Many collectors dream of adding a rare coin to their collection that has been recovered from a ship wreck. The mystique surrounding these coins is what makes them so sought after. They conjure up images of treasure-laden Spanish galleons, pirates, tropical storms and imperial conquest. When a long lost ship is rediscovered and its cargo is brought to the surface, many people are eager to get their hands on a piece of it. With the invention of scuba in 1942, this became easier than ever as diving equipment made it much simpler to find shipwrecks. Here are some of the most famous sunken treasures to be discovered this century:
The biggest sunken treasure recovery in history occurred in 2007 when the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes was discovered off the coast of Portugal by Odyssey Marine Exploration, a commercial archaeology company from Florida. The ship was sunk by a British naval fleet in 1804 while it was returning to Spain from Peru. As much as 17 tons of silver and gold coins were found aboard the ship, valued at more than $500 million. Unfortunately for Odyssey Marine Exploration, a judge ruled in 2012 that the treasure was the property of the Spanish government and they had to return it to them.
In 2003, Odyssey Marine Exploration uncovered the SS Republic, a steamship that was lost in a hurricane off the coast of Georgia in 1865. The ship was en route to New Orleans with a cargo of coins and other supplies intended to help rebuild the economy in the southern state after the Civil War. The salvage effort uncovered about 51,000 rare 19th century silver and gold coins worth an estimated $75 million.
Another famous sunken treasure that continues to make headlines is the SS Central America, sometimes called the Ship of Gold. The SS Central America was a steamer that ran between Central America and the eastern coast of the United States during the 1850s. She sank in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina in 1857. In her cargo were 15 tons of gold coins from the San Francisco Mint on their way to New York City. The wreck was discovered by Tommy Thompson and his company, Columbus-America Discovery Group, in 1987. A dispute over the ownership of the gold is waging and Thompson’s whereabouts are unknown. Over 30,000 pounds of gold was recovered worth $150 million.
The Nuestra Senora de Atocha was part of a fleet of Spanish ships that were sunk by a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. The Atocha was on its way to Spain from Colombia, heavily laden with a cargo of gold, silver, jewellery and rare coins. The wreck was discovered by Mel Fisher in 1985 by his company Treasure Salvors Inc. Fisher and his team had been looking for the Atocha for 16 years. They recovered over 160,000 silver and gold Spanish colonial coins minted between 1598 and 1621. After the discovery, the State of Florida claimed ownership of the wreck and Fisher was forced into giving a quarter of the treasure to the state.