Most of the following information was graciously provided by Dan Sedwick of Sedwick Coins
Flor do Mar, sunk in 1511 off Sumatra, Indonesia
In 1511 the Portuguese Viceroy Afonso de Albuquerque was sent to the strategic town of Malacca (in modern-day Malaysia) to claim it for Portugal, which he did; but on the return voyage to India, his ship Flor do Mar was wrecked in a storm, sending spoils from the victory (including a reported 60 tons of gold) to the seabed. Modern searches for the wreck (which sank to a depth of over 100 feet) have been unsuccessful, although Robert Marx claimed to have found some jade artifacts from it, including the lot in this sale.
“Tumbaga wreck,” sunk ca. 1528 off Grand Bahama Island
Before there were coins, before there were Spanish Treasure Fleets, and even before there were any kind of colonies in the Spanish Main, the conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men discovered treasure in the form of native-American gold and silver artifacts. While it is a shame that these artifacts no longer exist, at least their one-time presence is confirmed by what have become known as “tumbaga” bars: a group of over 200 silver and gold ingots discovered in the remains of an unidentified ca.-1528 shipwreck off Grand Bahama Island. The artifacts that composed these bars were apparently lumped together in two piles—one for gold-colored artifacts and the other for silver-colored artifacts—with great amounts of impurities (predominantly copper) in each pile. The piles were then melted as much as possible (not thoroughly) and poured into crude molds that in some cases were no more than depressions in the sand. The resulting ingots were called “tumbaga” bars.
“Golden Fleece wreck,” sunk ca. 1550 in the northern Caribbean
This wreck was nicknamed for a royal stamping (“Golden Fleece”) on several of the gold “finger” bars (ingots) it yielded. Except for a handful of extremely rare Santo Domingo pieces, all the coins from this wreck were Mexican Carlos-Juana silver coins (all assayers prior to S), including several rarities, the most important being three specimens of the Rincón “Early Series” 8 reales of 1538, the very first 8 reales ever struck in the New World (the best of which achieved a record in 2006 for the highest amount ever paid at auction for a Spanish colonial coin: $373,750!). To date the finders of the wreck have not identified the wreck or disclosed its exact location, but they have gone on record as stating it was in international waters in the northern Caribbean. Though it was a relatively small find (a few thousand coins at most), it has been the primary source for Mexican Carlos-Juana coins on the market since the mid-1990s.
Perhaps more impressive than the coins from this wreck are the few dozen gold and silver ingots in has yielded, all of which have entered the market exclusively through Daniel Frank Sedwick. The varying purities of these bars are reminiscent of the “tumbaga” bars (see above), although the later gold ingots do seem to have been cast in somewhat standard shapes (“fingers”) and sizes. The silver ingots from this wreck, popularly known as “splashes,” were simply poured onto the ground, leaving a round, flat mound of silver that was subsequently stamped with a tax stamp (in the form of a crowned C for King Charles I) and/or a fineness in the usual block Roman numerals in parts per 2400, much like the karat system we use today. The gold ingots also show a fineness marking (but no tax stamps or other markings) in parts per 24, with a dot being a quarter karat. Silver or gold, many of the ingots from this wreck were cut into two or more parts, presumably to divide into separate accounts. We believe these “Golden Fleece wreck” ingots are the only known examples made in the colonies between the “tumbaga” period of the 1520s and the specimens found on the 1554 Fleet at Padre Island, Texas (note, in fact, that the very few gold bars recovered from the Texas wrecks were marked with the same punches as some of the gold bars from this slightly later wreck).
Espadarte, sunk in 1558 off Mozambique
This wreck is also known as the “Fort San Sebastian Wreck”. The site was found during the systematic survey around Ilha de Moçambique on May 30, 2001, and the only visible remains were a huge stone ballast pile at 9 meters of depth falling abruptly into the channel until 32.5 m depth, where four intact Martaban jars were found. In two sondages practised in different parts of the stone ballast pile, wood timbers were observed, along with lead sheathing, fragments of coarse ceramics, two old anchors and blue and white Chinese porcelain objects, most of them intact and in very good condition. A complete survey of the wreck was done, every possible measurement was taken and a sketch to scale of the site was produced, including the depth isoclines. In order to evaluate the site two test sondages were done, one of 6m2 (3m x 2m) and the other of 1m2 (1m x 1m), both plotted in the site sketch. Gold artifacts were found in the surrounding area of the ballast pile, all buried inside cylindrical chimneys known as “blow holes,” vents from where gases escaped the magma in previous eras. The first two were a small hemispherical bowl and a bun-ingot. While the first, possibly a salt container, had been cast, hammered and filed into an object of exquisite beauty, the second was a solid, amorphous lump, the result of the gold having been smelted in a crucible and then poured into a simple, crudely formed receptacle that gave the ingot its irregular shape. Most of the gold from this site was totally unmarked, with no signs of fineness or ownership, possibly indicating that they were smuggled to avoid the Crown’s tax. A total of 12.4 kg of small ingots and fragments were recovered.
“Cidade Velha wrecks,” sunk in the 1500s off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
The coastal town of Cidade Velha, or Ribeira Grande as it was formerly known, is where the history of Cape Verde began. In the 17th century Cidade Velha grew and prospered. Located at the crossroads of the Atlantic it became an important stop for ships in need of water, fresh food and repair. In addition it became a large slaving center where slaves were transhipped to destinations in the New World. As with any popular anchorage the seabed around Cidade Velha is rich in material that was lost or discarded by visiting ships. The Arqueonautas team have recovered a series of artifacts from the “Cidade Velha” shipwrecks that include manilas, crucifixes, a range of pottery and a superb bronze cannon, most of them from Portuguese shipwrecks which were sunk at anchor in the harbor of Cidade Velha by Francis Drake on his second attack of this town in 1586.
“Rill Cove wreck,” sunk ca. 1618 off Cornwall, England
The name and nationality of the ship are unknown and even the date of sinking is not certain—all we know is that records of its local salvage began in 1618. After re-discovery of the wreck by Ken Simpson and Mike Hall in 1975, eventually some 3,000 coins were recovered and sold, all silver cobs, mostly Mexican, but also from Potosí and Spain. Most of the coins are thin from corrosion but with dark toning on fields to enhance details.
Atocha, sunk in 1622 west of Key West, Florida
Arguably the most famous of all Spanish galleons salvaged in our time, the Atocha was the almiranta of the 1622 Fleet, which left Havana several weeks late and soon ran into a hurricane. Eight ships of the 28-ship fleet were lost, wrecked on the reefs between the Dry Tortugas and the Florida Keys or sunk in deeper water (see Santa Margaritaand the “Dry Tortugas wreck” below). Five people survived the sinking of the Atocha and were saved by another vessel, but the wreck itself was scattered after another hurricane hit the site exactly one month later, so the Spanish were never able to salvage what was one of the richest galleons ever to sail.
The cargo of the Atocha did not see light again until 1971 when the first coins were found by the now-famous salvager Mel Fisher and his divers, who recovered the bulk of the treasure in 1985 and thereby unleashed the largest supply of silver cobs and ingots the market has ever seen. Well over 100,000 shield-type cobs were found in all denominations above the half real, the great majority of them from Potosí, as were also the approximately 1,000 silver ingots (most the size of bread loaves). A handful of gold cobs (1 and 2 escudos only) were also recovered, mostly from mainland Spanish mints but also a few from Colombia—officially the first gold coins ever struck in the New World. The Atocha was also the source for most (if not all) of the first silver cobs struck in Colombia, as well as a few early coins from Mexico, Lima and Spain, and even Panama. Even more significant were the many gold ingots, jewelry items, emeralds and other artifacts.
