The ongoing allure of shipwreck treasure

If there is any coin-related topic that is more romantic, and that has been romanticized more, than shipwreck treasure, we don’t know what is. The ongoing allure of coins and other artifacts recovered from famous shipwrecks continues, based on recent auction results.

Here's the full transcript:

Florida treasure hunter Mel Fisher shouldn’t have made the discovery of a lifetime.

After all, he was just a middle-aged man chasing a childhood dream, hunting for ghosts on the ocean floor,

Instead of a real job, he spent his days sifting sand and scoping the sea bed, looking for something that hadn’t been seen since a few years after those Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

It would take a miracle to find what Fisher was looking for, but then life sometimes has a way of writing a script that even Hollywood can’t fathom.

The odds were against him –

how could he find what the shifting sands had covered as the days became weeks,

became months,

became years,

became decades,

became centuries?

In 1971, his persistence paid off, when he and his divers found the first piece of a puzzle that would take many more years to come together.

And just like any good Hollywood script, this story, HIS story, is full of challenges.

As debt and doubt mounted, and tragedy visited the Fisher family, the search continued.

But the Nuestra Senora de Atocha would not stay captive to its watery grave.

The Atocha was an almirante, meaning it was the last ship in the fleet, and served in a defensive position.

But, its role wasn’t merely for firepower – like the other 27 ships in the Tierra Firma fleet, it too was laden with treasure.

And it was a lot of treasure.

The silver haul in the South American mines was particularly robust during 1622, and it took two months for the loot to be loaded for the trip from the New World to Spain.

That meant the ships departed six weeks later than normal, a delay that would prove costly – and deadly.

For the longer it took to load the ships, the later into hurricane season the travel began.

And so it was a hurricane on Sept. 6, 1622, that explains why we know about the ship to this day.

The wind and rain overpowered the wooden vessel, which groaned and strained in the storm before being sent to its final resting place.

The Atocha sank in 55 feet of water off the coast of the Florida Keys, and the weather and water hampered salvage efforts so that most of the treasure could not be recovered.

That is, until the intrepid Fisher came along.

It took another 14 years for Fisher to bring the bounty back from the past, a saga that came to a conclusion of sorts in 1985.

The treasure was enormous – one hundred thousand silver coins and one thousand silver ingots.

The treasure was so great, and the story so fantastic, that it helped cement the Atocha as one of the most famous shipwrecks in all of North America.

From time to time, Atocha treasure comes up for auction, and several pieces starred in Daniel Frank Sedwick’s May auction of treasure related items and other world coins.

One of the highlights was a silver ingot or bar weighing nearly 83 pounds and eight ounces.

The ingot realized a hammer price of fifty-five thousand two hundred and twenty dollars.

Another Atocha artifact in the auction was a famous gold and red coral rosary that once appeared in National Geographic.

This unique piece of bling sold for a staggering seventy-two thousand, five hundred dollars.

Of course, not all Atocha treasure is that expensive or rare.

We found an online Atocha store selling 1-ounce silver medals made from silver recovered from the wreck, for about one-hundred dollars.

The silver had been paid to divers who helped locate and recover the wreck, and they commissioned about four thousand of the medals. 

The market for shipwreck treasure reaches far beyond numismatic circles, as people who have grown up hearing stories of swashbuckling pirates and plundering treasure are drawn to the romance of the era.

And as long as there’s a market for this material, you can bet Coin World will share it with you.

For all the news about coins and paper money, follow us on Twitter, find us at Facebook, online at coinworld dot com and of course in print in your mailbox.

For Coin World, with the Monday Morning Brief, I’m Jeff Starck. Happy collecting! 

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