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8 Escudos Royal Gold Recovered From 1715 Fleet Shines in Sedwick November Auction

30 Oct

Royal gold 8 escudos, a coin literally “fit for a king”, recovered from a sunken Spanish treasure fleet will be up for sale on November 17 in Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC’s Treasure Auction 28. It is graded by NGC as Mint State 66 and is the only example of its date slabbed by any third-party grading company. The auction firm estimates the coin at $300,000 USD and up.

“This coin is the pinnacle of Spanish colonial numismatics,” said Daniel Sedwick, president and founder of the company. “As a Royal 8 escudos, it is a coin so large, beautiful, and perfect as to be considered among the most desirable gold coins in the world – both then and now. It represents the finest in colonial minting abilities at the time. Plus, when you consider this specimen’s documented discovery on one of the most famous shipwreck sites ever, you realize just how truly special and rare this coin is. We’ve sold hundreds of gold cobs from the 1715 Fleet but this is the first time in 14 years of auctions that we’re offering an 8 escudos Royal.”

Ben Costello, president of the 1715 Fleet Society, called the coin a superb specimen with a securely documented provenance to the Corrigan’s wreck site of the 1715 Fleet.

“Fleet collectors are delighted by the first time offering of this gorgeous and very rare 1713 8 escudos Royal,” said Costello. “Only two examples are known. This piece is surely among the best, if not the best, of the entire 1711 to 1713 series of cross-with-crosslets Royals.”

The especially struck presentation piece was minted in 1713 at the Mexico City Mint and bears the oXM mintmark to the left of the shield. Below the mintmark, the initial J stands for assayer José de León, the mint official responsible for the entire coinage production. The Royal shield and crown at the center stand for King Philip V’s authority over Spain and her colonies. To the right of the shield is a vertical VIII representing the 8 escudos denomination. The legend reads PHILIPPVS V DEI G 1713 with florets in the spaces between words. The DEI G stands for Dei Gratia, “by the grace of God.”

On the reverse, a framed cross is in the center with stylized fleurs-de-lis in the quadrants. The legend there is HISPANIARVM ET INDIARVM REX (“King of Spain and the Indies”) with florets in the spaces between the words and a smaller cross at the top.

What sets a Royal, also known by the Spanish term galano, apart from the regular cob issues is detailed, even striking on a specially prepared, round planchet of uniform thickness and weight. The regular cob coinage was quickly produced in quantity by hammering irregular planchets. Often, whole portions of the design were weakly struck or missing entirely. This is not the case with Royals.

From start to finish, the production of a Royal was a careful, thoughtful process. The dies were specially prepared with design elements accurately punched in to maximize detail. The gold planchet used was of full weight and a uniform, round shape to fit all of the design. Finally, a mint worker would strike the planchet with the hammer die using uniform, strong pressure – a very difficult task. Afterward, a gold Royal would be handled differently and not transported in large sacks or casks with regular coins. Very few cob 8 escudo Royals were minted due to the time and resources it took to make them.

After being struck at the mint, this Royal 8 escudos departed the New World aboard a Spanish galleon in the 1715 Plate Fleet. Its destination was mainland Spain, where it would have been given or awarded to an important Spanish official or member of the Royal family. The king of Spain himself was also possibly an intended recipient of gold Royal coins.

In addition to several other Royals (the 1715 Fleet is the primary source for gold 8 escudos Royals), the ships carried a wealth of treasure: silver and gold coins from the colonial mints, fine jewelry and religious objects, precious gemstones, spices, and Kangxi china from the Manila trade route. Even large quantities of contraband were smuggled onto the ships, bypassing the tax that was to be levied to the king.

Much of the official treasure onboard was intended to refill Spain’s coffers. The kingdom’s finances were in disarray following the misrule of King Charles II and the subsequent War of Spanish Succession. Spain was reliant on the annual voyages from the New World to bring wealth to the mainland. The war and its political instability had delayed the fleets and large quantities of treasure had piled up in Mexico and Colombia. The fleet, carrying enormous amounts of treasure from an entire continent, needed to arrive in Spain soon.

The fleet itself was a combination of two fleets, the combined Tierra Firma Fleet coming from Cartagena loaded with Peruvian and Colombian treasures, and the New Spain Fleet coming from Mexico with coins, gemstones, and china. The combined flotilla was comprised of 11 Spanish vessels with a single French vessel, the Griffon, tagging along. On July 24, 1715, they departed HavanaCuba on a north-northeasterly course to sail along the east coast of Florida before crossing the Atlantic and onwards to Spain.

