with the seal of the United States by a specially detailed official.

It took one expert weigher and two tally clerks to tally the gold out of the storage vault into the one where the work was done, and two more to keep track of the bags and boxes. There was also a force of laboring men to move the money from vault to vault. 2

Gold coins were purchased at face value and exported at face value. For this reason, bankers would attempt to secure only newly minted gold coins of maximum weight, for the credit at the destination bank was always by weight, and not by face value. Gold coins for export were packed in white canvas bags each containing $5,000 in uniform denomination coins. They were tied up, sealed, and labeled. Each bag weighed approximately 18 pounds,3 with eight bags packed and sealed into an "ordinary" wooden box,4 "each bound with strips of thin iron," each box weighing (with the weight of the wood and gold coin contents) 160 pounds.4 and 5 It took two men to carry the 160 pound coin box; poles were inserted beneath the metal carrying brackets (visible in photo).6

$3,000,000 in American gold eagles would require seventy-five (75) such boxes.

3. Security Measures. Each step of the engagement transaction, from initial placement through shipment and ultimate receipt, would have its own security procedures that would restrict factual information to those individuals who were on a need-to-know and when-to-know basis.

Shipment details, such as the scheduled shipping date and the name of the transporting vessel, were occasionally reported in the newspapers along with the engagement information, and were regularly reported in the Journal of Commerce as part of that paper's U. S. Customs House export reports. However, it is well known among researchers today, and was known among moderately inquisitive individuals at the time, that this shipping information was often deliberately deceptive. For example, engagements were reported routinely as being shipped "to-day" or "on to-morrow's steamer." With information such as this, it would be virtually impossible to plan a robbery on a shipment that had already left or was about to leave in only one day, when, in actuality, the shipment would or could leave much later.

These deceptions were used as a systematic means to thwart any possible robbery attempt. This can be seen if we put the era in context. It was an era in which individuals in decision making capacities had lived through a time of train and bank robberies. The wireless telegraph had been only recently invented and its worth at sea had not yet been proven. In addition, when performing properly, its maximum range was limited to within only 300 miles. However, the trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was in place and commonly used as a means of communication. This situation left gold shipments, particularly on vessels without wireless, vulnerable to in-transit theft between vault and pier, pier theft, cargo theft, crew mutiny, mid-ocean piracy, and premeditated theft at the receiving port if the reported shipping details were accurate. If, however, the reported shipping details were questionable, and known to be questionable, the security of gold transactions would be greatly improved.

Even in today's sophisticated transportation systems that inherently utilize high-technology surveillance, communication and tracking capabilities, banks do not "advertise" their armored car schedules. Gold, currency, negotiable securities, diamonds, artworks and other extreme valuables are shipped daily via airports worldwide, but you cannot find a schedule. And if such a schedule were available, who would be so foolish to publish for the world's consumption a truthful account, and who would be so foolish to believe it?

Receiving, Loading, Stowage and Delivery

Specie (See Bullion)

Gold and silver bullion, i.e. uncoined gold and silver respectively. Shipped in ingot or bar form, packed in strong well-made boxes which usually are fitted with strong rope beckets for handling; very rarely, silver is shipped in large ingots unboxed. Unless vessel is fitted with a proper strong-room or safe of suitable capacity, bullion should not be received on board.
The P. & I. Clubs require strong rooms to be fitted with two locks having different keys, one to be in the custody of the Master, the other in that of the Chief Officer or Purser.
Receiving. - The utmost precautions should be observed at every stage of receiving, stowage and delivering this very valuable cargo; each operation should be personally supervised by the ship's officers, assisted, when necessary by responsible members of the shore staff. If putting bullion on board by winch, it should be slung by means of special close-meshed nets to which a small buoy is attached by a long line - care being taken to avoid breaking the seals. If carried by hand over open gangways, nets should be spread under same or the gangway closed in temporarily by boarding. Use special bullion bags of strong canvas suitably roped - two men to a bag - but if such are not available and the cases have to be carried by hand, the men should not be permitted to carry them on their shoulders - the only safe way is to carry with both hands in front. An officer should tally bullion at the rail and its progress to the bullion room should be carefully watched. Tally and check again in bullion room before stowing, recording every mark and number, also examining the seals. Mate's receipt should specify all marks and numbers, but on no account should it be made out for value of contents - "Quality and Value of Contents unknown, said to be . . ." is the form in which receipt should be made.
Delivery. - Delivery should never be made by ships' officers to anyone except on a written order from master, owners or agents (clearly specifying marks and numbers to be delivered) who will have satisfied themselves of the bona-fides of the consignees, etc.; and only against a clean receipt clearly specifying marks and numbers, seals intact, etc. Any dispute should be settled before delivery.
[Bill of Lading] - Masters of vessels taking in bullion aboard should satisfy themselves that the B/L contains a clearly-worded clause exempting the vessel and owner from all risk of loss, damage or theft, howsoever arising, whether through the fault of the servant of shipowner or not. Failing such a clause in B/L the bullion should not be carried unless the entire risk is covered by a special insurance policy.
The keys of the bullion-room should be kept in the safe in Master's and Chief officer or Purser's rooms or equally safe place and should never be allowed in the hands of of
[sic] anyone except the senior officers. Cases have occurred where duplicate keys were made through impressions taken of the keys proper while out of the custody of the responsible officers.7