Because of Mel Fisher’s huge publicity, and because much of the treasure was distributed to investors at high ratios compared to their investment amounts, the coins from the Atocha have always sold for much more—anywhere from two times to ten times—than their non-salvage counterparts, even in the numismatic market. (The “glamour market” in tourist areas, by contrast, elevates these coins to as much as twenty times their base numismatic value!) Individually numbered certificates with photos of each coin are critical to the retention of an Atocha coin’s higher value. Accompanying barcode-tags with the coins also make it possible to replace lost certificates through a database system at the Fisher operations in Key West. Each certificate (with some exceptions) also specifies the coin’s Grade, from 1 (highest) to 4 (lowest), a highly subjective evaluation of corrosive damage and overall quality. Most Atocha silver coins are also recognizable by their shiny brightness, the result of a controversial cleaning and polishing process catering more to jewelry demand than to serious numismatists.
Santa Margarita, sunk in 1622 west of Key West, Florida
From the same hurricane-stricken 1622 Fleet as the Atocha (above), the Santa Margarita sank on a reef within sight of the Atocha and was found in 1626 by Spanish salvagers, who recovered only roughly half its treasure. The other half was found by Mel Fisher and company in 1980. Margarita’s treasures were similar to those found on the Atocha, yet with fewer coins in comparatively worse condition overall (yet not as harshly cleaned). As with Atocha coins, original Fisher certificates are critical to the premium value for these coins, which is on par with Atocha coins.
“Dry Tortugas wreck,” sunk ca. 1622 off the Dry Tortugas, west of Key West, Florida
Presumably a sister-ship to the Atocha and Santa Margarita of the 1622 Fleet (above), discovered in 1989 and reworked in 1991 by Seahawk Deep Ocean Technology, among whose finds were numerous gold bars (but no silver bars) and about 1,200 heavily eroded silver cobs (similar in composition to the Atocha finds), all picked from the ocean floor by a robot. Cannons and other artifacts expected on a typical galleon, however, were suspiciously absent. The bulk of the treasure was eventually sold to a store/museum in Key West that later went bankrupt. Years later, by order of a bankruptcy court, it all turned up at auction, where nearly all of the treasure was re-purchased by some of the former principals of Seahawk for a new museum.
“Lucayan Beach wreck,” sunk ca. 1628 off Grand Bahama Island
Since the accidental discovery in 1964 of around 10,000 silver cobs (dated up to and including 1628) in 10 feet of water just 1300 yards from the Lucayan Beach Hotel, the mystery of identifying the lost vessel has never been solved. Because of the date, popular opinion associates the wreck with the taking of the Spanish 1628 Fleet in Mantanzas Bay, Cuba, by the Dutch pirate, Piet Heyn, who reported losing two vessels on the way back to Europe.
Three names were proposed for the ship(s) by various sellers over the years were the Van Lynden, the Santa Gertrude (or Gertrudis) and the Romario, with scant evidence to support any of the attributions. Spanish archival research uncovered a new name—Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, sunk in that general area in 1624, but a quick check of auction catalogs confirms that some of the recovered coins were clearly dated later than that. A more recent (1990s) recovery off the Lucayan Beach turned up similar material—but no further clues as to the ship’s (or ships’) identity. Practically all of the coins have been Mexican 8 and 4 reales of the assayer-D period, some in quite nice condition and a few with clear dates, which of course are rare. Expect to pay a modest premium for specimens in white clamshell boxes produced by Spink & Son (London) in the 1960s for a promotion that capped off years of disagreements between the salvagers, their backers and the Bahamian government.
Concepción, sunk in 1641 off the northeast coast of Hispaniola
The Concepción was one of the most significant Spanish wrecks of all time, serving the Spanish with a loss of over 100 tons of silver and gold treasure. The almiranta of a 21-ship fleet, the Concepción was already in poor repair when the Europe-bound fleet encountered a storm in September, leaving her disabled and navigating under makeshift sails amid disagreement among its pilots about their location. Weeks later, she grounded on a reef in an area now named the Silver Shoals, just to the east of another shoal known as the Abrojos, which the pilots were trying to avoid. After another storm hit the wrecked ship and the admiral and officers left in the ship’s only longboat, the remaining crew resorted to building rafts from the ship’s timbers. Survivors’ accounts pointed to drowning, starvation and even sharks for the loss of around 300 casualties. In the fallout that ensued, none of the survivors could report the wreck’s location with accuracy, so it sat undisturbed until New England’s William Phipps found it in 1687 and brought home tons of silver and some gold, to the delight of his English backers.
The Concepción was found again in 1978 by Burt Webber, Jr., whose divers recovered some 60,000 silver cobs, mostly Mexican 8 and 4 reales but also some Potosí and rare Colombian cobs (including more from the Cartagena mint than had been found on any other shipwreck). Unlike the Maravillas of just 15 years later, however, theConcepción did not give up any gold cobs in our time, and any significant artifacts found were retained by the government of the Dominican Republic, who oversaw the salvage. The bulk of the silver cobs found on theConcepción were heavily promoted, even in department stores! The site is still being worked from time to time with limited success.
“São Francisco wreck,” sunk ca. 1650 off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
The identity of this wreck is unknown, its nickname simply corresponding to the nearest land-area to the wreck (São Francisco) on the island of Santiago. The salvage firm Arqueonautas worked the wrecksite in the mid- to late 1990s but was not able to identify the vessel any further than a “Spanish ship with a Portuguese Captain with money to buy slaves.” The first finds from the “San Francisco wreck,” including an extremely rare silver-plated astrolabe dated 1645, were sold by Sotheby’s (London) in December 2000, buried in a clocks and watches auction that got little publicity in the shipwreck-collecting field. The relatively few coins from this wreck, all silver cobs from Mexico and Potosí in the mid- to late 1640s, are generally rare and appear to date just before the massive recall and melting in 1649 at Potosí that so significantly altered worldwide usage of Spanish colonial cobs.
Capitana (Jesús María de la Limpia Concepción), sunk in 1654 off Chanduy, Ecuador
This wreck was the largest loss ever experienced by the Spanish South Seas (Pacific) Fleet, of which the Jesus María de la Limpia Concepción was the capitana (“captain’s ship,” or lead vessel) in 1654. Official records reported the loss of 3 million pesos of silver (2,212 ingots, 216 chests of coins, and 22 boxes of wrought silver), augmented to a total of as much as 10 million pesos when contraband and private consignments were taken into account. By comparison, the entire annual silver production in Peru at that time was only about 6-7 million pesos!
Obviously overloaded, technically the Capitana sank due to pilot error, which drove the ship onto the reefs south of the peninsula known as Punta Santa Elena, a geographic feature the pilot thought he had cleared. Twenty people died in the disaster. For eight years afterward, Spanish salvagers officially recovered over 3 million pesos of coins and bullion (with probably much more recovered off the record), leaving only an unreachable lower section for divers to find in our time. Ironically, the main salvager of the Capitana in the 1650s and early 1660s was none other than the ship’s silvermaster, Bernardo de Campos, whose fault it was that the ship was overloaded with contraband in the first place!
