Shipwreck — the very word might spark images of sunken treasures or terrifying Caribbean pirates. Shipwrecks are fascinating mysteries whether you’re a full-blown archaeologist or a treasure-hunting enthusiast. Salvagers have dug up many valuables, including gold and silver coins, from the three million shipwrecks littering the ocean floor. Here’s a list of the most valuable shipwrecks (and their coins) that would impress Captain Jack Sparrow.
The Atocha Motherlode
Valued at $450 million, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha is the world’s most valuable shipwreck, according to The Guinness Book of World Records. This Spanish ship filled with riches went down in the Florida Straits during a storm in 1622. Three hundred years later, legendary deep-sea explorer Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha wreck after decades of searching. According to Medium, Fisher’s team recovered 40 tons of gold and silver, 114,000 “pieces of eight,” 1,000 silver ingots, and 71 pounds of Colombian emeralds.
Zach Moore found the most valuable coin in the Atocha shipwreck, an engineer at Mel Fisher’s Treasures. Moore discovered the gold coin in 30 feet of water on July 16, 2021. According to Moore, “today’s value (of the coin) is estimated to be at least $98,000, even more, if it’s from a rare mint.”
San José Galleon
Looks like the Atocha has some competition as the world’s most valuable shipwreck! The San José sunk in battle off the coast of Colombia in 1708. Down with it went a treasure estimated to be worth about a whopping $17 billion today. This Spanish Navy galleon carried an impressive cargo — the legendary silver treasure of Phillip III, King of Spain and Portugal. According to the NGC Collectors Society, the ship contained nine chests filled with an estimated 66,000 Silver Reales coins produced in both the Old World and the New World mints of Mexico, Bolivia, and Spain. The San José has definitely earned its nickname as the “holy grail of shipwrecks.”
The Black Swan Project
The Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Florida-based company, conducted the Black Swan Project to recover an estimated $500 million worth of silver and gold coins. This lofty endeavor from the wreck of a Spanish frigate ship, Nuestra Señora de Mercedes. The ship sank in 1804 off the Portuguese coast during the Battle of Cape Santa Maria. In 2012, the gold and silver coins went to the National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology in Cartagena.
The Whydah Gally
Valued at $400 million today, the Whydah Gally ship was originally built as a passenger, cargo, and slave ship. Infamous pirate Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy captured the ship on the return leg of her maiden voyage. Caught in a violent storm, Whydah Gally wrecked off the coast of Cape Cod. The wreckage contained over 15,000 coins. This makes it “the most numismatically diverse assemblage of shipwreck treasure coins ever found,” according to the Whydah Pirate Museum.
The SS Gairsoppa
Valued at $200 million, The SS Gairsoppa is hailed as the largest haul of precious metal discovered at sea. Discovered in 1941 by US exploration firm Odyssey Marine, The SS Gairsoppa contained 200 tonnes of silver. In 2014, the Royal Mint issued 20,000 commemorative quarter-ounce Britannia coins using some silver recovered from the wreckage.
Treasure of the SS Republic
The SS Republic was said to have carried 20,000 gold coins when it sank in 1865. The treasure is worth $120 million to $180 million today. The ship, a sidewheel steamship, was lost in a hurricane off the coast of Georgia while en route to New Orleans. The Coronet Head $20 Double Eagle coin is the most valuable coin among the treasure, found in November 2003 during salvage operations.
The Antikythera Treasures
Sponge divers from the island of Symi discovered the Antikythera Treasures in November of 1990. Coins found in the wreckage include thirty-six silver cistophoric coins from Ephesus and Pergamon, as well as several copper coins believed to be Asia Minor currency. The treasures of this wreckage weigh in at a whopping $120-$160 million today.
The Ship of Gold
The SS Central America carried tons of gold from the San Francisco mint and various gold coins, ingots, and bullion from the California Gold Rush. As a result of its precious cargo, it earned the nickname the “Ship of Gold.” The treasure was so great that the sinking contributed to the Panic of 1857 and, subsequently, a severe recession. Divers discovered 3,154 coins in early 2014 by the California Gold Marketing Group. A single recovered gold ingot weighing 80 pounds sold for a record $8 million. The estimated total value of recovered gold is $100-$150 million
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