CoinWeek Podcast #144: A Priceless Treasure Coin Comes to the Block

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A beautiful 1713-J 8 Escudos Royal in MS66 will be sold this month at Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC’s 28th Treasure Auction.

The following is a truncated version of the lot description:

Mexico City, Mexico, cob 8 escudos Royal (galano), 1713J, extremely rare, NGC MS 66, finest and only example graded by NGC, ex-1715 Fleet (designated on special label). S-M30; Cal-2194; KM-R57.1. 27.03 grams. From the 1715 Fleet (Corrigan’s site), pictured on the cover of the November-December 1998 issue of Treasure Quest (a copy of which is included), with Fisher photo-certificate #42933, ex-Rudman. 

Without question, the pinnacle of Spanish colonial coinage is the Mexican 8 escudos Royal (galano), a coin so large and beautiful and perfect as to be considered among the most desirable gold coins in the world. These 8 escudos Royals are quite rare, currently represented by just over 40 specimens across about a dozen dates within the 53-year span in which Mexico made gold cobs (1680-1732). There is no mistaking these special coins; while some regular cob issues come close (normally they are chunky and misshapen) and even some regular-planchet issues were struck with Royal dies (arguably trial or test strikes), only true Royals are perfectly round and evenly struck on planchets of uniform thickness, not to mention that they were generally struck with obverse and reverse in medallic alignment (the present specimen actually rotated 90 degrees, but still oriented with cross aligned). These are formal presentation pieces, to be sure, but the exact purpose of Royals remains unknown, the details behind their commission apparently missing in archival records beyond simple line-item figures labeled “galanos.” While some dates of 8 escudos Royals today are represented by multiple specimens (the most abundant being 1702, 1711 and 1714) others are extremely rare or even unique. The date 1713 is in fact among the rarest, with only two known, the specimen offered here being the finer of the two and the only one graded by NGC. In terms of condition and quality of strike, we feel it is also among the finest of all the known dates.

Like the majority of known 8 escudos Royals, this coin was recovered from the wreckage of the Spanish Plate Fleet of 1715, eleven ships sunk on the reefs off the east coast of Florida in a hurricane in July 1715. It was actually two fleets, the combined Tierra Firme Fleet coming from Cartagena loaded with Peruvian and Colombian treasures, and the New Spain Fleet coming from Mexico with freshly minted coins and Asian jewels from the Manila Galleon trade, united in Havana for the northeasterly trip back to Spain. What had been an annual system of shipping to and from the New World was delayed for many years by the War of Spanish Succession after Charles II’s death in 1700, causing the treasure to pile up in Mexico and Colombia. Spain desperately needed this wealth back home and could not wait for the Fleet to delay any longer when it finally left Havana in July, evidently right into the path of a hurricane. There were many survivors, who encamped on the shores opposite the wrecks, and Spain was able to organize some salvage, only to experience their other nemesis when pirates absconded with much of the recovered treasure. It is impossible to say how much of the 1715 Fleet treasure was saved in its time, or even how much was on board (as contraband could account for perhaps double the amount on the manifest); suffice to say the currently eight known wreck sites (some of which may be parts of the same ship) from present-day Melbourne down to Stuart (aptly called the “Treasure Coast”) have kept divers and beachcombers busy since at least the early 1960s when Kip Wagner and the Real Eight Co. began organized salvage and instituted a State lease system that is still in place today. The first Royals, in fact, were found by Real Eight and offered at auction as early as 1964.

The coin we are offering here was recovered in August 1998, the find of a lifetime for diver Clyde Kuntz of the salvage vessel Bookmaker (captained by Greg Bounds), under a lease held by the Mel Fisher company, whose photo-certificate (“GRADE: One ++”) accompanies the coin. According to the November-December 1998 issue of Treasure Quest magazine, the cover of which features a photo of this coin, Clyde was working the “Corrigan’s” site, about five miles north of Vero Beach, when on the same day he found both this coin and another 8 escudos Royal dated 1698 (currently unique) that is now permanently housed in the State of Florida collection. The biggest single find of Royals came in the 2015 diving season, in which a staggering ten pieces (dated 1711, 1712, and 1715) were recovered under leases held by Queens Jewels, LLC (the current owner of the 1715-Fleet site leases). Subsequently, we appraised those coins for millions of dollars for Queens Jewels and the State of Florida, which gets a 20% cut of all finds.

We talk to Dan about the coin, its impressive pedigree, and why in a world of crudely struck ingots and cobs, did such an intricately-crafted presentation coin get made. Learn about this important and burgeoning segment of the American coin market and maybe take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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