The wreck was rediscovered in the mid-1990s and salvaged (completely, according to some) in 1997. After a 50-50 split with the Ecuadorian government in 1998, investors placed most of their half of the more than 5,000 coins recovered up for sale at auction in 1999. Almost exclusively Potosí 8 and 4 reales, the coins were a healthy mix of countermarked issues of 1649-1652, transitional issues of 1652, and post-transitional pillars-and-waves cobs of 1653-1654, many in excellent condition and expertly conserved.
As an interesting footnote, the very coins salvaged from the Capitana by the Spanish in 1654 were lost again on theMaravillas wreck of 1656 (see next), and some of those coins salvaged from the Maravillas were lost again in the wreck of the salvage vessel Madama do Brasil off Gorda Cay (Bahamas) in 1657. Furthering Spain’s woes was the destruction of another treasure fleet in 1657 by English marauders (fresh off a victory in the Bay of Cádiz) off Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Maravillas, sunk in 1656 off Grand Bahama Island
As the almiranta (“admiral’s ship,” or rear guard) of the homebound Spanish fleet in January of 1656, the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas was officially filled with over five million pesos of treasure (and probably much more in contraband, as was usually the case). That treasure included much of the silver salvaged from the South Seas Fleet’s Capitana of 1654 that wrecked on Chanduy Reef off Ecuador (see above). The ill-fated treasure sank once again when the Maravillas unexpectedly ran into shallow water and was subsequently rammed by one of the other ships of its fleet, forcing the captain to try to ground the Maravillas on a nearby reef on Little Bahama Bank off Grand Bahama Island. In the ensuing chaos, exacerbated by strong winds, most of the 650 people on board the ship died in the night, and the wreckage scattered. Spanish salvagers soon recovered almost half a million pesos of treasure quickly, followed by more recoveries over the next several decades, yet with over half of the official cargo still unfound.
The first re-discovery of the Maravillas in the 20th century was by Robert Marx and his company Seafinders in 1972, whose finds were featured in an auction by Schulman in New York in 1974. Included among the coins in this sale were some previously unknown Cartagena silver cobs of 1655 and countermarked Potosí coinage of 1649-1651 and 1652 Transitionals, in addition to many Mexican silver cobs and a few Bogotá cob 2 escudos. The second big salvage effort on the Maravillas was by Herbert Humphreys and his company Marex in the late 1980s and early 1990s, resulting in two big sales by Christie’s (London) in 1992 and 1993, featuring many Bogotá cob 2 escudos, in addition to more Mexico and Potosí silver cobs and several important artifacts. The most recent sale of Maravillasfinds, presumably from one of the many salvage efforts from the 1970s and 1980s, took place in California in 2005, again with a good quantity of Bogotá cob 2 escudos. The wreck area is still being searched today, but officially the Bahamian government has not granted any leases on the site since the early 1990s. It is possible the bulk of the treasure is still to be found!
Vergulde Draeck (“Gilt Dragon”), sunk in 1656 off Western Australia
Much has been written about the loss and salvage of this Dutch East India Company trading vessel (known as an East Indiaman), which some consider to be Australia’s counterpart to Florida’s 1715 Fleet in terms of availability of reasonably priced cobs for collectors. In contrast to the Spanish treasure wrecks, however, the Vergulde Draeckcarried only a modest amount of just silver cobs (eight chests totaling 45,950 coins), mostly Mexican but also some cobs from Potosí and Spain as well as some Colombian rarities. The ship was on its way from the Netherlands to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta, Indonesia) when suddenly it found itself wrecked on a reef some three miles from land in the early morning hours of April 28, 1656. Only 75 of the 193 people on board were able to reach the shore, and seven of them soon left in the ship’s pinnace to seek help in Batavia. When authorities there learned of the wreck, several attempts were made to rescue the other survivors and, more importantly, the eight chests of treasure, but no sign of the wreck or survivors was ever found. The wreck remained undiscovered until 1963, when spear-fishermen stumbled upon it and began to recover coins and artifacts. Salvage efforts to date, mostly under the supervision of the Western Australian Museum, whose certificates often accompany the coins (and carry a small premium), have yielded only about half of the total coins officially recorded to be on board this ship.
Sacramento, sunk in 1668 off Brazil
The Sacramento was the lead vessel of a 50-ship annual convoy between Lisbon, Portugal, and Bahia, Brazil, and hit a sandbar on the night of May 5, 1668 during a squall, sending 400 people to their grave. Official Brazilian government salvage on the wreck took place in 1976, at some point involving Robert Marx. Very little information can be found about the wreck and its salvage, and very little material from the wreck has come to market. A few Portuguese silver coins with Brazilian countermarks from 1663 have reached collectors, as well as a few Spanish colonial cobs (also countermarked).
Nuestra Señora Santa María de Quintanpalla, sunk ca. 1680 off Seville Harbor?, Spain
We still do not have any evidence for, or information about, this shipwreck, but the consignor is honorable and swears this is a legitimate wreck in the river harbor of Seville, Spain. From evidence at the wrecksite, it is believed the ship was a medium-sized galleon of approximately 600 tons, 50 meters in length, with more than 250 men, 68 cannons and a cargo of mostly textiles and other goods. It sank sometime in the period of 1678-1680. It is reported that the wrecksite lies in about 1000 feet of water…but Seville harbor is not that deep. As such, it most likely sank off Cadiz.
Consolación (“Isla de Muerto shipwreck”), sunk in 1681 off Santa Clara Island, Ecuador
When salvage first began on this wreck in 1997, it was initially believed to be the Santa Cruz and later called El Salvador y San José, sunk in August of 1680; but research by Robert Marx after the main find in subsequent years confirmed its proper name and illuminated its fascinating history.
Intended to be part of the Spanish “South Seas Fleet” of 1681, which left Lima’s port of Callao in April, theConsolación apparently was delayed and ended up traveling alone. At the Gulf of Guayaquil, off modern-day Ecuador, the Consolación encountered English pirates, led by Bartholomew Sharpe, who forced the Spanish galleon to sink on a reef off Santa Clara Island (later nicknamed “Isla de Muerto,” or Dead Man’s Island). Before the pirates could get to the ship, the crew set fire to her and tried to escape to the nearby island without success. Angered by the inability to seize the valuable cargo of the Consolación, Sharpe’s men killed the Spaniards and tried in vain to recover the treasure through the efforts of local fishermen. Spanish attempts after that were also fruitless, so the treasure of the Consolación sat undisturbed until our time.
When vast amounts of silver coins were found in the area starting in the 1990s, eventually under agreement between local entrepreneurs Roberto Aguirre and Carlos Saavedra and the government of Ecuador in 1997, the exact name and history of the wreck were unknown, and about 8,000 of the coins (all Potosí silver cobs) were subsequently sold at auction by Spink New York in December, 2001, as simply “Treasures from the ‘Isla de Muerto’”. Most of the coins offered were of low quality and poorly preserved but came with individually numbered photo-certificates. Later, after the provenance had been properly researched, and utilizing better conservation methods, a Florida syndicate arranged to have ongoing finds from this wreck permanently encapsulated in hard-plastic holders by the authentication and grading firm ANACS, with the wreck provenance clearly stated inside the “slab”; more recent offerings have bypassed this encapsulation. Ongoing salvage efforts have good reason to be hopeful, as the manifest of the Consolación stated the value of her registered cargo as 146,000 pesos in silver coins in addition to silver and gold ingots, plus an even higher sum in contraband, according to custom.