Having initially left under fine sailing conditions, the fleet soon encountered violent weather and, by July 30, entered the path of a hurricane. In the early hours of July 31, just off Florida’s coast between what is now Cape Canaveral and Fort Pierce, the 11 Spanish ships were cast upon shoals by the waves and destroyed. Close to 1,500 sailors and officers were killed. The treasure cargo was scattered across the ocean floor as the ships broke apart. The survivors who made it ashore were spread across the coast for miles. Only the French vessel Griffon made it through the storm and continued on to France, unaware of the Fleet’s annihilation.

The survivors, led by Admiral Don Francisco Salmón, set up camp and sent a small party to Cuba to deliver news of the tragedy and launch a rescue mission. Spanish authorities in Cuba dispatched several ships to supply the survivors and begin salvaging the sunken treasure. For months, the Spaniards worked the waters off the coast, recovering millions of coins and a good number of artifacts. Pirates who learned of the Fleet’s destruction harassed the Spanish salvors and made off with even more treasure.

By 1718, the Spanish had considered their salvage operation a success and departed the area.

Even then, significant amounts of treasure remained just off Florida’s shore, buried in the sand and trapped beneath debris. For almost 250 years, the coins and artifacts would remain lost – among them this 1713 Royal 8 escudos.

By the 1960s, advances in diving technology and metal detecting allowed determined seekers the chance to find Spanish colonial coins from the Fleet along the beaches between Melbourne and Stuart (an area now called the Treasure Coast). Retired building contractor Kip Wagner and the Real Eight Co. organized salvage operations on what eventually became eight known wreck sites of the 1715 Fleet (at least three of the ships have yet to be located). In conjunction with the State of Florida’s lease system, the salvors were able to recover large quantities of shipwreck silver and gold coins in addition to artifacts and jewelry.

This 1713 Royal 8 escudos now being offered was recovered on August 16, 1998, by diver Clyde Kuntz. Kuntz, operating from the salvage vessel Bookmaker captained by Greg Bounds, was diving on the Corrigan’s wreck site just north of Vero Beach. The site, then leased by the Mel Fisher company, is named for Hugh Corrigan who owned a house on the beach there.

On that day, Kuntz was searching several holes in the ocean floor. Around the third hole, he pulled a gold cob 8 escudos Royal dated 1698 from a crack in the hard pan (a coin that, to this day, is unique). He stored it in his facemask to ensure he didn’t lose the valuable find. He returned to the salvage vessel to much elation among the crew for the impressive find. Then, upon returning to the water, he searched another hole and located the gold cob 8 escudos Royal now being offered. This time, he kept the coin in his diving glove so it could not be lost again. The discovery of two cob 8 escudos Royals in one day attracted much attention and the covers of several salvage publications featured both coins.

After the finding, this 1713 8 escudos Royal was documented and tagged in accordance with the State of Florida’s treasure hunting laws. The state, using a point-based system, receives 20 percent of each year’s finds and first choice among the items recovered. Upon the division, this coin was returned to the salvors for private sale. It spent many years off the market, residing in the numismatic cabinet of numismatist Isaac Rudman.

Throughout its 307-year journey, from mint to fleet to ocean floor, it has remained as bright and original as the day it was made. Its surfaces shine with flashy yellow luster as its gold was unaffected by the corrosive effects of saltwater. The design is crisply rendered by a strong, even strike that is well centered on the large, flawless planchet. This coin is the closest to perfection that Spanish colonial cob coinage could ever achieve.

The coin will be sold on November 17 in Sedwick’s auction as lot 21. Online registration is now available at the auction site, Auction lots will be available for online viewing starting October 19.

* * *

Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC
P.O. Box 1964
Winter Park, Florida 32790, USA

Phone: (407) 975.3325
Fax: 407.975.3327


Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC / Licensed Florida Auctioneer #AU3635, AB2592 (since 2007)

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Captain Sam Bellamy and the Whydah: The Fateful Decisions that Brought Spanish 1715-Fleet Treasure to the Shores of Cape Cod

19 Oct

By Daniel Frank Sedwick


Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy

Born in England in 1689, Samuel Bellamy became a sailor early in life and fought for the Royal Navy during Queen Anne’s War (War of Spanish Succession). Like so many other sailors, he was at loose ends after the war, so he decided to go to Cape Cod, probably to seek employment, in the spring of 1715. In July of that same year, the Spanish lost an immeasurable fortune in the 1715 Fleet disaster, wherein many thousands of coins and ingots from Mexico, Peru and Colombia went to the reefs and shores of eastern Florida in a hurricane. Such news was irresistible to an unemployed but experienced sailor like Bellamy, who soon formed a group of fellow adventurers to seek their fortunes chasing the treasures of the 1715 Fleet. This was his Fateful Decision #1.


After the sinking of the Spanish 1715 Fleet on July 31, the survivors sent longboats to St. Augustine and Havana to obtain relief. Just two weeks later the Spanish launched a rescue and salvage operation that continued into the year 1718. Without proper defenses, however, the salvage sites were sitting ducks for fortune-seekers, and news quickly spread to the two biggest Caribbean privateers of that time, Henry Jennings of Jamaica and Benjamin Hornigold of the Bahamas. It was not long before both of these famous pirates met Sam Bellamy.



