Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Treasures of the Atocha

It is a pleasant September morning in the year of our Lord 1622. A Spanish galleon sits in the port of Havana, along with 27 other ships of the combined fleet, their crews awaiting departure orders.

The Nuestra SeƱora de Atocha ("Our Lady of Atocha") sits low in the water, weighed down by 964 silver bars, 161 gold bars or disks, 255,000 silver coins, and chests filled with emeralds.

The Atocha is a 20-cannon, 500-ton colossus. It is the rear guard of the fleet and includes a company of soldiers. It's job is to protect the smaller and slower moving vessels from pirates.
The treasure arriving by mule to Panama City was so immense that summer that it took 2 months to record and load the cargo on the Atocha.

After still more delays in Havana, the convoy did not depart for Spain until 4 September 1622, a full six weeks behind schedule and well into hurricane season.
On 6 September, the Atocha was driven by a severe hurricane onto the coral reefs near the Dry Tortugas, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Key West. The vessel quickly sank, drowning everyone on board except for three sailors and two slaves. They were all that remained of the 265 passengers and crew.

The Atocha had sunk in 55 feet of water, making it difficult for divers to retrieve any of the cargo.

A second hurricane in October of that year made attempts at salvage even more difficult by scattering the wreckage of the ship further.
Mr. Mel Fisher formed a company called Treasure Salvors and began searching in earnest for the much talked about Atocha.

His effort over a sixteen-year period from 1970 to 1986 lead to the discovery of the Santa Margarita in 1980 and the Atocha on July 20, 1985, her hull lying in 55 feet of water, exactly as recorded by the first salvagers in 1622.

A gold crucifix with inlaid Colombian emerald jewels went for $119,000.
40 items from his impressive cache went up for auction in New York on August 5, 2015.

A gold bar from the Atocha made $93,750.
The golden spoon was thought to be used by priests during Communion to convert South American natives. $62,000.

A gold chalice from the Margarita was the top selling lot, fetching $413,000.
A collection of shipwrecked 17th and 18th century Spanish treasure discovered off the coast of Florida sold in New York for about $2m.

The haul includes two spectacular gold chains, one called a 'money chain'. Fisher wore it on the 'Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' soon after the ship's discovery.
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$75,000
In the Colonial era, the Spanish king placed a 20 percent tariff on gold bullion called the Royal Fifth.

But if the gold was turned into jewelry, the tax was forgiven. Each link of the 'money chain' is of equal size and weight and could be twisted off and used as formal currency.

Also up for auction was a Bezoar Stone, which was believed to remove poisons and toxins from liquids. The pendant, about the size of an egg, is encased in a gold mounting with four arms grasping the stone.

A magnificent emerald jewel from the lost Atocha. It made $ 410,000 in 2013

The Guernsey's sale also offered about 100 silver coins from the Atocha sister ship, the Santa Margarita, ranging from $1,000 and up.