“Porto Bello wreck,” sunk in 1681 or 1682 off Porto Bello, Panama
According to Robert Marx, a storm in 1681 sank three ships of the Spanish Caribbean Fleet: Chaperón (sunk in the mouth of the Chagres River), Boticaria (sunk off Isla de Naranjas), and an unidentified galleon (sunk off Punta de Brujas). More recent articles, however, give the date of the disaster as 1682. There is also confusion about which wrecksite belongs to which ship of the Fleet; for example, the sword blades in this current auction supposedly came from Chaperon, but our records indicate that the source was probably the Boticaria. Most often the artifacts are attributed to simply the 1681 Fleet or the “Porto Bello wreck.”
Joanna, sunk in 1682 off South Africa
An English East Indiaman on her way to Surat on the west coast of India, the Joanna separated from her convoy and sank in rough seas on a reef off the southernmost tip of South Africa on June 8, 1682, sending 10 people to their death. Eventually, 104 survivors reached the Dutch colony of Cape Town, from which a salvage party was soon dispatched. The Joanna’s cargo consisted of 70 chests of silver coins, of which the salvage party reported having recovered only about 28,000 guilders’ worth. In 1982 the wreck was re-discovered by a group of South African divers led by Gavin Clackworthy, who brought up silver ingots (discs) and over 23,000 silver cobs, most of them Mexican 4 and 8 reales of Charles II in generally low grade, but a few showing bold, formerly very rare dates 1679-1681. Over the past two decades these cobs have entered the market from both private dealers and auctions, but always in relatively small quantities at a time. Almost all the coins are in very worn condition, usually thin and nearly featureless, but without the heavy encrustation and pitting that characterize Caribbean finds.
Merestein (or Meeresteijn), sunk in 1702 off South Africa
This Dutch East Indiaman was outbound when she tried to put into Saldanha Bay to alleviate rampant scurvy on board the ship. On April 3, 1702, she hit reefs on the southwest point of Jutten Island and within hours was smashed to pieces. Only 99 of the 200 people aboard the Merestein survived.
On board the Merestein were several chests of silver coins for trade in the East Indies, for which immediate salvage plans were undertaken. But Jutten Island is no easy dive, and all attempts were abandoned until modern times.
The wreck was re-found and salvaged in the early 1970s, yielding almost exclusively Dutch silver ducatoons from the 1600s. The number of coins found in the 1970s was around 15,000 and is believed to be nowhere near all of the treasure that was lost.
1715 Fleet, east coast of Florida
The Spanish 1715-Fleet disaster was probably the greatest to befall any of the Spanish treasure fleets in terms of casualties and money, with reports of a loss of 14 million pesos (plus an equal or greater amount in contraband) and as many as 1,000 or more lives. The modern salvage of this fleet, begun in the early 1960s and ongoing today, has been the largest single source of gold cobs ever in the numismatic market, turning former rarities and unknown issues into collectible and popular (albeit still expensive) commodities.
In typical fashion, the 1715 Fleet was a case of overloaded Spanish galleons foundering in a hurricane after delayed departure, but on a larger scale than anything before. The principal elements of the fleet, known as the Nueva España (New Spain, i.e., Mexico) Fleet, had gone to Veracruz in Mexico to deliver mercury (an essential substance in the refining of silver cobs), sell merchandise, and pick up quantities of Mexican-minted bars and cobs. An unfortunate series of complications kept the fleet in Veracruz for two whole years before it could rendezvous in Havana with the vessels of the Tierra Firme (Mainland) Fleet, bearing the Peruvian and Colombian treasure brought from Panama and Cartagena. After still more delays in Havana, what was ultimately a twelve- or thirteen-ship convoy (depending on which account you prefer) did not manage to depart for Spain until July 24, 1715, well into hurricane season.
The trip back to Spain was to be the routine one: up the coast of Florida on the Gulf Stream, which gradually turns outward into and across the Atlantic at about the location where the fleet was lost. On the 30th of July, the fleet encountered a hurricane, driving the ships shoreward. Some of the ships sank in deep water, some broke up in shallower water, and others ran aground close to the beach, while a lone vessel, the tag-along French ship Grifón, sailed onward without incident. Hundreds of the crews and passengers lost their lives while other hundreds of survivors improvised a camp on shore to await aid from the Spanish fort at St. Augustine, to which a party was sent. Ultimately news of the disaster reached Havana, whence salvage ships were dispatched to the scene.
The Spaniards undertook salvage operations for several years, with the help of Indians, and they recovered nearly half of the vast treasure (at least the registered part), from the holds of ships whose remains rested in water sufficiently shallow for breath-holding divers. Gradually the salvagers enlarged their encampment and built a storehouse on the spit of dune land just behind the beach that bordered a jungle. In 1716 a flotilla of British freebooters under Henry Jennings appeared on the scene, raided the storehouse, and carried off some 350,000 pesos of the treasure to Jamaica. The Spaniards, however, resumed operations until they could salvage no more and quit in 1719. The rest of the treasure remained on the ocean floor until our time.
Modern salvage on the 1715 Fleet began in the late 1950s, when local resident Kip Wagner found a piece of eight on the beach after a hurricane and decided to pursue the source. With the help of a 1774 chart and an army-surplus metal detector, he located the original Spanish salvage camp and unearthed coins and artifacts. Then using a rented airplane to spot the underwater wrecksite from the air and check the location again by boat, Kip found the source of the coins and soon formed a team of divers and associates backed by a salvage permit from the State of Florida. All of this took place over a period of years before it evolved into the Real Eight Company, the origin of whose name is obvious.
To salvage the wreck, the Real Eight divers originally used a dredge and suction apparatus; only later did they adopt the use of a propwash-blower (known as a “mailbox”) developed by their subcontractor Mel Fisher. Eventually they found gold jewels, Chinese porcelain, silverware, gold and silver ingots, and as many as 10,000 gold cobs of the Mexico, Peru, and Colombia mints; and, mostly in encrusted clusters, well over 100,000 silver cobs of all denominations.
The salvaged coins were all cobs, both gold (Mexico, Bogotá, Lima, and Cuzco) and silver (mostly Mexico but also some Lima and Potosi), minted primarily between 1711 and 1715, although numerous earlier dates were represented too, some of the dates extending well back into the 1600s. Many of the dates and types of the 1700-1715 period had been either rare or unknown prior to the salvage of the 1715 Fleet. The gold coins, as can be expected, have been generally pristine, as have been some of the silver coins, but most silver cobs from the 1715 Fleet are at least somewhat corroded, some no more than thin, featureless slivers. Every denomination of cob made in silver and gold, with the exception of the quarter real (which was not minted past the very early 1600s), has been found on the 1715 Fleet, as well as several different denominations of round “Royal” presentation issues. Promotions of the coins by Real Eight and others have spanned the decades, in addition to auctions by Henry Christensen (1964); Parke-Bernet Galleries (1967) and Sotheby Parke Bernet (1973); the Schulman Coin and Mint (1972 and 1974); Bowers and Ruddy Galleries (1977); and even the U.S. Customs Service (2003). The demand for these coins over the years has steadily risen while the supply of new finds has dwindled.
