The Anatomy of a Spanish Treasure

Although this Spanish piece of eight may look as if it’s been ravaged by the 386 years it spent on the bottom of the ocean, the fact is it looks much today as did when it was minted in ~1617 at Potosi, Bolivia. At first, Spain’s new world mints took great pride in producing high quality coins. This special attention to detail required a costly and time consuming manufacturing process. In short, it was a great way to make good looking coins, but not the best way to mint money to fuel the Spanish empire.

By the time Phillip III came to power in 1598, these time-consuming methods were being phased out in favor of time-saving production techniques. Coins such as the one recovered from the Atocha pictured above were made from odd shaped coin blanks which were quickly produced with little care to make the resulting coins even round. Coin edges had to be clipped to keep the piece of eight the right weight. Coins from the Potosi mint were eventually considered of such poor quality that they were recalled in 1650.

However time has an interesting way of changing the perceived value of an object. Today, these coins are highly valued because of their uniqueness. When you hold one in your hand you have the feeling of not just of holding a piece of ancient history, but the sensation that you are looking at something as intrinsically unique as a snowflake, there was never one exactly like it before and there will never be one like it again.

According to the Atocha’s ship manifest, there are still 36 coin chests remaining to be found. These coin chests represent just a portion of what’s on the manifest and still remains to be found. Aqua Survey, Inc. is excited to be a in a continuing partnership with Mel Fisher’s Treasures. Developing and deploying submersible high-powered electromagnetic metal detection systems to hunt for lost Spanish treasure has been an amazing adventure for Aqua Survey’s scientists and engineers. We look forward to returning to the Atocha’s debris trail in 2009 to continue the investigation.