Treasure from Spanish galleons questionedBy Mark Chervenka
Treasure from Spanish Galleons Questioned
Florida authorities are investigating the age of gold coins claimed to have been salvaged from Spanish treasure ships. The coins in question have been offered with certificates of authenticity at a shop operated by famous treasure hunter Mel Fisher. Gold and silver coins, precious stones and other artifacts in the shop are priced up to $15,000 and more. Fisher's shop was raided Wednesday, April 23, 1998 by the Monroe County State Attorney's Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Fisher's most publicized find was the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha in 1985. It sunk in 1622 during a hurricane carrying an estimated $400 million in treasure. The discovery was so large, Fisher began mass marketing the treasure through national chains like JC Penney and others in the early to mid-1990s.
A mid-1990s retail promotion would typically feature a group of artifacts, coins and jewelry from the Atocha arranged in museum-type display cases. These items were not for sale but highly publicized. Next to this exhibit would be coins resembling Spanish pieces of eight, jewelry in 17th designs, etc. All of these pieces came with "certificates of authenticity" stating they were from the Atocha.
You had to look at the fine print to discover that only the silver came from the treasure ship. The mass merchandised coins or jewelry were not old objects. They are modern creations fashioned from silver ingots recovered from the wreck. Most of the new coins and jewelry are dated 1622 which was the year the Atocha sank, not when the objects were made.
At this time only gold coins sold in Fisher's shop are being investigated. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum located near the treasure shop is a separate organization and is not under investigation.