Deep-sea explorers said Friday they have mined what could be the richest shipwreck treasure in history: 17 tons of colonial-era silver and gold coins estimated to be worth $500 million.
A jet chartered by Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration landed in the United States recently with hundreds of plastic containers brimming with coins raised from the ocean floor, Odyssey co-chairman Greg Stemm said. The more than 500,000 pieces are expected to fetch an average of $1,000 each from collectors and investors.
“For this colonial era, I think (the find) is unprecedented,” said rare coin expert Nick Bruyer, who examined a batch of coins from the wreck. “I don’t know of anything equal or comparable to it.”
Citing security concerns, the company declined to release any details about the ship or the wreck site Friday. Stemm said a formal announcement will come later, but court records indicate the coins might come from a 400-year-old ship found off England.
Because the shipwreck was found in a lane where many colonial-era vessels went down, there is still some uncertainty about its nationality, size and age, Stemm said, although evidence points to a specific known shipwreck. The site is beyond the territorial waters or legal jurisdiction of any country, he said. …
He wouldn’t say if the loot was taken from the same wreck site near the English Channel that Odyssey recently petitioned a federal court for permission to salvage.
In seeking exclusive rights to that site, an Odyssey attorney told a federal judge last fall that the company likely had found the remains of a 17th-century merchant vessel that sank with valuable cargo aboard, about 40 miles off the southwestern tip of England. A judge signed an order granting those rights last month.
In keeping with the secretive nature of the project dubbed “Black Swan,” Odyssey also isn’t talking yet about the types, denominations and country of origin of the coins.
Bruyer said he observed a wide range of varieties and dates of likely uncirculated currency in much better condition than artifacts yielded by most shipwrecks of a similar age.
The Black Swan coins – mostly silver pieces – likely will fetch several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars each, with some possibly commanding much more, he said.
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