Consolación (“Isla de Muerto shipwreck”), sunk in 1681 off Santa Clara Island, Ecuador When salvage first began on this wreck in 1997, it was initially believed to be the Santa Cruz and later called El Salvador y San José, sunk in August of 1680; but research by Robert Marx after the main find in subsequent years confirmed its proper name and illuminated its fascinating history. Intended to be part of the Spanish “South Seas Fleet” of 1681, which left Lima’s port of Callao in April, the Consolación apparently was delayed and ended up traveling alone. At the Gulf of Guayaquil, off modern-day Ecuador, the Consolación encountered English pirates, led by Bartholomew Sharpe, who forced the Spanish galleon to sink on a reef off Santa Clara Island (later nicknamed “Isla de Muerto,” or Dead Man’s Island). Before the pirates could get to the ship, the crew set fire to her and tried to escape to the nearby island without success. Angered by their inability to seize the valuable cargo of the Consolación, Sharpe’s men killed the Spaniards and tried in vain to recover the treasure through the efforts of local fishermen. Spanish attempts after that were also fruitless, so the treasure of the Consolación sat undisturbed until our time. When vast amounts of silver coins were found in the area starting in the 1990s, eventually under agreement between local entrepreneurs Roberto Aguirre and Carlos Saavedra (“ROBCAR”) and the government of Ecuador in 1997, the exact name and history of the wreck were unknown, and about 8,000 of the coins (all Potosí silver cobs) were subsequently sold at auction by Spink New York in December 2001 as simply “Treasures from the ‘Isla de Muerto.’” Most of the coins offered were of low quality and poorly preserved but came with individually numbered photo-certificates. Later, after the provenance had been properly researched, and using better conservation methods, a Florida syndicate arranged to have ongoing finds from this wreck permanently encapsulated in hard-plastic holders by the authentication and grading firm ANACS, with the wreck provenance clearly stated inside the “slab”; more recent offerings have bypassed this encapsulation. Ongoing salvage efforts have good reason to be hopeful, as the manifest of the Consolación stated the value of her registered cargo as 146,000 pesos in silver coins in addition to silver and gold ingots, plus an even higher sum in contraband, according to custom.
“Porto Bello wreck,” sunk in 1681 off Porto Bello, Panama According to Robert Marx, a storm in 1681 sank three ships of the Spanish Caribbean Fleet: Chaperón (sunk in the mouth of the Chagres River), Boticaria (sunk off Isla de Naranjas), and an unidentified galleon (sunk off Punta de Brujas). Other reference articles, probably in error, give the date of the disaster as 1682. Despite these attributions, there is still some confusion about which wrecksite belongs to which ship of the Fleet, and as a result, the sources of finds from these wrecks tend to be referred to by location (like “Porto Bello wreck”) or simply as “1681 Fleet.”
Joanna, sunk in 1682 off South Africa An English East Indiaman on her way to Surat on the west coast of India, the Joanna separated from her convoy and sank in rough seas on a reef off the southernmost tip of South Africa on June 8, 1682, sending 10 people to their death. Eventually, 104 survivors reached the Dutch colony of Cape Town, from which a
salvage party was soon dispatched. The Joanna’s cargo consisted of 70 chests of silver coins, of which the salvage party reported having recovered only about 28,000 guilders’ worth. In 1982 the wreck was re-discovered by a group of South African divers led by Gavin Clackworthy, who brought up silver ingots (discs) and more than 23,000 silver cobs, most of them Mexican 4 and 8 reales of Charles II in generally low grade, but a few showing bold, formerly very rare dates 1679-1681. Over the past two decades, these cobs have entered the market from both private dealers and auctions, but always in relatively small quantities at a time. Almost all the coins are in very worn condition, usually thin and nearly featureless, but without the heavy encrustation and pitting that characterize Caribbean finds.
Sunken city of Port Royal, Jamaica (submerged by earthquake in 1694) As a notorious pirate hangout in the 17th century, Port Royal’s famous bars and brothels became repositories for much of the looted treasure of the Caribbean. But in 1692 an earthquake sent most of the city plunging into the sea, and it never fully recovered. What was left of Port Royal became a British Naval station for years afterward and it was continually racked by hurricanes (in 1721, 1726, 1744, and 1951), fires (in 1703 and 1815), and even another earthquake (in 1907). In the period of 1965 to 1968, the famous salvager Robert Marx dove the sunken city and recovered more than two million small artifacts (many lost AFTER 1692), some of which have appeared in the treasure market from time to time.
“Pasay hoard,” lost circa 1700 in the Philippines In February of 2005, while digging a hole for a septic tank at a residence in Pasay City, workers uncovered a Chinese stoneware jar at a depth of about five feet. Inside the jar were 400500 silver cob coins, mostly Mexican 8 reales of Charles II, all in very high grade and dating to the very late 1600s. These coins are recognizable for very odd shapes but with sharp points and brightwhite surfaces, their crude design details belying the fact that they were technically uncirculated.
Merestein, sunk in 1702 off South Africa This Dutch East Indiaman was outbound when she tried to put into Saldanha Bay to alleviate rampant scurvy on board the ship. On April 3, 1702, she hit reefs on the southwest point of Jutten Island and within hours was smashed to pieces. Only 99 of the 200 people aboard the Merestein survived. On board the Merestein were several chests of silver coins for trade in the East Indies, for which immediate salvage plans were undertaken. But Jutten Island is no easy dive, and all attempts were abandoned until modern times. The wreck was re-found and salvaged in the early 1970s, yielding almost exclusively Dutch silver ducatoons from the 1600s. The number of coins found in the 1970s was around 15,000 and is believed to be nowhere near all of the treasure that was lost.
Association, sunk in 1707 off the Scilly Isles, southwest of England The sinking of this ship and four others in a fleet of 21 returning from the Mediterranean was one of the worst British naval disasters of all time. The Association sank on October 22 under
Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC. Treasure and World Coin Auction # 4 November 2008