World Coins

1713 gold ‘Royal’ from 1715 Plate Fleet wreck in Sedwick auction

This Mexico City 1713-MXO J cob 8-escudos Royal will be offered at auction soon and is expected to bring a six-figure price.

All images courtesy of Daniel Frank Sedwick.

A rare gold Spanish colonial coin, with documented provenance to the famed 1715 Plate Fleet wreck, highlights Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC’s Treasure Auction 28 on Nov. 17.

The 1713-MXO J coin is a Royal gold 8-escudo coin, a coin literally “fit for a king,” that was recovered in 1998 from a sunken Spanish treasure fleet. The coin, only the second known of the year, is graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. as Mint State 66 and is the only example of its date slabbed by any third-party grading company.

The auction firm estimates the coin to realize $300,000 and up.

“This coin is the pinnacle of Spanish colonial numismatics,” said Daniel Sedwick, president and founder of the company. “As a Royal 8 escudos, it is a coin so large, beautiful, and perfect as to be considered among the most desirable gold coins in the world — both then and now. It represents the finest in colonial minting abilities at the time. Plus, when you consider this specimen’s documented discovery on one of the most famous shipwreck sites ever, you realize just how truly special and rare this coin is. We’ve sold hundreds of gold cobs from the 1715 Fleet but this is the first time in 14 years of auctions that we’re offering a 8 escudos Royal.”

From a documented wreck

Ben Costello, president of the 1715 Fleet Society, called the coin a superb specimen with a securely documented provenance to the Corrigan’s wreck site of the 1715 Fleet. The site is named after Hugh Corrigan, described as a beachcomber who began finding coins on beaches near Vero Beach in the 1950s.

“Fleet collectors are delighted by the first time offering of this gorgeous and very rare 1713 8 escudos Royal,” said Costello, in a press release from the firm. “Only two examples are known. This piece is surely among the best, if not the best, of the entire 1711 to 1713 series of cross-with-crosslets Royals.”

The specially struck presentation piece was minted in 1713 at the Mexico City Mint and bears the OXM Mint mark to the left of the shield. Below the Mint mark, the initial J stands for assayer José de León, the mint official responsible for the entire coinage production. The assayer’s mark was added so that if any coins were made of suspect quality, the monarch could punish the one who cheated the crown.

The Royal shield and crown at the center represent King Philip V’s authority over Spain and her colonies. To the right of the shield is a vertical VIII representing the denomination of 8 escudos. The legend reads PHILIPPVS V DEI G 1713 with florets in the spaces between words. The DEI G stands for Dei Gratia, “by the grace of God.”

On the reverse, a framed cross is in the center with stylized fleurs-de-lis in the quadrants. The legend there is HISPANIARVM ET INDIARVM REX (“King of Spain and the Indies”) with florets in the spaces between the words and a smaller cross at the top.

What is a Royal?

What sets a Royal, also known by the Spanish term galano, apart from the regular cob issues is its detailed, careful striking on a specially prepared, round planchet of uniform thickness and weight.

The regular cob coinage was quickly produced in quantity by hammering irregularly shaped planchets. Often, whole portions of the design were weakly struck or missing entirely. This is not the case with Royals.

From start to finish, the production of a Royal was a careful, thoughtful process.

The dies were specially prepared, with design elements accurately punched to maximize detail.

The gold planchet used was of full weight and in a uniform, round shape to fit all of the design. Finally, a mint worker would strike the planchet with the hammer die, exerting uniform, strong pressure — a very difficult task.

Afterward, a gold Royal would be handled separately, not transported in large sacks or casks with regular coins. By intention, very few cob 8-escudo Royals were minted, due to the time and resources it took to make them.

After being struck at the mint, this 8-escudo Royal departed the New World aboard a Spanish galleon in the 1715 Plate Fleet. Its destination was mainland Spain, where it would have been given or awarded to an important Spanish official, a member of the Royal family, or the king of Spain himself may have been an intended recipient.

A fleet filled with treasure

In addition to several other Royals (the 1715 Fleet is the primary source for gold 8-escudo Royals), the ships carried a wealth of treasure: silver and gold coins from the colonial mints, fine jewelry and religious objects, precious gemstones, spices, and Kangxi china from the Manila trade route. Large quantities of contraband, too, were smuggled onto the ships, bypassing the tax that was to be levied to the king.

Much of the official treasure onboard was intended to refill Spain’s coffers. The kingdom’s finances were in disarray following the misrule of King Charles II and the subsequent War of Spanish Succession. Spain was reliant on the annual voyages from the New World to bring wealth to the mainland. The war and its political instability had delayed the fleets, and large quantities of treasure had piled up in Mexico and Colombia. The fleet, carrying enormous amounts of treasure from an entire continent, was needed in Spain soon.

