Friday, May 18, 2007

$500 Million in Colonial-Era Shipwreck Treasure Gold and Silver Coins

Odyssey Marine Exploration has discovered a shipwreck with over 500,000 colonial-era coins. (One version of the news story, along with some pictures, can be found here.) From what little has been released about the coins or shipwreck, it's anyones guess which wreck it is.

Many believe it's the Merchant Royal that sank in 1641 off of Cornwall. The problem I have with this theory is that it is thought that those coins would be Mexican and split evenly between gold and silver. Greg Stemm is quoted as saying "We are excited by the wide range of dates, origins and varieties of the coins." If it were the Merchant Royal, would there be such variety? And wouldn't there be more gold since it was supposed to be split pretty evenly? Already, the recovered treasure is larger than what many believed was on the Merchant Royal and it's almost all silver. On the other hand, based on court documents it seems likely that it should be the Merchant Royal.

Spain believes that the coins might possibly be from a shipwreck in Spanish waters. They are very suspicious of Odyssey because of the clandestine way the coins were taken to Gibraltar and flown to the U.S. Now the secrecy seems very reasonable to me considering the line of work Odyssey is in and they have stated they plan to go back to excavate some more at the site. But since Odyssey has been in some long back and forth negotiations with the Spanish and local authorities over a different shipwreck, the HMS Sussex, I can see why Spain is suspicious.

To me, using Gibraltar as the base to return treasure to the U.S. just makes sense. If they landed the loot in Britain first, it would surely be impounded. The same goes for most other countries. If they couldn't fly it out of Gibraltar, they would have to send it directly to the U.S. by ship and they surely wouldn't want to send one of their own ships back when they have other projects ongoing in the area.

Finally, Odyssey management is very smart with all the legal aspects of shipwrecks. Other shipwreck hunters have not been so smart. Look at the decade long court battle over the SS Central America treasure or the suspense movie-like court drama between all the investors and the State of California over the SS Brother Jonathan treasure. The folks at Odyssey made none of those same mistakes when they discovered the SS Republic with all its treasure. They had thoroughly researched who might make a claim and had none of the problems that the others did. So I am sure they have done their homework very carefully and the fact that they used Gibraltar to return the loot to the U.S. (legally!) only strengthens my belief that they know what they are doing.

As a collector of shipwreck coins (see The Arlington Collection of Type 1 Double Eagles), I naturally get excited whenever I read about a new discovery in the news. If you've seen my collection of Type 1 Double Eagles (1850-1866), you will know that I have coins from three different shipwrecks (SS Central America, SS Brother Jonathan, and SS Republic) in the collection with the majority coming from the SS Republic. Odyssey Marine Exploration was also the company that discovered and excavated the SS Republic shipwreck which is what makes this discovery so much more interesting. They have shown that finding valuable shipwrecks is not just a one-trick-pony kind of thing but it is something that can be repeated.

Because of my collection, I have been lucky to have personally met most of the Odyssey management and have visited their headquarters. I have never been more impressed with the quality of people running a company as I was with them. You could not help but have some of their enthusiasm rub off and be convinced that they were going to be successful in what they are trying to do. So I read today's news with more than the usual excitement. I couldn't be happier for a better group of people than the folks at Odyssey. Congratulations Greg and the rest of the crew at Odyssey!

Now can you send some of that luck over this way? I'm not greedy and don't need $500 million. Just send enough luck to get me a couple of million and I'll be happy.

Oh, and if you are interested in seeing some of those SS Republic coins that Odyssey recovered and are now in my collection, just click on the links below.

The Arlington Collection SS Republic coins recovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration:


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