historic artifacts

Diving into sunken-treasure investing

Mel Fisher's Treasures

By Shelly K. Schwartz - CNBC

Gold coins, gems and historic artifacts that were lost at sea have captured the imagination of treasure hunters for centuries.

“As a child, everyone dreams of finding treasure,” says Dr. E. Lee Spence, an underwater archeologist who discovered several historically significant shipwrecks, including the Civil War blockade-runner, Georgiana and the Confederate submarine Hunley. “There’s romance and drama.

But as an adult most people aren’t going to spend their lives trying to find it.”

For a minimal investment, though, you can find your own piece of sunken treasure without getting wet. And if you play your cards right, it might even produce a profit.

“I believe this area is currently undervalued as the prevailing wisdom now amongst archaeologists is to leave shipwreck porcelain in situ (buried), rather than remove it post excavation,” says Costas Paraskevaides, director of artancient.com, an online marketplace for historic artifacts, including items legally excavated from shipwrecks.

A number of countries, he notes, including Cambodia, have actually “enshrined this policy” in the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2001, “with more likely to follow, including Vietnam.”

“My own view is that with a reduction in legal salvage operations, those legitimate pieces on the market are bound to appreciate,” says Paraskevaides.

“Of course, the UNESCO 2001 convention would not cover shipwrecks found in international waters, but the big Chinese wrecks, which are of most interest to collectors as they contain porcelain, are mostly found in the territorial waters of Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.”

Yi Cao hopes he’s is right. The Beijing native who now lives in Arlington, Va. purchased a 300 year-old shipwreck salvaged plate earlier this year for nearly $400. It was recovered from the Ca Mau wreck off Vietnam. 

“It’s from the Qing Dynasty and it’s been fairly well-preserved by the water,” says Cao, who plans to purchase additional salvaged plates in the future.

“This is just a hobby of mine and I do not plan to sell it anytime soon, but I believe the price will appreciate when collectors discover that they are of high quality and there are not as man of them available for sale as they imagine.”