400-year-old twist of fate uniting Cartagena, Colombia, and Florida Keys history to be celebrated

15 Sep

When the primary cultural deposit – the motherlode – of the 1622 fleet galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha was discovered by divers working for treasure hunter Mel Fisher near Key West, Florida in 1985, among its riches was a vast cargo of silver coins the likes of which had never been seen before. The discovery also delivered a bombshell surprise of evidence for historians: confirmation that hand-struck silver coins were produced in the Nuevo Reino de Granada – today’s Colombia – as early as 1621, a fact that some had suspected, but none had proof to substantiate.

This year, from December 1 to December 5, 2021, 400 years after the conflict-ridden establishment of minting houses in both Cartagena and Santa Fe de Bogota, coin experts and history enthusiasts from all over the world – including six from Florida – will gather in Colombia’s romantic sea-port city for “Cartagena MMXXI – the 3rd International Convention of Historians and Numismatists” where they will examine and celebrate this fascinating point in time along with other key moments in numismatic history.

Noted Colombian historian, numismatist and San José shipwreck expert Jorge Becerra de Leon, left, and historic research expert/numismatist Jorge Proctor, in period costume, address an audience at a previous conference. Both will be featured speakers at Cartagena MMXXI – the 3rd International Convention of Historians and Numismatists, taking place December 1-5, 2021, in Cartagena, Colombia. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)

Open to the public, the convention features presentations by some of the world’s leading experts, including Florida’s Jorge Proctor of Pompano Beach, an archival research expert, numismatist and head of the convention’s academic committee; noted marine archaeologist, anthropologist, author and retired professor Dr. R. Duncan Mathewson III of Little Torch Key, who led the Atocha’s archaeological recovery process; Orlando-based professional numismatist and convention V.P. of North American relations, Augi Garcia; Orlando-based professional numismatist and author Daniel Frank Sedwick, Tampa-based professional numismatist Colin M. Blyth, and Key West and Gainesville-based shipwreck coin curation expert, author and International Conventions founding member Carol Tedesco.

Though researchers reported that coins were minted in Colombia as early as 1622, until the discovery of the Atocha, none dated earlier than 1625 were known to exist. Archival records documented that in 1620 a military engineer by the name of Don Alonso Turrillo de Yebra had been authorized by King Philip III of Spain to establish a mint in what was then known as the Nuevo Reino de Granada – the New Kingdom of Granada. Documents also revealed that the undertaking, which included a mint in Santa Fe de Bogota and an ancillary one in Cartagena, was fraught with beauracratic complications and delays. Nonetheless, Turrillo persisted, and in a letter to the King he confirms that at some point prior to the sailing of the 1622 fleet he had indeed struck coins, of “much more perfection than that which is styled in some of the other mints,” and he lamented that some of these “were on one of the galleons which were flooded.” Yet the question remained, were coins also struck in Nuevo Reino de Granada in 1621 as some documents seemed to imply? The answer was eventually revealed among recoveries from the Atocha and another ship of the fleet.

Reverse and obverse sides of a partially dated 1621 silver coin, struck at the Cartagena, Colombia mint that went down on the galleon Atocha near Key West, Florida in 1622, and is one of a small group of coins that altered the known numismatic history of Colombia. A December 1-5, 2021 event in Cartagena will celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the opening of that mint. Events recognizing the 400 year anniversary of the Atocha’s sinking will take place in Key West in 2022. (Photo provided by Bill Pearson)

A Cartagena MMXXI conference presentation by Turrillo authority Proctor, titled “Alonso Turrillo – hero or villain?” will address key questions as well as examine some of the shenanigans undertaken over the course of years by the wiley and resourceful “entrepreneur.” Other notable experts from Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain, the U.S., and Venezuela will offer a combination of live and virtual presentations as well as book presentations on a variety of historic numismatic themes.

Of particular interest to sunken shipwreck historians and enthusiasts will be updates and discussions on Colombia’s famous San José shipwreck, which was sunk by British Naval forces in 1708, taking hundreds of people and a cargo of New World produced wealth estimated in the billions to a resting place in nearly 2000 feet/600 meters of sea water from Cartagena. Under discussion will be prospects for recovery of the vessel, and establishment of a museum to house and display its artifacts.

For registration and other conference information, including a gala, ceremonies, social events, and a commercial numismatic component for collectors and sellers, visit cartagena2021.com. The website is in Spanish but offers an English translation feature and English language registration guide. English/Spanish translation for all presentations will be provided. Covid-19 safety protocols will be in place for the duration of the conference; scheduling may be subject to change. Attendees are encouraged to check the website regularly for updates. For in-person guests and participants, facemasks and proof of vaccination will be required, and social distancing will be observed.

A painting by Samuel Scott (1702-1772) depicts the destruction in 1708 of the treasure galleon San José off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia. Prospects for recovery of the vessel and establishment of a museum to house and display its artifacts is to be one of the topics under discussion at Cartagena MMXXI – the 3rd International Convention of Historians and Numismatists. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

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Press contact: Augi Garcia / prensa@cartagena2020.com

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