Shipwreck artifacts on display

Chris Arbutine Jr., left, and Andy Arbutine, right, hold 70 lb. silver bars from the AtochaPhoto Belleair Coins

By Wayne Ayers - tbnweekly

Prized artifacts recovered from the shipwreck Atocha are on display at the Silver Queen/Belleair Coins on West Bay Drive in Largo.

Two silver bars weighing about 70 pounds each are the most recent acquisitions, said Belleair Coins president Art Arbutine. The bars were used to mint Spanish coins, both in the New World and Spain.

The Atocha’s discovery in the mid-1980s by famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher was a cause célèbre that spawned several books, a movie and tons of publicity. The legend was further enhanced when the U.S. government sued Fisher for title to the wreck. Following eight years of litigation, Fisher won the case in a Supreme Court decision.

Arbutine said the bars he obtained, which are pure silver, came from someone who “was probably an investor in the venture with Mel Fisher.” They are accompanied by certificates of authenticity that include a photograph of the unique markings on each bar.

When the price of silver goes up, collectors bring in items like the silver bars for sale, Arbutine said.

“The people that had these, had them for a long time,” he said.

The Atocha’s remains lie near the Dry Tortugas, about 35 miles from Key West. The silver was mined in Peru and was on its way to Spain in 1662 when the Atocha was caught in a hurricane, Arbutine said.

Spanish treasure ships would sail to Havana, Cuba, then go halfway to Florida before making a right turn for Spain.