This includes such articles as gold and silver specie, precious stones, mails, etc., and is usually carried nowadays by special agreement only, that is to say on a percentage based on the declared value, and must be carried in a strong room, or other "lock up" accommodation.
In mail steamers that frequently carry large quantities of bullion special arrangements are usually made, and every ship or company so doing has its own methods of dealing with this type of cargo.
All receipts given for packages of this description should be worded "said to value" or "said to contain," and should not be signed for any particular value unless the person receiving them has an opportunity for checking. It is usual to sign receipts "contents and value unknown,"
[Emphasis supplied.] as no one receiving these packages can say what they actually contain without seeing inside. It is of great importance, however, to see that the seals and coverings are perfectly intact, and when delivering such goods care must be taken to see that the receipts are marked "seals and packages in perfect order and condition; marks and numbers as per receipt." This should always be insisted upon.8

Neither was the fact of an actual gold shipment aboard a particular vessel common knowledge to its passengers or crew for the same security reasons.

Of course, the Captain's responsibility was for the operation of the vessel and the safe passage of its passengers and cargos. The Purser was responsible for the business affairs of the vessel and, generally, the First Officer was responsible for security cargos. These officers would be aware of their ship's gold cargos.

Gold shipments were further concealed from those not on a need-to-know basis, and to thwart any mid-ocean piracy attempt, by being manifested separately; routinely, gold would not be listed on the main cargo manifest, but would be accompanied by its own, separate manifest, which allowed, essentially, "bearer" presentation.9

Cunard Liner R.M.S. Lusitania

Reported shipping details for the period are rare, but, when reported, they provide some detail on procedure.


Over $12,000,000, Brought on
the Lusitania, Rushed Ashore.


Crowd Watches It Hustled Out of the
Ship's Strongroom, Like So Much
Pig Iron, by Longshoreman.

With almost as little ceremony as though it had been a consignment of pig iron, the $12,361,150 in gold which arrived yesterday on the Cunard Liner Lusitania was removed from the steel-lined room on the lower deck and hustled out to the pier. There it was put on trucks and started for the Sub-Treasury and the Assay Office for distribution.
Soon after the vessel docked Purser Joseph Lancaster, the custodian of the treasure, had a conference with the representatives of the consignees, and then the doors of the strong room were unlocked. A gang of longshoremen rushed up the freight gangplank and tackled the piles of small wooden boxes.
It took two men to drag each box down the gangway to the pier. Here Purser Lancaster and two others checked off each box. There were 334 of them each bound with strips of thin iron. The longshoremen perspired under their loads, more impressed with the weight of the boxes than with the fact that they were unloading the richest cargo that ever came across the Atlantic on a single steamship.
The presence of all this treasure on board did not occasion any uneasiness to the officers, but the doors of the strong room were constantly under observation during the run from Liverpool.
The gold came down to Liverpool from London on a special train, arriving just before sailing time of the Lusitania - 7:24 P. M. on Nov. 2. It was taken from the cars and carried up the gangplank. The numbers were checked off, and after all had been placed in the strong room and the checking gone over carefully and compared, Purser Lancaster gave a receipt of so many boxes of valuable cargo, to be placed in the treasure chamber and delivered as soon as possible to the consignee on this side. With this act the Cunard Line became the custodian of the millions and guaranteed their safe arrival here.

