If you find yourself in Tallahassee, the Museum of Florida History has a 1715 Treasure Fleet Exhibit that is a must see. Click here for location and times.
The exhibit showcases the magnificent Florida State Collection of coins and artifacts recovered from the 1715 Fleet. The Museum’s Fleet exhibit is rated as one of the best in the state.
What follows is a brief photographic preview of what’s in store for a visitor to the Museum of Florida History.
The first image shown above is a wall display of Spanish colonial gold and silver coins. The coins are attached to the display with a special adhesive wax that allows the coins to remain in place without damaging the surface of the coin.
The Lima, Potosi and Bogota mints and other minor mints are featured in other cases. A close up of the wall display above depicts gold coins to the center and left with silver coins to the right. Care has been taken to separate the coins by denomination. The larger eight escudo gold pieces are at the top followed by lesser denomination of four escudos, two escudos and one escudos. Note that the gold coins demonstrate a nearly round appearance while the silver coins to the right are more crude. All these coins are handmade and no two are identical.
Here, pieces of eight (reales), pie shaped wedges, a round silver ingot and a large silver bar compliment each other along with other artifacts placed in sand. The wedges and round ingot are curious in that they have no tax stamps. There is some support for the theory that they were smuggled objects bypassing the tax process. The bar ingot and some coins rest on two copper alloy ingots, informally poured into a sand mold, and not treated as treasure by the Spanish. The coin clump, lower right, was deliberately left un-conserved and in aigrette, similar to the way they appear when found on wrecks.
This reveals that most of these coins have enough design to identify the mint as Mexico, but few have dates. What is very visible are the hammer strikes applied to coins (commonly referred to as hammer marks). Mexico coin planchets are more likely to be irregularly shaped, as seen in this image.
The “pitting” is not from corrosion but occurred when the ingot was poured. The large 77 pound bar ingot also has tax marks that are clear which indicate that it was legitimate and not being smuggled. The bar ingot and some coins rest on two copper alloy ingots. Also seen are ballast stones and to the left a large clump of Silver coins which were part of a large bag of coins that went down intact when the ship it was on sank. These coins are fused together into a “clump” due to the action of the saltwater on the surface of the silver. In the coin clump note the blue green color from copper oxide. All silver coins contain a trace amount of copper despite high silver content. The sea water corrosion makes the trace copper very evident by the blue green color.
The coins are displayed amongst ballast stones and ship timbers recovered from the 1715 Fleet. The gold disk in the lower left corner is an ingot. This one is legitimate as it is covered with tax stamps. The ingot on the ballast stone is curious. It is broken and probably consisted of gold objects heated and pressed into a loose ingot, but not so completely melted that it was homogeneous. It also has a relatively high copper content typical of Indian gold. It is thought to possibly be fairly old relative to the other objects found in the display. Perhaps it is from the first couple of decades of Spanish colonialism when gold Indian articles were sometimes heated and pressed into informal ingots for division and shipping. Note the gold Rosary chain draped on a ship’s timber.
Rings, gold chains and religious artifacts compliment other gold items set forth in this arrangement. The gold tray was once thought to be a communion tray but was later determined to be a “cocoa pot” tray. A form of relatively sweet but spiced cocoa was a popular Spanish drink in those days. Fragments of clay pipes can be seen in the lower right hand corner. These pipes were commonly found among wreckage of the 1715 Fleet.
The earthenware dishes and pewter plate might be officer’s mess items. Sailors ate off of wooden platters or bowls with wooden spoons. The sailors owned their own wooden utensils. The silver fork, spoon and plate might well have been the Captains or someone with high status (or cargo). The plate has maker’s mark as well as tax stamps. These can be seen on the plate rim nearest the camera. The crystal goblet fragment would have been a high status object. The porcelain plate was likely cargo. The silver candlestick has an elaborate Spanish Inscription that says in effect that it is being dedicated to a saint and sent to a church in Spain.
Fine porcelain specimens are extremely valuable and intact pieces are even more rare.
Many such items have been found throughout the wreck site of the 1715 Fleet. Note how crudely the bottles are made probably meant to be thrown away when their contents were emptied. Also their shape inhibits tipping over on a table in rolling seas.
This type of ordinance, usually cast in iron but sometimes in bronze, was common on Spanish galleons of the era. A large galleon could easily mount 50 of these.
This gives a better impression of its size. The gun carriage is a modern reproduction.
SPECIAL THANKS to David Dickel, Florida Division of Historical Resources, for his help in developing the text for these photographs.