Introduction to Shipwreck Treasure Coins by Augi Garcia

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For most people the word shipwreck represents the old sunken Spanish galleons, dismasted and rudderless in hurricane seas... panicked crew helpless and praying as the ship is driven onto a reef that rips open the fragile hull and sends her chests of gold and silver to the bottom. Indeed many Spanish galleons returning to Europe from the Americas met this tragic fate. By some estimates a third of Spain’s treasure ships never made it home. A lot of treasure is still waiting to be recovered!

Spanish galleons were not the only treasure ships plying the cruel seas. The Dutch, the English, the French and the Portuguese all sailed treasure ships to and from the New World and the Orient, and all suffered horrific losses in the process. The long voyage from Europe to the Orient in particular was as important to the European economies as the Spanish-Caribbean connection. Many Dutch and English treasure ships perished on that route.

Between 1492 and the early 19th century Spain extracted billions and billions of dollars worth of gold, silver, precious gems and other treasures from the Caribbean, Mexican and South American colonies. Treasure and other trade goods were loaded at the new Spanish ports in Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru and the Philippines, then shipped to Spain in large armed Fleet of Galleons.

The Spanish Colonial Mints at Potosi, Lima, Cartagena, Cuzco and Mexico City labored day and night to produce the irregularly shaped gold and silver coins commonly referred to as macuquinas (crude hammered coins) or “Cobs'" this world is the simplification of the Spanish phrase, "Cabo de Barra", that means "the end of a bar" this pieces were sliced off silver bars from the Spanish Colonies, trimmed to weight and then struck between crude dies, thus No two cobs are ever exactly alike! that is what makes these "macuquinas" unique and really interesting to collect.. Ironically, the Spanish Crown put its Colonial mints to the trouble of striking coins only to have much of the coinage shipped to Spain and immediately remelted and restruck as Spanish coins "Ship Money". The point of coining the silver and gold in the New World was to better monitor and control its shipment. Some of the gold and silver coins were of course retained in the New World to serve the function of a local coinage.

Gold and silver cobs were hand-struck on unshaped blanks using locally produced dies, then trimmed to approximately the proper weight. Cobs were minted from the early 1500’s until the mid -18th century, when the mechanical press finally introduced modern milled coinage to the Spanish colonial mints. The Milled Coin era began first in Mexico in 1732, then about twenty years later in Colombia and forty years later in El Peru.

Cobs (and the subsequent milled coins) were minted in gold denominations of 8, 4, 2, and 1 and 1/2 Escudos (Doubloons), and in silver denominations of 8, 4, 2, 1, ½ and ¼ Reales (Pieces of Eight). Copper coins were also occasionally struck in denominations of 4, 3, 2, and 1 Maravedis.

By a royal statute first promulgated in the reign of Carlos I, the official weights of the silver Reales were as follows:

(I did not include diameter because it may vary depending on the mint, year and assayer.)

The production of silver cobs from irregularly cut blanks of silver (planchets) meant these ideals weight were rarely achieved. Cobs were often up to 3-4% underweight, and occasionally overweight. With the introduction of milled silver coins—first Pillars, then the Bust series—weights became much standardized. Keep in mind that when we are talking about "Treasure Coins" a notorious underweight is very common due to the corrosion originated by salty water and erosion created by being 300-400 years at the bottom of the sea.

Both cobs and milled coinage are found on Spanish Treasure wrecks, depending on date the ship was lost. Here is a list of some of the most famous Spanish (and Dutch) shipwrecks, and a brief indication of the type of coinage recovered from the wreck:

We may summarize the common types of Spanish coins recovered from shipwrecks as follows:

Macuquinas or cob coins:

Milled coins:

Augi Garcia
Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC

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