By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
On Friday, July 24, the Facebook page of a company called 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, LLC promised that the next week would be “an exciting one” for everyone interested in the shipwreck of the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet.
Monday, we found out what they meant.
On July 27, the company announced that Eric Schmitt, a treasure hunter and subcontractor to Queens Jewels, LLC, had recovered about US$1 million in Spanish coins, jewels and other items from the legendary 1715 Fleet shipwreck off the coast of Florida.
The “Tricentennial Royal” coin pictured here was die-cast, unlike most coins minted in the Spanish colonies during the 1700s.
Credit: 1715 Fleet Queens Jewels, LLC
Brent Brisben of Queens Jewels, LLC and Mr. Schmitt kept the discovery a secret for almost a month in order to make the announcement closer to the Thursday, July 30 tricentennial of the shipwreck.
On yearly treasure-hunting trips he made with his wife and family, Schmitt had made previous discoveries in the area.
In 2013, he recovered 50 feet of a kind of decorative gold chain called a “money chain”, which was used as money to evade taxes in the 18th century.
In 2014, he found a gold filigree pyx, which is a religious vessel used to hold the Eucharist during Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.
Last month, Schmitt, using a prop wash deflector and an underwater metal detector, discovered 51 gold coins and an additional 40 feet of gold chains while diving 15 feet down and 150 feet offshore near Fort Pierce. The coins include a unique presentation piece called a “royal”, made for Philip V of Spain. Only six examples of the type are known to exist, according to Brisben, and this one is in especially good condition. Nicknamed the “Tricentennial Royal” since the coin is dated 1715, Brisben estimates the value of the royal alone to be around half a million dollars.
The 11 ships of the ill-fated 1715 Fleet carried a total cargo estimated to be worth approximately $400 million in today’s money. Brisben claims to have recovered almost $175 million worth of that cargo from six of the 11 ships.
However, according to state and federal law, the State of Florida gets first pick of whatever finds are recovered from the ocean floor, with as much as 20% of the material being allocated to state museums. After Florida gets her cut, 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, LLC receives their share, with Schmitt as a subcontractor receiving what remains.
Queens Jewels, LLC is a shipwreck salvage operation based out of Sebastian, Florida. It is owned and operated by William O. “Bill” Brisben and his son Brent W. Brisben. Brisben senior worked for famous treasure hunter Mel Fisher in the 1980s and was part of the crew that discovered the Mother Lode of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha. The discovery and recovery rights to the waters where last month’s finds were located were bought by 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels from heirs to the Mel Fisher estate.
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