Here is a list of the gold consignments on the steamship:

Assistant Treasurer of United States £420,100
Lazard Freres 401,000
Kuhn, Loeb & Co 300,000
American Express Co 137,000
Hanover National Bank 268,693
Corn Exchange Bank 141,000
National City Bank 204,000
Heidelbach, Ickelheimer & Co 201,400
To order 119,775
Guaranty Trust Company 91,000
Baring & Co 80,587
Bank of Nova Scotia 50,000
Balfour, Williamson & Co 50,000
Bank of Manhattan Company 7,675
Total £2,472,230
Equivalent to $12,361,150

This brings the total gold arrivals to date up to $21,311,100. To facilitate the landing of the yellow metal here, the river end of the Cunard pier had been fenced off and into this inclosure the gold was brought. The boxes were piled up against the side of the pier head.
Word soon passed about the pier that the treasure was being carried from the vessel, and the crowd began to gather. Soon the fence separating the boxes from the homecoming throng was lined with spectators speculating on what they would do if they had the money, commenting on the appearance of the boxes, and absorbed in day dreams.
After the last box had been checked off, Purser Lancaster got a signed receipt for the 'cargo.'
'My,' he said, mopping his brow. 'I am glad that's off my hands. Now I can go to luncheon.'

N. Y. Times, November 9, 07, 2:3


1Based on the $9,805/500 ounce gold value, a $48,000 keg would weigh 2448 ounces troy.

2RECOLLECTIONS OF A NEWSPAPER MAN - A Record of Life and Events in California by Frank A. Leach, published in 1917 by Samuel Levinson of San Francisco, Chapter XVI, available on-line at: Leach was Superintendent of the United States Mint at San Francisco from 1897 to 1907 and Director of the Mint at Washington from 1907 to 1909. Leach was intimately involved in the development of the new coin designs promoted by President Teddy Roosevelt -- this story gives fascinating "insider" details from the man who oversaw several of the projects, including the movement of millions of dollars in gold coin, in mostly $5 million shipments, from the San Francisco Mint to the Denver Mint; the shipments that Leach describes began August 15, 1908 and ended December 19, 1908.

3Based on the $9,805/500 ounce gold value, a $5,000 bag would weigh 263 ounces troy.

4With three - five 500 troy ounce bags to a coin box, each box could hold between 125 and 171 pounds of gold coin. Kegs held, apparently, the same weight-range for bars, and therefore a weight of 18 lbs/bag x 8 bags = 144 pounds and a face value of $40,000 per coin box is calculated. This value per box is confirmed by the description of the LUSITANIA's gold cargo in the N. Y. Times article of November 9, 1907 - where 334 boxes equal $12,361,150; this computes to $37,000 per box. With the LUSITANIA's 14 consignees and differing, non-uniform amounts for each consignee, several of the boxes would be partially full and would reduce the average contained per box.
This analysis is further confirmed by a description of an 1892 shipment of gold coins from San Francisco to New York: "The secret shipment ultimately consisted of $5, $10 and $20 gold pieces, packed in sacks containing $5,000 each. The sacks were packed in wooden boxes, eight sacks to a box. In all, 500 boxes, weighing 160 pounds each, made up the shipment. Each box was sent as registered mail, with the tops of the boxes sealed with the Treasury Department seal set in red wax." The Silk Train, James H. Bruns, EnRoute, Volumn 5 Issue 2, April-June 1996, Smithsonian National Postal Museum, available on-line at:

5See N. Y. Times, November 9, 07, 2:3, infra.

6Coin box and bag photos taken at Federal Hall (the former US Sub Treasury), New York, of their coin-vault display, December, 2004.
Coin Box marked "U.S. Mail"
Exterior: 11" H x 9 1/2" W x 21" L
Note: measuring width to the outside brackets was 12"
Wood Thickness: 1"
Interior: 7 1/4" H x 7 1/2" W x 16 1/2" L

7 Stowage, The Properties and Stowage of Cargoes, R. E. Thomas and O. O. Thomas, Brown, Son & Ferguson, Ltd., Glasgow, 1928, Page 109-110.

8Practical Cargo Stowage for Ships' Officers, H. H. Brider and O. M. Watts, Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson, Ltd., London, 1930, Pg. 150 - 151. See also: Notes on the Stowage of Ships, Charles H. Hillcoat, Colonial Publishing Co., New York, 1919, Pg. 110-111.

9Determined empirically from a study of inbound and outward manifests appearing in the Journal of Commerce. Although gold imports and exports would be listed by ship in the U. S. Customs weekly report, gold shipments cannot be located within corresponding printed manifests.