Recovered 1715 Treasure Fleet gold value pegged at $1 million

The find took place at the site of the historic wreck in shallow waters off Florida coast
By , Coin World
Published : 07/31/15
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More than 50 gold coins and 40 feet of gold chain have been pulled up from the site of the 1715 Treasure Fleet shipwrecks off the coast of Florida.

The items were located by the treasure-hunting Schmitt family on June 17 in 15-foot-deep waters approximately 1,000 feet from the beaches of Fort Pierce, Fla., which is about 30 miles north of West Palm Beach. In all, 51 gold coins were recovered: 17 8-escudo coins, 22 2-escudo coins, and 12 1-escudo coins.

One of the 8-escudo coins is particularly notable. Known as a “Royal,” the gold coin was specifically made for the king of Spain at the time, Phillip V. Brent Brisben, who owns the company that holds the salvage rights to the 1715 Treasure Fleet, Queens Jewels LLC, said the coin would have served as a celebratory piece for the king or another member of the royal family.

A Queens Jewels release states that the Royal is a “perfect specimen of the coinage of the period” and is one of only a handful of Royals that were aboard the ships of the 1715 Treasure Fleet. It is dated 1715, and is being referred to as the “Tricentennial Royal.”

Brisben said that based on past market indicators, the Royal would be valued at approximately $500,000, and the entire haul at more than $1 million. He said that the rest of the 8-escudo coins would likely be valued at between $15,000 and $25,000. He values each 2-centimo piece at between $4,000 and $5,000, and each 1-escudo piece at between $3,000 and $4,000. 

Brisben said it’s the most notable find during the five years his company has held the salvage rights, mainly due to the Royal, calling it “the most amazing find in my tenure.”

The Schmitt family are subcontractors for Queens Jewels. Brisben’s company offers individuals and groups of treasure-hunters the opportunity to search the waters where the 1715 Treasure Fleet wrecked. Once the state of Florida takes the 20 percent of the artifacts it is entitled to, Queens Jewels and the Schmitt family will each take half of the remaining 80 percent of the recovery.

“These finds are important not just for their monetary value, but their historical importance,” Brisben said. “One of our key goals is to help learn from and preserve history, and this week’s finds draw us closer to those truths.” 

The 1715 Treasure Fleet was a group of 12 treasure-carrying Spanish galleons bound from Havana to Spain, where the gold they contained would be used to support the Spanish crown, which was on the brink of bankruptcy, according to Queens Jewels LLC’s website. On July 30, 1715, a hurricane wrecked 11 of the 12 ships off the coast of Florida, as they were heading up the Bahama Channel.

Modern salvage efforts began in the late 1950s, according to Queens Jewels, when building contractor Kip Wagner found a coin on the beach after a hurricane and was curious about how it got there. Wagner then located the original Spanish salvage camp, which led him to the conclusion that the wrecks were likely located near that section of beach.

Well-known treasure hunter Mel Fisher began recovery efforts in 1963 and he or his daughter oversaw recovery operations until 2010, when Queens Jewels obtained rights. 

While much of the treasure was recovered soon after the wrecks, Brisben said he believes that more than $400 million worth of gold remains unrecovered. 

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