By Richard Giedroyc - Numismater
Spain has finally succeeded, recovering an estimated 594,000 early 19th century primarily silver coins dredged from the Atlantic Ocean by the treasure hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration of Florida. The coins were repatriated via a ruling by U.S. courts.
A U.S. District Court recently ruled in Spain’s favor, honoring international treaties regarding warships sunk in battle. According to international treaties, such sunken ships remain as the property of the government owning such a ship rather than becoming available to treasure hunters. The British sunk this Spanish treasure on its way to Spain during 1804.
The fact it was a Spanish ship didn’t stop Peru from claiming the coins since many of the coins had been struck at Spanish colonial mints in that country. The Peruvian claims went the same way as did those of the Odyssey Marine Exploration.
On Feb. 25 the coins, along with additional artifacts, were shipped to Madrid, a city in which the coins had never before been, in a country in which the coins had never before been. Spain won this round of the cultural patrimony wars.
At the time Odyssey divers found the shipwreck of the Nuestra Senor de las Mercedes off Portugal’s Atlantic coast it was announced the treasure was worth about $500 million to collectors.
On Feb. 25 Jose Ignacio Wert, Spain’s education, culture and sports minister made no mention of value, simply saying, “The legacy of the Mercedes belongs to Spain.”
It is likely Spain went to all the trouble of fighting for this waterlogged hoard in court due to its value, not due to the treasure simply being a legacy rightfully belonging to Spain.
But, wait a minute. This is treasure trove dredged from the ocean floor. What kind of collector value are we really looking at ?
The first hint comes from a Feb. 27 Associated Press story. Within this story is the comment, “After two centuries under water, parts of the trove of coins are stuck together in big chunks, sometimes in the very shape of the chests or sacks they were originally stored in, said Milagros Buendia, part of the specialized team that went to Florida to get the booty.”
The AP story continues that “Spain will now set about classifying and restoring the 594,000 coins and other artifacts involved before it figures out how to display them for the public.”
The word “restoring” is the key, a word that likely goes over the head of the average potential buyer of such coins. This is part of the reverse psychology that has been applied many times when someone is publicizing a hoard of coins in preparation to selling them to the public. (There is no indication at this time that Spain will seek to sell the coins.)