The fleet combined two fleets, the Tierra Firma Fleet, from Cartagena, loaded with Peruvian and Colombian treasures, and the New Spain Fleet, from Mexico, with coins, gemstones, and china. The combined flotilla comprised 11 Spanish vessels, with a single French vessel, the Griffon, tagging along. On July 24, 1715, they departed Havana, Cuba, on a north-northeasterly course to sail along the east coast of Florida before crossing the Atlantic and onwards to Spain.

Having initially left under fine sailing conditions, the fleet soon encountered violent weather and, by July 30, entered the path of a hurricane. In the early hours of July 31, just off Florida’s coast, between what is now Cape Canaveral and Fort Pierce, the 11 Spanish ships were cast upon shoals by the waves and destroyed.

Close to 1,500 sailors and officers were killed. The treasure cargo was scattered across the ocean floor as the ships broke apart. Survivors who made it ashore were spread along the coast for miles. Only the French vessel Griffon made it through the storm and continued on to France, unaware of the Fleet’s complete annihilation.

Survivors, led by Adm. Don Francisco Salmón, set up camp and sent a small party to Cuba to deliver news of the tragedy and launch a rescue mission.

Spanish authorities in Cuba dispatched several ships to supply the survivors and begin salvaging the sunken treasure.

For months, the Spaniards worked the waters off the coast, recovering millions of coins and a good amount of other artifacts. Pirates who learned of the Fleet’s destruction harassed the Spanish salvors and made off with some of the treasure.

By 1718, the Spanish considered their salvage operation a success and departed the area. Even so, significant amounts of treasure remained just off Florida’s shore, buried in the sand and trapped beneath debris. For almost 250 years, the coins and artifacts would remain lost — among them this 1713 Royal 8-escudo coin.

Modern treasure hunt

By the 1960s, advances in diving technology and metal detecting allowed determined seekers the chance to find Spanish colonial coins from the Fleet along the beaches between Melbourne and Stuart (an area now called the Treasure Coast).

Retired building contractor Kip Wagner and the Real Eight Co. organized salvage operations on what eventually became eight known wreck sites of the 1715 Fleet (at least three of the ships have yet to be located). In conjunction with the state of Florida’s lease system, the salvors were able to recover large quantities of shipwreck silver and gold coins in addition to artifacts and jewelry.

This 1713 Royal 8 escudos now being offered was recovered on Aug. 16, 1998, by diver Clyde Kuntz. Kuntz, operating from the salvage vessel Bookmaker captained by Greg Bounds, was diving on the Corrigan’s wreck site just north of Vero Beach.

The site, then leased by the Mel Fisher company, is named for Hugh Corrigan who owned a house on the beach there.

On that day, Kuntz was searching several holes in the ocean floor. Around the third hole, he pulled a gold cob 8-escudo Royal dated 1698 (a coin that, to this day, is unique) from a crack in the hard pan.

He stored it in his face mask to ensure he didn’t lose the valuable find. He returned to the salvage vessel to much elation among the crew for the impressive find.

Upon returning to the water, he searched another hole and located the gold cob 8-
escudo Royal now being offered. This time, he kept the coin in his diving glove so it could not be lost again. The discovery of two cob 8-escudo Royals in one day attracted much attention, and the covers of several salvage publications featured both coins.

According to Treasure Quest magazine’s November-December 1998 issue, after finding the second Royal, “It was time to call Mel Fisher in Key West on Greg’s cellular phone. Mel was in his office and when he heard the news he gleamed. ‘Congratulations! Now go find some more!’ ”

At the time, the pair of Royals was estimated to be worth $150,000, or half as much as the single example is expected to realize, at a minimum, today.

After the finding, this 1713 Royal was documented and tagged in accordance with the state of Florida’s treasure hunting laws.

The state, using a point-based system, receives 20 percent of each year’s finds and first choice among the items recovered. Upon the division, this coin was returned to the salvors for private sale. It spent many years off the market, residing in the numismatic cabinet of numismatist Isaac Rudman.

According to Connor Falk of the Daniel Frank Sedwick firm, “We cannot reveal the identity of the consignor for this coin. It was at one point owned by Isaac Rudman, but that’s all that can be said.”

The coin is “the closest to perfection that Spanish colonial cob coinage could ever achieve,” according to the auction house.

Gold, famously, is not affected by the corrosive salt water that eats away at silver coins typically recovered from shipwreck sites.

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