Whiskey Recovered From A 170-Year-Old Shipwreck Could Be Worth A Fortune

The haul could theoretically sell for more than $870 million, Forbes estimated.

Credit: Sven Hansche / EyeEm via Getty Images
Credit: Sven Hansche / EyeEm via Getty Images

Shipwreck hunters are hoping to recover the incredibly valuable contents of a 170-year-old sunken boat, including gold coins and rare whiskey.

On December 7, 1854, a passenger ship named the Westmoreland sank in northern Lake Michigan during a winter storm. The 17 people aboard the ship died, and the gold, along with roughly 280 barrels of whiskey thought to be in transit to soldiers on Mackinac Island, went down with the vessel.

In 2010, a shipwreck hunter named Ross Richardson discovered the ship approximately 200 feet below the surface of Platte Bay, Michigan. Richardson’s team claims that the cold and calm conditions of the lake could make it one of the best-preserved wrecks of the 19th century.

The Westmoreland’s contents have yet to be recovered, so there are still many unknowns surrounding the number of whiskey bottles and their level of preservation, making it difficult to estimate a price tag. As a point of comparison, though, a bottle of scotch recovered from the SS Politician off the coast of Scotland sold for £12,925 in 2021, Forbes noted. Assuming the 280 barrels of whiskey each contain 200 bottles, the haul could theoretically sell for more than $870 million, the news outlet estimated.

And you thought a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle was expensive.

“A regional distillery is extremely interested in salvaging the whiskey barrels for testing and selling,” Richardson said via the Mirror. “The genetic makeup of corn was much different in 1854 and may have had a different taste to today's corn.”

Richardson estimates that the gold coins could also sell for big bucks, perhaps $20 million or so, but he says that any serious recovery efforts would primarily be focused on the whiskey. Before he can salvage the treasure, though, Richardson needs to obtain a permit. He says that the whiskey is deep within the ship and that it might be a long while before he is able to recover the contents of the ship fully.

“We are a long way, maybe decades, from making that happen. Only time will tell if the Westmoreland will share her secrets with us,” Richardson said.