The red X marks the resting place of the Whydah.

Bellamy, along with his chief financial backer and second-in-command, the New Englander Paulsgrave Williams, arrived on the east coast of Florida to find that the Spanish had already begun salvage work and the treasure was not simply there for the taking as they had thought. The easy stuff was already salvaged by the Spaniards and being guarded onshore. Enter the pirates: After the news reached Jamaica in November, the English privateers Henry Jennings and John Wills sped to Florida and raided the salvage camps to come away with a reported 120,000 pesos in treasure. This vast fortune caused quite a stir back in Jamaica and launched a political battle between England and Spain that in effect gave rise to unabashed piracy based in the Bahamas, where eventually the King had no choice but to grant a general pardon in 1718 for any pirates who turned themselves in.


Sam Bellamy, meanwhile, faced having to return to New England empty-handed and answer to the investors who financed his salvaging venture, or instead turn to piracy. This was his Fateful Decision #2, and it brought him and his men to the Central American coast, where they exchanged their salvage vessel for two smaller and much faster boats known as periaguas (like huge canoes but capable of handling the seas). For several months they plundered ships off the Mosquito Coast, adding to their crew along the way. While heading to the better target of Cuba, Bellamy encountered the likes of Henry Jennings, fresh off his return to Jamaica with the 1715-Fleet loot. The timing was right for this veteran privateer to become Bellamy’s first pirate mentor. Together they attacked Baya Hondo, on the north coast of Cuba, on April 3, 1716, overpowering a French ship and taking its 28,500-peso windfall in the form of what were no doubt 1715-Fleet coins, which the Spanish in Cuba had just traded for illicit goods from the French. Word of another rich French vessel to the east attracted Jennings’ attention, although his scouts soon found that his rival Benjamin Hornigold had beaten him to it. The over-confident Jennings decided to go after Hornigold, and in a severe lapse of judgment, he left Bellamy with the loot in Baya Hondo. Now known as “Black Sam,” Bellamy took the treasure and ran, which was his Fateful Decision #3.


Jennings did not find Hornigold, but somehow Bellamy did, with a different purpose. Hornigold was not just famous for privateering but also for mentoring other buccaneers, most prominently Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard,” who was Hornigold’s second-in-command by the time they met Bellamy. Hornigold loved the fact that Bellamy had tricked Jennings, and he gave his new student the sloop Marianne. Throughout the summer of 1716, the pirate flotilla carried out successful raids, but increasingly the pirates grew tired of Hornigold’s policy of not taking British ships or cargo. During a careening stop, it was decided that Black Sam Bellamy would be the new master, and Hornigold, along with his protégé Blackbeard, was sent packing. (As a side note, Hornigold soon retired from piracy, taking advantage of the aforementioned pardon in the Bahamas in 1718, while Blackbeard continued his adventures in one of his prizes, which he named Queen Anne’s Revenge, later lost off the coast of North Carolina in 1718, and was killed by the British Navy in November of that same year.)



Closeup of the Whydah’s bell.

Bellamy, still in the Marianne, proceeded to ransack the Caribbean, taking over 50 ships along the way in a very short amount of time. In December of 1716, off Guadeloupe, Black Sam captured the ship Sultana, made her his new flagship, and installed his second-in-command Williams as captain of the Marianne. In February of 1717, somewhere between Cuba and Haiti, the pirates spotted a new, 300-ton slave galley and chased it for three days before finally taking her without a fight. Her name was Whydah, and she was on the homeward journey after just having exchanged her cargo of slaves for what again had to be Spanish coins from the 1715 Fleet. Bellamy and his men counted the treasure on board—20,000 to 30,000 pounds sterling in value—and divided it into 180 shares, one for each of the 180 pirates in the crew. Also divided were bags of gold from Africa, including gold dust and Akan gold jewelry, and reportedly East Indian jewelry as well. With all this treasure, and considering her newness and agility, Bellamy decided to make Whydah his new flagship and container for all the pirate loot, amounting to some four-and-a-half tons of silver and gold divided into 180 shares, not to mention other goods and an arsenal of cannons. In return for not resisting, Bellamy graciously allowed the former captain of the Whydah to sail away on the Sultana, leaving Bellamy and his pirates with just the Whydah and the Marianne.


