50 Years: A Tribute

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Kip Wagner. The modern day hunt for the treasure of the 1715 Fleet had its origin with an unpretentious man from Miamisburg, Ohio. That man was Kip Wagner. Born in 1906, Wagner first visited Florida in the winter of 1921. A contractor by trade, he moved to Florida permanently in the mid 1940’s. He was hired to build the Penn-Wood Motel (it is still there) in Wabasso. He and his family settled into a small house nearby.

In his spare time, Wagner would walk the beach looking for decorative pieces of driftwood. While doing so he began to find odd shaped pieces of metal which he later discovered were Spanish silver pieces of eight….real treasure. None of the coins he found were dated past 1715. In time he teamed up with a local physician, Dr. Kip Kelso, and together they researched ship wrecks from that era. Eventually they discovered that a Spanish treasure fleet perished in a hurricane in 1715. In 1959 while researching documents in the Library of Congress, Dr. Kelso found a book called A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida published in 1775 by Bernard Romans. In that book was a map confirming that the location of the lost fleet was in the area where Wagner was finding his coins. With that information, both Kips contacted the archives in Seville Spain where they requested detailed information about the doomed fleet.  One of the documents they received indicated that after the fleet was destroyed a salvage camp was established near the Sebastian Inlet. Wagner located the campsite and from there directed his attention to the waters offshore.

1715 Fleet Society Kip Wagner 50 Yrs 1
Kip Wagner in his living room examining his latest find, circa 1962

In 1960 he partnered with a group of divers and treasure enthusiasts and together they formed what became to be known as the Real Eight Company. That partnership was the beginning of an experience of a lifetime. They secured leases from the State of Florida and were responsible for recovering vast amounts of gold and silver coins, ingots, jewelry and artifacts. All of this from the treasure of the 1715 Fleet.

In 1966 Wagner published a book about the exploits of the Real Eight Company called Pieces of Eight. It is recognized as a classic in the shipwreck community. He died on February 26, 1972 at the age of 66. Wagner will be remembered as the man who was the catalyst for the greatest treasure hunt in history. An unassuming man from Miamisburg, Ohio.

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