As the salvage operation on the 1715 Fleet reached diminishing returns, some of the associates like Mel Fisher headed for Key West and other areas to search for new wrecks. Do not believe, however, that the 1715-Fleet search is over. As many as five or six of the twelve or thirteen galleons remain undiscovered, search areas are still leased from the state, and even the old wreck sites continue to relinquish a few coins to an insatiable numismatic market. Even the beaches themselves yield fabulous finds (one gold “Royal” 8 escudos—a six-figure bonanza in our day—was found on the beach by a metal detectorist in 1989), especially after direct-hit hurricanes like Frances and Jeanne, which devastated the treasure beaches in rapid succession in the summer of 2004. Much of the finds stays in the hands of locals throughout the State of Florida—divers, beachcombers, and old-time collectors who love their cobs and sell only when they must. The one collector that never sells is also the one with the largest collection of them all—the museum of the State of Florida. Spain lost it all to America, whence it came.
Despite a wealth of publications pertaining to the 1715 Fleet with names of the ships and the known locations of some of the wrecks, there is no universal agreement as to the identity of the vessel at each wrecksite. In many cases, in fact, it is possible that separate wrecksites represent different parts of the same ship. As a result, salvagers over the decades have resorted to nicknames for the sites based on landmarks, local individuals, and even features from the wrecks themselves, such as (from north to south): “Pines” (Sebastian), “Cabin” (Wabasso), “Cannon” (Wabasso), “Corrigan’s” (Vero Beach), “Rio Mar” (Vero Beach), “Sandy Point” (Vero Beach), “Wedge” (Fort Pierce), and “Colored Beach” (Fort Pierce). (Case in point: In this very catalog you will see items alternately certified as from the “Corrigans site” and the “Regla site,” which are one and the same.) Traditionally the range of sites extends from south of Fort Pierce up to just south of Melbourne in the north, but rumors of 1715-Fleet finds as far north as Cape Canaveral, New Smyrna Beach and even Fernandina Beach (near Jacksonville) may have merit. Regardless of the exact site of origin, a great majority of the coins are sold simply as “1715 Fleet.”
Guadalupe-Tolosa, sunk in 1724 in Samaná Bay, Dominican Republic
Inbound from Spain and often referred to as the “quicksilver galleons,” these two ships were carrying a cargo of 400 tons of mercury, a critical element in the silver- and gold-refining process in Mexico, where these ships were headed. In late August the ships were blown by a hurricane into Samaná Bay on the northeast coast of what is now the Dominican Republic and wrecked there in relatively close proximity to each other (about 7½ miles), which is why their names are intermingled today. More than 500 people died in the tragedy. The wrecks were discovered and salvaged in the late 1970s and yielded many earthenware olive jars and other artifacts in addition to the mercury. In 2005 it became known that the 1970s salvage also turned up a small group of gold coins (including 13 cobs from the mints of Bogotá, Cuzco, Lima and Mexico), which were auctioned that same year.
1733 Fleet, Florida Keys
Much like the 1715-Fleet disaster above, the 1733 Fleet was another entire Spanish convoy (except for one ship) lost in a hurricane off Florida. The lesser severity of the 1733 hurricane (which struck the fleet on July 15) and the shallowness of the wrecksites in the Keys, however, made for many survivors and even left four ships in good enough condition to be re-floated and sent back to Havana. A very successful salvage effort by the Spanish soon commenced, bringing up even more than the 12 million pesos of precious cargo on the Fleet’s manifest (thanks to the usual contraband).
The wrecks themselves are spread across 80 miles, from north of Key Largo down to south of Duck Key, and include the following galleons (but note there is not universal agreement as to which wrecksite pertains to each galleon, and also note that each name is a contemporaneous abbreviation or nickname): El Pópulo, El Infante, San José, El Rubí(the capitana, or lead vessel of the fleet), Chávez, Herrera, Tres Puentes, San Pedro, El Terri (also spelled Lerri orHerri), San Francisco, El Gallo Indiano (the almiranta, or rear guard of the fleet), Las Angustias, El Sueco de Arizón,San Fernando, and San Ignacio. This last ship, San Ignacio, is believed to be the source of many silver coins (and even some gold coins) found in a reef area off Deer Key known as “Coffins Patch,” the southwesternmost of all the 1733-Fleet wrecksites. In addition, many other related sites are known, mostly the wrecks of tag-along ships that accompanied the fleet proper.
The first and arguably most famous of the wrecks of the 1733 Fleet to be located in modern times was the Capitana El Rubí, which was discovered in 1948 and salvaged principally in the 1950s by Art McKee, whose Sunken Treasure Museum on Plantation Key housed his finds for all to see. Throughout the next several decades, however, the wrecksites in the Keys became a virtual free-for-all, with many disputes and confrontations, until the government created the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1990. The removal of artifacts from any of the sites is prohibited today.
In contrast to the 1715 Fleet, and because of the extensive Spanish salvage in the 1730s, the finds by modern divers have been modest, especially in gold coins, of which there are far more fakes on the market than genuine specimens! Nevertheless, the 1733 Fleet has been a significant source for some of the rare Mexican milled “pillar dollars” of 1732-1733 as well as the transitional “klippe”-type coins of 1733.
Vliegenthart (or tVliegent Hart), sunk in 1735 off Zeeland, the Netherlands
The East Indiaman Vliegenthart (“Flying Hart” in Dutch) had just departed Rammekens for the East Indies when the deadly combination of a northeast gale, a spring tide and pilot error sent her into a sand bank behind her sister-shipAnna Catharina. The latter ship broke apart in the storm while the Vliegenthart, damaged and firing her cannons in distress, slipped off the bank and sank in 10 fathoms of water. All hands on both ships were lost.
Contemporaneous salvage under contract with the Dutch East India Company was unsuccessful, but it did provide a piece of evidence—a secret map—that did not emerge from obscurity until 1977. Stemming from that, divers under the former London attorney Rex Cowan discovered the wreck in 1981, and in 1983 they found their first coins, one of three chests of Mexican silver and Dutch gold coins (totaling 67,000 guilders or dollar-sized units) for the East India trade aboard the Vliegenthart. The second chest was smashed on the seabed and its contents partially salvaged, while the third chest, intact like the first, came up in 1992. The divers also recovered several smaller boxes of large Dutch silver coins known as “ducatoons,” illegally exported and therefore contraband. Among the silver coins found were thousands of Mexican cobs, predominantly 8 reales, many with clear dates in the early 1730s and in excellent condition.
Rooswijk, sunk in 1739 off southeast England
Off the southeastern tip of England, just north of the Straits of Dover, the sea hides a most unusual feature known as the Goodwin Sands, where sandbanks appear and disappear unpredictably and move with the tides. Many ships over the centuries have sunk here and silted over, and occasionally one of the wrecks will surface and be discovered. Such is the case with the Rooswijk, a Dutch East Indiaman that foundered on the Goodwin Sands in a storm on December 19, 1739, with all hands and 30 chests of treasure, virtually gone without a trace.
By chance in December, 2004, the sands that had swallowed the wreck of the Rooswijk parted and allowed diver Ken Welling to retrieve two complete chests and hundreds of silver bars. Operating in secrecy, salvage continued in 2005 under the direction of Rex Cowan and in agreement with the Dutch and British governments and is ongoing today. So far, several hundred Mexican silver cobs of the 1720s and early 1730s and transitional “klippes” of 1733-1734, as well as many more hundreds of “pillar dollars” and a smattering of cobs from other mints, have hit the market from this wreck, mostly through auction.
Princess Louisa, sunk in 1743 off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
Laden with 20 chests (69,760 ounces) of Spanish silver, the East Indiaman Princess Louisa fell victim to surprise currents and inaccurate charts and struck a reef and sank off Isla de Maio in the early morning hours of April 18. 42 of the 116 people aboard floated to safety on the nearby island, but nothing on the ship could be saved. Contemporaneous salvage never came to fruition.