For whatever reason—be it the needs of a New England carpenter to return to his family, or the objective of starting a new “pirate kingdom,” or simply to make repairs, Bellamy steered the Whydah and Marianne up the east coast and northward to the faraway shores of Maine. Even though each of his 180 pirates now had more wealth to his name than a typical lifetime of earnings for an honest man of that age, the captures did not stop, and the convoy added two more ships, the Mary Anne, which provided the gleeful pirates with a cargo of fine Madeira wine, and the small sloop Fisher, which gave them the benefit of a local navigator in the foggy and treacherous waters of the northeast (the fate of the Marianne at this point is unknown). Drunk from the wine and feeling confident in his ability to safely navigate, Bellamy made his Fateful Decision #4, which would be his last: The ships steered toward Cape Cod.


The historical record does not specify that Bellamy intended to stop at Provincetown at the northern tip of the Cape, but the fact is that he turned his ships that way when he should have turned more to the east if he was still headed to Maine. Romantics believe the reason for the return to Cape Cod—ignoring the risks of capture and prosecution—was a woman. Her name was Maria Hallett. Sam Bellamy met her by accident just before he left for the Florida coast in 1715, and the two fell in love immediately. Upon his departure, Bellamy told her he would return with vast treasures, marry her and start a new life with her as prince and princess of some island in the West Indies. Some even say she was pregnant when he left, and bore Bellamy’s son in his absence, only to have that son die under mysterious circumstances, all without Bellamy’s knowledge. It is hard to see Bellamy’s navigation toward Cape Cod on that fateful April night—and indeed the entire northward trek—as less than an attempt to see his beloved. Naturally the story continues with Hallett watching from the shore as the Whydah went down, and of course pining for Bellamy forever after. But as with any good love story, the facts have commingled with fictitious romance, and we will probably never know the truth behind Bellamy’s final fateful decision to steer toward Cape Cod and lose everything.


What Bellamy did not know, however, was that a storm was bearing down on the three ships and soon would wreck them all in the shallow sands off Cape Cod. For various reasons, most of the pirates and their captured artisans survived from the other ships, but only two aboard the Whydah lived to tell their tale. The pirates were soon captured and tried for piracy. These trials, in fact, provide many details about Bellamy and the Whydah that we would not know otherwise. In the end, each of the condemned pirates was goaded into penitence by the famous Puritan minister Cotton Mather before execution. Whether dying on the wreck or on the gallows, each pirate missed out on the general pardon of 1718 by just a few months.


The next famous figure in this story is Captain Cyprian Southack, the Boston official responsible for retrieving as much of the wreckage as possible. By his account, the Whydah lay in 13 feet of water just 500 feet from shore—but the cold water and poor conditions made it impossible to dive the wreck, not to mention the fact that the ship had capsized and sank into the sand upside-down, with all the treasure therefore buried deep below the ballast and cannons and everything else. His efforts to recover washed-ashore parts of the ship were rebuffed by the beachcombing locals, and he even got stuck with the bill for burying all the dead pirates.



Examples of treasure recovered from the Whydah wreck site.

But Southack was an expert cartographer, and it was his data that made it possible for the Whydah to be found in modern times by Barry Clifford, whose sleuthing pinpointed the wreck site at more like 20 feet of depth an additional 1000 from the coast, due to erosion and rising sea levels that had even sunk a nearby town that Southack had used for reference. Clifford’s efforts were roundly criticized by the archeological community until his team recovered a large bronze bell with the actual name of the ship on it. Since then, Clifford and his team have recovered 48 cannons (plus twelve more still on site) and literally tons of treasure, including around 15,000 silver coins and hundreds of small pieces of Akan gold, with hundreds more still encased in yet-to-be conserved concretions—but the “mother lode” at the bottom has yet to be reached.


It is staggering to think of what riches from the 1715 fleet are yet to be found on the Whydah—intriguingly, there are gaps in dates and types of coins recovered from the 1715 Fleet in modern times that the Whydah instead could account for. Already we have seen among the Whydah recoveries many silver coins from the mints of Lima and Potosi that are scarcely represented in the 1715-Fleet finds of modern times. In gold coins from the Whydah we might expect to see Lima gold cobs of the year 1714, which are rare from the 1715 Fleet (not to mention the controversial date 1715, which may or may not have been possible from the 1715 Fleet for Lima). Most tantalizing of all are the hundreds of Mexican gold “Royals” (round presentation pieces) that are mentioned in contemporary documents but that exist only in small numbers so far from the 1715 Fleet recoveries. Barry Clifford and his company continue to search and salvage the Whydah site. When—not if—they find the “mother lode,” it will be a new day for the collectors and researchers of 1715-Fleet coins!

Want to see (and possibly own) two coins recovered from the Whydah? Check out lots 568 and 569 in our Nov. 2-3 Treasure Auction 24 HERE.


Clifford, Barry (with Peter Turchi). The Pirate Prince: Discovering the Priceless Treasures of the Sunken Ship Whydah. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Clifford, Barry (with Paul Perry). Expedition Whydah: The Story of the World’s First Excavation of a Pirate Treasure Ship and the Man Who Found Her. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

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