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Q. David Bowers: The Wreck of Le Chameau

The Wreck of Le Chameau - Q. David Bowers, Stack's Bowers Galleries

By Q. David BowersCo-Founder, Stack’s Bowers …..
During the night of August 25-26, 1725, the 600-ton, 48-gun French transport ship Le Chameau foundered in high winds on the rocks of Kelpy Cove off Port Nova Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, just 12 miles from her destination of Fortress Louisbourg. The vessel went down, taking all hands and passengers – including Guoillaume de Chazel, the newly appointed governor of Trois Rivieres and Intendant Begon’s successor.

Salvage operations commenced from Louisbourg late in 1726, but the main gold and silver treasure the vessel carried was not recovered until 1965 when Alex Storm and his associates achieved success (although a few coins from the wreck had been found on 1914). The first coin identified by Storm was a 1724 Louis XV silver eco. After a division of the recovered treasure, which amounted to over 4,500 silver and gold coins and many artifacts, a large part was sold by Parke Bernet Galleries in December 1971 and realized nearly $200,000.

Le Chameau carried more than 82,000 livres tournois of gold and silver coin, which were meant to supply the colonial governors the funds to pay administrative and military expenses. No complete inventory listing of all the coins recovered from the wreck has ever been published. The most accessible list remains the auction catalog entries (Parke Bernet Galleries’ auction sale of December 10-11, 1971), which the numismatic scholar will find useful for the gold coins but unsatisfactory for the silver coins.

The ill-fated vessel carried gold Louis d’or mirlitons dated 1723 to 1725, including both reverse varieties (long and short fronds), struck at 24 different mints. In some cases, the coins salvaged represent the majority of survivors of their particular mintages. The silver ecus aux 8 L appear to be dated 1724 and 1725, the majority from the seaboard mints of Bordeaux and La Rochelle. A handful of older French coins was also recovered.

The auction catalog included photographs of some representative examples, primarily placed for type. The historical information presented has not been supplanted since, and the inventory listing of the coins to be included in the sale can still be used. The enumeration shows that 109 gold coins were dated 1723, 323 were dated 1724, and only 62 were dated 1725.

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