In 1998 and 1999 the wrecksite was located and salvaged by the Arqueonautas firm, whose finds from this wreck have been largely marketed by a Houston coin and jewelry dealer ever since, but some coins were also sold at auction in 2000-2001. Most of the coins were New World silver cobs from all the mints that were operating in the early 1700s (including rare Bogotá cobs), predominantly minors (smaller than 8 reales), in average condition, with quite a few preserved in as-found multiple-coin clusters.
Hollandia, sunk in 1743 off the Scilly Isles, southwest of England
Blown off course on her way to the East Indies, the Hollandia struck Gunner Rock and sank in about 110 feet of water about 1½ miles east of it on July 13, 1743. There were no survivors.
The first sign of the wreck came in 1971, when divers under Rex Cowan located the wrecksite and within a couple years salvaged over 35,000 silver coins among the nearly 130,000 guilders (dollar-sized units) recorded to be on board the Hollandia. A great majority of the coins were Mexican “pillar dollars,” but there were also some silver cobs, including the scarce Mexican transitional “klippes” of 1733-1734 and a few Guatemala cobs, in mixed condition.
Reijgersdaal, sunk in 1747 off South Africa
More popularly known in the U.S. as Reygersdahl, this typical East Indiaman was carrying eight chests of silver coins (nearly 30,000 coins) when she sank on October 25, 1747, between Robben and Dassen Islands. After four-and-a-half months at sea, the crew had anchored there to fetch rock rabbits (“dassies,” for which Dassen Island was named) and other fresh food to relieve massive illness on board the ship, on which some 125 had died and 83 were incapacitated out of 297 people; but in the face of a gale, the anchor-line snapped and the ship foundered on the rocks. Only 20 survived the sinking, and only one incomplete chest of coins was recovered. The area was deemed too dangerous to attempt contemporaneous salvage.
Beginning in 1979, modern salvage-divers on the wrecksite recovered thousands of coins (as many as 15,000 by the early 1980s, when protective legislation was enacted in South Africa), mostly in near pristine condition, which have been sold in various auctions and private offerings ever since. A great majority of the coins from this wreck are Mexican pillar dollars (in excellent condition), but it also yielded a few hundred New World silver cobs, including Guatemala cobs, which are rarely seen from shipwrecks.
Nuestra Señora de la Luz, sunk in 1752 off Montevideo, Uruguay
Like the Capitana (1654) and 1733 Fleet, this wreck is a case for modern salvage of Spanish wrecks where all or most of the registered cargo was found in its own time, for contraband was always a factor and was generally abandoned if the ship did not make its destination. The Luz left Buenos Aires in the summer of 1752 with a load of money bound for Spain, and had just stopped in Montevideo for provisioning when a strong storm swept her into the coastline, spreading wreckage over a wide area and killing all on board. While over 90% of the treasure on board was recovered soon afterward, the powder-hold was never found, and as it turns out, that is where some 200,000 pesos (according to later reports) of contraband had been stored.
In April of 1992, divers working under Rubén Collado began to recover gold coins on a wrecksite in the Río de la Plata, and soon it became clear the wreck in question had to be from 1751 or 1752, as none of the coins was dated later than 1751. The finds, which were split with the Uruguayan government and then sold at auction in New York and Montevideo, consisted of mostly milled (bust-type) 8 escudos from the new mint at Santiago, Chile. Also in these auctions were 95 gold cobs and 353 silver cobs, the former mostly Lima 8 and 4 escudos (but also some Bogotá 2 escudos), and the latter mostly 8 and 4 reales from Potosí (with several more gold and silver cob sold privately). The gold, of course, is pristine, but the silver coins all show at least moderate corrosion.
Bredenhof, sunk in 1753 off Mozambique
The Bredenhof was a Dutch East Indiaman headed to India with 14 barrels of copper “duits” (penny-like coins), 29 chests of silver bars, and one chest of gold ducats. On June 6, 1753, about 13 miles from the eastern coast of Africa and 120 miles south of the Portuguese settlement of Mozambique, the Bredenhof found herself in difficult currents and struck a reef. Amazingly, among the first items jettisoned to try to raise the ship off the reef were some of the chests of silver bars! The gold was taken by the ship’s officers, some of whom survived the trip to Mozambique, but the silver bars and copper coins were lost until modern times, despite salvage attempts in the 1750s.
In 1986, divers found the wreck, which yielded hundreds of silver ingots and thousands of copper coins, all sold at auction by Christie’s Amsterdam that same year.
“Cape Haitien wreck,” sunk ca. 1750-1760 off Haiti
Nothing is known so far about this mysterious wreck located at the entrance of the bay of Cape Haitien on the north coast of Haiti. All we know is that it was a large sailing vessel, almost certainly French, sunk between 1750 and 1760.
Nuestra Señora del Rosario, sunk in 1753 off Montevideo, Uruguay
The Rosario was reportedly carrying over 800,000 pesos of treasure on her way to Buenos Aires when she sank close to shore at the mouth of the Río de la Plata on June 30, 1753. All hands were saved, but the fate of the cargo is unknown. Recent finds of utilitarian items like spoons and buckles have trickled onto the market, but no high-value treasure so far.
Auguste, sunk in 1761 off Nova Scotia, Canada
After the end of the Seven Years’ War between England and France in 1759, French officers and aristocrats in Canada were sent from Quebec back to France in ships such as the Auguste. In stormy conditions and damaged by fire, the Auguste struck a sand bar on November 15 and subsequently sank in Aspy Bay off Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Only 7 of the 121 on board survived, and the wealth of the passengers was lost until our time. To date, well over a thousand coins of various nationalities have been found, along with many important artifacts.
Dromadaire, sunk in 1762 off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
Le Dromadaire belonged to the French East India Company and was built in Nantes in 1758. Under the command of Captain Joseph Le Houx, she departed from the Port of Lorient in the company of Le Berryer and Le Massiac on February 6th 1762, with a total of 154 people on board. She was a ship of 520 tons, carrying 20 guns, 1000 cannon balls and a chest of silver.
Due to a political rupture between Spain and Britain, Le Dromadaire was asked to take a different course than normal in order to avoid possible interceptions. After passing the Tropic of Cancer captain Le Houx changed Le Dromadaire’s course to pass to the west of the Cape Verde Islands, separating from Le Massiac, which stayed on her original course. Due to bad weather conditions the two ships soon lost sight of each other. As the weather worsened, navigational instruments were of no use and the ship’s position was based on estimates. Even though night watches and lookout duties were intensified, by the morning of February 19th Le Dromadaire was so close to land that the breakers could be heard. As panic spread among the crew, orders were not followed and maneuvers to save Le Dromadaire could not be executed. Within 7 minutes she was carried against the dangerous reef off the Island of São Vicente by the violent currents and broke into two. A Dutch ship nearby was able to save 77 people. Le Dromadaire wreck site was found on the 22nd of January of 1996 during a survey of San Vicente Island. The salvors counted 19 cannons and recovered a semi precious stone that has clearly been cut from a ring, copper sheathing and a gold coin dated 1760.
Colebrooke, sunk in 1778 off South Africa
The Colebrooke was an English East Indiaman on her way to Bombay when she hit a reef known today as Anvil Rock and sank in Kogel Bay near Cape Town on August 24, 1778. Seven people drowned and none of the trading cargo was saved. The wreck was discovered in 1984 and salvaged in the 1980s and 1990s.
