World Coins

Numismatist seeks identity of circa 1807 shipwreck in Cuban waters

Numismatist Ricardo Lopez has been conducting research to positively identify a circa 1807 shipwreck in the ocean waters surrounding Cuba that yielded roughly 175 silver 8-real coins issued by a handful of Spanish Colonial nations. 

Lopez, who operates Cuba US Coins and Collectibles and is president of the Cuban Numismatic Association, said the coins were located by divers in 20 feet of water.

Lopez said that through a network of dealers and collectors in Cuba, he and a select group of people were able to acquire the recovered coins during several trips to Cuba over the past several years.

“Cuba has very strict policies on taking antiques or cultural items out of the country and if not followed properly, your items can be seized in the airport prior to leaving,” Lopez said. “The correct process when it comes to coins involves a process of presenting the items to the National Numismatic Museum that you wish to take out. There are many types of historical Cuban coins that the museum directors will not allow to leave the county.

“Once the items are presented to the museum directors, they then review the items and determine whether to grant permission and if so, write a letter to the Office of Cultural Export. The items are then presented there for another review.

“If permission is granted, a fee is paid and a receipt of authorization is completed, then the items are sealed and brought to the airport. At the airport, this receipt is presented and all is complete. This process does not come easy, though, as days off and available hours in Cuba are always unknown. Several trips I was turned away because no one was available until another day which was not conducive to my travel plans.”

Lopez says he was able to secure sufficient documentation from Cuban authorities to enable Numismatic Guaranty Corp. to pedigree between 75 and 100 of the coins to the circa 1807 shipwreck with appropriate grading labels.

Lopez said there are also 25 “clumps” of fused coins containing two to four coins each.

The date range for most of the coins is 1791 through 1807, with a few pre-dating 1791, and based on assayer’s marks on each coin, issues are attributed from Mexico, (New) Guatemala, Bolivia, and Peru, with one lone coin dated 1800 attributed to Chile.

Most of the recovered coins, according to Lopez, are products of the Mexico City Mint.

All of the coins bear portraits on the obverse of either King Charles (Carolus) III of Spain or Charles IIII.

All of the coins encapsulated are labeled “Genuine” by NGC because of environmental issues.

“When I ask about the ship name or site location, I have been given two descriptions, one that there is no ship in the area where the coins were found,” Lopez said. “This means either the ship was scattered, or the coins may have been dumped as weight while the ship was sinking. Some coins have the presence of carbon, indicating the possibility of a fire.

“Another bit of information from a diver indicates that the hull of the ship can be seen upside down in the sand at the bottom buried too far into the sand to be able to get any information without professional equipment. Lopez said he has returned to Cuba several times to get additional information about the shipwreck coins and has learned only that no more are available.

“Some have been sold off over the years to tourists or taken to other countries and offered for sale, but do not have any paperwork or certification until now to truly indicate where they originated,” Lopez said. 

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