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Divers Discover $4.5 Mil More 1715 Fleet Gold off Florida Coast

By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
It’s been one heck of a treasure hunting season for Brent Brisben.

On Wednesday, August 19, Brisben–owner and operator (along with his father, William O. “Bill” Brisben) of 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, LLC–announced the discovery on July 30 of 350 gold coins worth almost US $4.5 million off the coast of Vero Beach, Florida.

July 30, 2015 happens to have been the 300th anniversary of the 1715 shipwreck of the Spanish treasure fleet. Eleven ships carrying a total cargo worth approximately $400 million in today’s money sank in hurricane conditions near where Queens Jewels made its astounding discovery a few weeks ago. The region of Florida on the Atlantic known as the “Treasure Coast” gets its name from the profligacy of treasure fleet artifacts (including cannons and coins) that have washed up on the shore over the years.

L to R: Dan Beckingham, Jonah Martinez, Bill Bartlett, Brent Brisben

According to Brisben’s Wednesday appearance on CBS This Morning, this latest 1715 Fleet gold find came just three days after his company announced the June discovery of about $1 million in coins and other valuables by Queens Jewels subcontractor Eric Schmitt as he dove with his family on a yearly treasure hunting vacation.

During July’s outing, Brent Brisben served as captain of the crew of the S/V Capitana, which used a “prop wash” deflector system to remove silt and debris from the ocean floor. Jonah Martinez served as co-captain and was the person who selected the search site. A Pompano Beach kitchen and bath remodeler by trade, amateur treasure hunter and Queens Jewels subcontractor Bill Bartlett was the man who spotted the gold. Crew member Dan Beckingham also contributed to the discovery.

The Sebastian, Florida-based 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, LLC owns the recovery rights to the coastal waters in which the gold was found, but frequently works with subcontractors to explore the area. Bill Brisben had previously acquired the rights from the estate of Mel Fisher, the famous treasure hunter with whom Brisben senior had worked on the discovery of the wreckage of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha.

Legally, the Brisben family company serves as custodians of the treasure for the United States District Court of the Southern District of Florida, and must allow the State of Florida to take possession of up to 20% of the recovered artifacts for academic research and exhibition in museums. The remaining 80% of the treasure is then dispersed equitably between Queens Jewels, LLC and its subcontractors.

treasure_vero_2This state-mandated arrangement helps ensure that Florida is not deprived of its history and cultural heritage, while at the same time preserving the profit motive for those actually doing the work of recovery.

It also means that the “stars” of each find are likely to end up in Florida museums.

For example, the highlights of the July 30 discovery are nine Royal 8 escudos, which, according to Brent Brisben, were likely manufactured as presentation pieces to be given away by King Philip V of Spain. Only 20 Royal 8 escudos were known to exist prior to July 30.

The June find included another presentation piece–nicknamed the “Tricentennial Royal“–that became only the seventh coin of its type known to numismatists around the world.

1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, LLC has recovered almost six-and-a-half million dollars worth of treasure from the waters they control since the year 2010. According to Brent Brisben, another $400 million worth is still out there waiting.

Indeed, the Queens Jewels team discovered an additional 75 gold coins on July 31.

Treasure hunting season lasts from May through September, so a lot could yet happen.

Stay tuned to CoinWeek for more!

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Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker has served as the Assistant Editor of CoinWeek.com since 2015. Along with co-author Charles Morgan, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the monthly column "Market Whimsy" for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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