Scipion, sunk in 1782 in Samaná Bay, Dominican Republic
A valiant fighter against the English in the American Revolutionary War, the French ship Scipion was engaged in battle when she inadvertently maneuvered onto a reef and sank in thirty feet of water on October 18, 1782. Discovered in our time by Tracy Bowden, the Scipion site is still being salvaged for its important artifacts.
El Cazador, sunk in 1784 off New Orleans, Louisiana
The Cazador was a Spanish brig of war headed from Vera Cruz, Mexico, to New Orleans under the direction of Captain Gabriel de Campos y Piñeda. Her cargo of some 450,000 pesos of newly minted silver coins was meant to stabilize the fragile economy in the Spanish possession of Louisiana, which had suffered from the use of French paper currency. The fact that the coins never arrived probably hastened the decision to cede the colony to Napoleon in 1800, soon after which Louisiana was sold to the fledgling United States of America for $15 million.
Nobody knows how the Cazador was lost, and no evidence of the ship was found until 1993, when a fishing crew led by Captain Jerry Murphy snagged their net on something about 50 miles south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico. When the net was brought up, it spilled out hundreds of silver coins onto the deck of Jerry’s boat, aptly namedMistake. Shortly thereafter, the fishermen obtained the rights to the find and began recoveries under the name of Grumpy Inc.
Hartwell, sunk in 1787 off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
Launched amid much celebration, the Hartwell began its maiden voyage to China in February of 1787. It set out with an immensely rich cargo, which included 209,280 oz of fine silver. According to the ship’s owner, John Fiott, the Hartwell was the biggest ship of its kind in the service of the British East India Company. John Fiott’s brother was the captain and other family members were shareholders. The Hartwell soon ran into trouble. Gales put the ship behind schedule and, on May 20, a mutiny broke out. The cause of the rebellion was a refusal to extinguish lights. A survivor later reported that “knives were drawn, abusive language used and, after a struggle, three men were secured and clapped in irons.” Disorders continued to spread and before long 50 crewmembers were defying all orders from the officers. After three days the mutiny collapsed and the captain changed course for the Cape Verde Islands, his intention being to hand over the mutineers to the Governor. After three sleepless nights because of disturbances, the ship’s officers accidentally ran the ship onto a reef northeast of the Island of Boa Vista, in the Cape Verde islands off West Africa. It broke up quickly and although all the crew was saved, the entire cargo was lost. The site of the Hartwell wreck off Boavista Island was made known to Arqueonautas by the Capeverdian Government in 1996 and was subsequently surveyed and partly excavated during the following operational seasons. Earlier salvage attempts by the English East India Company, who employed the Braithwaite brothers, took place between 1788 and 1791, and 97,650 silver dollars were reportedly recovered. Furthermore, over 40,000 coins were salvaged by pirate divers during Braithwaite’s periodic absence from the site. Despite this early salvage success a large quantity of dollars remained near the wreck and from 1994 to 1996 the South African company Afrimar recovered further coins and artifacts before Arqueonautas was asked to survey the site. The large debris field left behind by Afrimar was first analysed in 1997 with the help of a magnetometer survey, to allow for a structured documentation and recovery of the remaining artefacts during the 1998 and 1999 seasons. It was clear that there was no defined debris field that could be related to the deposition of the wreck and its breakup in the 18th century. However, during the following two seasons the locations and context of all finds were recorded. It seems clear that before the 20th century intrusions clusters of concretion might have yielded evidence of cargo-stowage and domestic and personal equipment used on board.
Piedmont (“Lyme Bay wreck”), sunk in 1795 in Lyme Bay, south of England
One of a huge fleet of 300 ships on their way to the West Indies to suppress a French uprising, the Piedmont was forced into Lyme Bay during a hurricane on November 18, 1795, that scattered and sank the ships of the fleet all along the Dorset coast. The Piedmont and five other ships (Aeolus, Catherine, Golden Grove, Thomas and Venus) broke apart on Chesil Beach and came to be known collectively as the “Lyme Bay wrecks.” An estimated 1,000 men lost their lives in the disaster, including well over a hundred from the Piedmont alone.
In the early 1980s, the wrecks were salvaged by divers Selwyn Williams and Les and Julia C. Kent, who discovered many silver cobs of the late 1600s on the wrecksite of the Piedmont. It is presumed that the coins had been captured or recovered from a 17th-century wreck and stored in the vaults of the Bank of England for about a century before being transported and subsequently lost again. These coins are usually recognizable by their uniformly dark-gray coloration, a bit sea-worn but not overly corroded. A significant group of extremely rare Colombian silver cobs from the Piedmont (but not identified as such) was offered at auction in 1995.
Leocadia, sunk in 1800 off Punta Santa Elena, Ecuador
This wreck, salvaged periodically in the late 20th century, typically yielded portrait (bust) 8 reales from Lima, Peru, but more recent work in 2001 brought up a handful of small silver cobs of the mid- to late 1700s mostly from the Potosí mint. These were probably from a small, private purse and not part of the more than 2 million pesos of registered silver and gold cargo aboard the Leocadia when she departed Paita, Peru, bound for Panama in a convoy of merchant vessels. On November 16, 1800, the Leocadia struck a shoal and broke apart 100 yards from the beach at Punta Santa Elena, with a loss of over 140 lives in the disaster. Within the next year the Spanish salvaged about 90% of the registered treasure, leaving more than 200,000 pesos (not to mention the expected contraband) behind to tempt divers in our time. Judging from the paucity of coins from this ship on the open market, it is reasonable to assume that many more are still to be found.
Lady Burgess, sunk in 1806 off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
The Lady Burgess belonged to the English East India Company and set sail for India at beginning of April, 1806. She weighed 820 tons, carried 30 guns and a crew of 100 men. In the early hours of the 20th of April 1806 the Lady Burgess found itself in shallow water off the Cape Verde Islands and could not escape the breakers.
There is no indication in the Commerce Journal of the East India Company that the Lady Burgess was carrying bullion. Her cargo consisted of iron, lead and general merchandise. So far there is also no knowledge of any earlier salvage attempts for the Lady Burgess.
A pile of lead bars and several rudder pintles and gudgeons surrounding it were the first spotted objects that clearly defined the site a shipwreck. After a more careful inspection, four concreted areas of iron bars and scattered iron blocks were located. Later, another section of the wreck was located consisting of several cannons and anchors.
Admiral Gardner, sunk in 1809 off the southeast coast of England
Along with her sister-ship Britannia, the English East Indiaman Admiral Gardner was outbound with an immense cargo (48 tons!) of copper coins for circulation in India when both ships sank in a storm on the Goodwin Sands on January 24, 1809. Ten lives were lost, as was all the cargo. The coins were recovered in modern times, literally a million of them packed in wax inside wooden barrels.
“Coconut wreck,” sunk ca. 1810 in deep water off Bermuda
This fascinating find has been touted as the deepest treasure wreck ever found, and it should hold that title for a long time! While searching in 1999 for Gus Grissom’s space capsule Liberty Bell 7 (lost in a test at sea, in which Grissom nearly died) from the Mercury program of 1961, underwater explorer Curt Newport (supported by the Discovery Channel) noticed an unidentified anomaly at a depth of 16,300 feet—not the space capsule (which was eventually found and recovered), but something interesting to be investigated later. That day came in 2001 when Michael McDowell used a pair of Russian submarines to view the wreck, whereupon they discovered the remains of a wooden trading vessel loaded with coconuts! A chest filled with more than 1300 silver coins was soon recovered, along with a small, ornate gold box containing 13 gold coins wrapped in a newspaper dated August 6, 1809. These gold coins were sold at auction in 2008 by Stack’s in New York, who dubbed this the “Coconut wreck,” despite its earlier names (given by divers and promoters) of “Piña Colada wreck” and “Atlantic Target Expedition wreck”.
