Large, heavy silver bar from Atocha wreck highlights November auction offerings

Ingot from Spanish Colonial America treasure that went down in 1622 off Key West
By , Coin World
Published : 10/28/16
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The wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha is arguably the most famous shipwreck discovered in modern America, so when items salvaged from the Florida wreck are sold at auction, it’s notable.

Daniel Frank Sedwick’s Nov. 12 and 13 Treasure and World Coin auction No. 20 features a silver bar from the 1622 wreck weighing more than 82 pounds.

The Atocha is today the most famous ship in the 28-vessel convoy, which was headed back to Spain in September 1622 after stopping in ports in what are modern-day Colombia, Panama and Cuba. 

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As reported in the Jan. 7, 2008, issue of Coin World, “Spain had an urgent need for the riches extracted from the New World, since Spain was indebted to international investors. Delays in the arrival of gold and silver would have a catastrophic effect on Spain’s line of credit. Shipments were relied upon. Spain often compensated investors with New World silver, gold and other commodities that weren’t even mined yet. Payments were often extended over several years.”

The silver haul from Spanish colonial America for the 1622 fleet was so large that it took a reported two months to count and load, and the fleet ended up leaving six weeks late, on Sept. 4. The delay would prove fatal, since it ensured that the fleet would sail into the path of a fierce hurricane on Sept. 6, about 35 miles west of Key West.

During the storm, 20 of the ships were sent to the depths of the ocean, between the Dry Tortugas and the Florida Keys. 

Five people survived the wreck of the Atocha and were rescued, but the wreck itself was scattered after another hurricane hit the site one month later.

Efforts to retrieve the treasure began immediately, as Spain sent several vessels to the area, but only half of the treasure from a sister-ship was recovered. 

The treasure of the Atocha would not surface, literally, until starting in 1971, when salvor Mel Fisher brought up the first coins located in the wreckage. Full recovery occurred in 1985, when more than 100,000 silver shield-type “cob” silver coins were found, in all full denominations (1-real sizes and up).

In addition, an estimated 1,000 silver ingots, most the size of bread loaves, were recovered from the Atocha, according to the firm.

The piece highlighting its November auction is from that hoard.

The .9916 fine silver bar weighs 82 troy pounds and 7.36 ounces.

The firm calls it “One of the most beautiful, large Atocha bars we have ever handled,” noting that it ranks among the best known. 

The bar was poured in Potosi, in modern-day Bolivia (the center of silver mining in Spanish Colonial lands), and is dated 1622, the year of the wreck. 

The bar measures 14 inches long, 5 inches tall and 3.5 inches wide.

The manifest number (747) is boldly displayed in Roman numerals, as are the fineness marks and three circular tax stamps of Philip IV, two of which are nearly full. The silvermaster mark is clear, and the bold ownership and shipper marks are visible, according to the firm.

In the center is the typical double-scoop assayer’s “bite.” 

“With minimal surface corrosion all over, and traces of black charcoal in crevices on the sides, this is also one of the heavier bars around,” according to the Sedwick firm.

The bar is accompanied by the rare complete manifest report (which was available but not widely distributed to original purchasers when the bars were first sold).

To affirm its authenticity, the silver bar is accompanied by the original Fisher photo-certificate, serial No. 85A-S451.

The ingot has an estimate of $30,000 to $60,000. 

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