Our Treasure Auction #3 marks the first time the silver coins from this wreck have ever been offered at auction. Each coin is accompanied by a numbered photo-certificate from archeologist James Sinclair and has been given a Grade (1 to 4, 1 being the best) to reflect the coin’s state of preservation.
“1810 wreck,” sunk off Ft. Pierce, Florida
A hurricane in 1810 sank several ships along the east coast of Florida, particularly in the vicinity of Ft. Pierce. Several ship names have been proposed for the site in question here including a Roberts, not to be confused with a ship of similar name (without the s) sunk off Vero Beach 11 years later.
Robert, sunk in 1821 off Vero Beach, Florida
Very little is documented about this vessel sunk in 1821 in the same area as the 1618 San Martín and a 1715 site known as “Cannon wreck,” with the 1715 “Corrigans wreck” and 1824 Spring of Whitby sites nearby as well, all within view of Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, where artifacts from these wrecks are on display in their oceanview lounge.
Spring of Whitby, sunk in 1824 off Wabasso, Florida
This wreck has been and probably will always be shrouded in mystery, as we have definite proof of her sinking near Vero Beach (the evidence being a bronze bell with her name and 1801 date of manufacture recovered in 1965), yet admiralty records show she plied the Baltic trade in the extreme northern Atlantic at least until 1826! The material from the wrecksite, on the other hand, being Spanish silver bust-type coins, indicates a date of sinking of 1824. Could piracy have been involved?
Britannia, sunk in 1826 off South Africa
On an outbound run to India, the 460-ton Britannia hit an uncharted reef (now known as Britannia reef) and sank on October 22, 1826, in a part of St. Helena Bay that is now known (appropriately enough) as Britannia Bay. The site was found and salvaged in 1997-1998, its artifacts remarkably well preserved by sand burial, some of its bottles still containing their original liquids and foodstuffs.
Thetis, sunk in 1830 off Cabo Frio, Brazil
The English Navy vessel H.M.S. Thetis was on a trading trip, returning from Rio de Janeiro with 800,000 dollars on board, when her bowsprit struck a cliff off Cabo Frio and she was dismasted, after which she drifted along the coast and finally foundered in a small cove. All hands were rescued, and three-quarters of the treasure was soon salvaged, followed by another nearly 150,000 coins by the summer of 1832. What little remained was recovered in modern times.
Duoro, sunk in 1843 off the Scilly Isles, southwest of England
A schooner plying the illegal slave trade from Africa to the West Indies, the Duoro sank under unspecified conditions with a large cargo of bronze bracelets, known as “manillas,” which were meant to be traded for human lives in Africa, but are now inexpensive collectibles today.
“Rombos wreck,” sunk in the early 1800s off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
The “Rombos Wreck” is an unidentified 19th century trader that sank off the Cape Verde Islands. No historical information has been located about this ship.ons. The Arqueonautas team found the wreck site in February of 2001 and named the site “Rombos Wreck”. In September of the same year a survey was performed, locating a cargo of tin ingots, cutlery, and wine bottles, as well as two cannons, two anchors and a pile of ballast iron bars.
“Cognac wreck,” sunk ca. 1830-1850 off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
Arqueonautas located this French or British trader in October of 1999 during a survey around the area of Pta. Lobos where local fishermen reported some wrecks. The wreck is near Punta Bomba, east coast of Santiago Island, lying on the reef shoal, beside a deep channel that goes inside a little bay. The only heavy objects from the wreck located on the first inspection were an anchor and an iron box, both sitting on the surface of the seabed. Working on a large scattering area, the divers recovered some glass objects (small bottles and stoppers) for identification purposes. The more interesting objects found were two intact bottles of French cognac and one intact stoneware bottle of whisky. Also found was an iron box full of slates. The slates were only the superficial layer, because under them was a layer of firebricks. The team also found and iron concretion with needles and pewter spoons (which were recovered). There were also small cannon balls. What was particularly curious about this wreck was the absence of other big heavy objects such as cannons or more anchors, but the kind of sediment of the place made it possible that these objects were buried deep down. Another possibility is that they were salvaged earlier.
Santo Andre, sunk in 1856 off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa
The Santo Andre was a Spanish “Galera” with a cargo of bottles and coins. It sank on the 25th of July, 1856, off the Island of Boavista in the Cape Verde Islands.
S.S. Central America, sunk in 1857 in deep water off North Carolina
Sunk in a hurricane on September 12, 1857, the mail steamer Central America took with her more than 400 lives and over three tons of gold. The wreck lay undisturbed until 1986, when Tommy Thompson and his Columbus-America Discovery Group located the ship in 8500 feet of water. After 10 years of legal struggles, the salvagers were awarded about 92% of the treasure, with most of the rest going to insurance companies who had paid the claim when the ship sank. Widely touted as the greatest treasure ever found, the gold from the Central America has been very heavily promoted and cleverly marketed.
S.S. Republic, sunk in 1865 in deep water off Savannah, Georgia
Originally christened the Tennessee (which is how she was identified in our time), the sidewheel steamer Republicwas carrying some $400,000 in specie from New York to New Orleans when she sank in a hurricane about 100 miles offshore on October 25, 1865. One of many deep targets located by the salvage company Odyssey, the site of the Republic was salvaged by submersible craft beginning in 2003. In addition to gold and silver coins of the Civil War-era United States, Odyssey found the ship’s bell with part of the name Tennessee, confirming the ship’s identity and launching a massive, ongoing promotional campaign for coins and artifacts from the wreck.
Douro, sunk in 1882 in deep water off Cape Finisterre, Spain
The British Royal Mail Steamer Douro was en route to England from Portugal when she collided with the Spanish steamship Yrurac Bat and sank in the early morning hours of April 2, 1882, in deep water off the northwest coast of Spain. All but six people on board survived, but the ship and its cargo of tens of thousands of gold coins were a total loss. The wreck was found and salvaged in 1995 by Sverker Hallstrom and Nigel Pickford using a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) at a depth of 1500 feet. The cargo of gold coins, mostly British sovereigns was sold at auction by Spink (London) in 1996.
Elingamite, sunk in 1902 off New Zealand
A casualty of heavy fog, the steamer Elingamite was traveling from Sydney (Australia) to Auckland (New Zealand) when she struck West Island of the “Three Kings Islands” off the northern tip of New Zealand and sank in 150 feet of water on November 9, 1902. Forty-five lives were lost in all. Nearly a quarter of the precious silver cargo on board the Elingamite was salvaged in her own time, leaving most of it for divers to find in the mid- to late 1960s.
Egypt, sunk in 1922 off Ushant, France
In May of 1922, the Egypt encountered thick fog off the northwest coast of France and was accidentally rammed by another ship, the French cargo steamer Seine, sinking the British ship within twenty minutes. The Egypt was carrying some 15 tons of silver and gold bullion in addition to British gold sovereigns totaling £1,054,000 (1922 values). Nothing was salvaged until the early 1930s, when an Italian company recovered an estimated 95% of the treasure from the ship’s depth of 420 feet, an amazing success for its time.