February 19, 2019 DATELINE: Snohomish, Washington Personal Story by James Mesher

Please permit me to introduce Fleet Society member (#86) James Mesher of Snohomish, Washington. Jim sent me his story of how he first became interested in the 1715 Fleet. Not surprisingly, his story begins with a chance encounter with an article from January 1965 which he saw in National Geographic. But rather than spoil his story, I will let him tell you.

My Coins and Correspondence from Kip Wagner by Jim Mesher

I am 64 years old, and I would have to say that one of the things that I have been most passionate about in my life is treasure hunting, especially when it relates to the history of the Spanish treasure fleets, and the discovery and salvage of certain treasure galleons that failed to complete their journey from Havana, Cuba to Spain. I have a great man, Kip Wagner, to thank for this. Accordingly, I have always had an especially keen interest in the 1715 fleet.

This all began for me in 1969. While waiting for my father in the reception area of his medical offices, I just happened to pick up a January 1965 issue of the National Geographic from among many other far-from-current magazines on the table next to me. I was fifteen at the time. While thumbing through that National Geographic, I noticed the article by Kip Wagner titled “Drowned Galleons Yield Spanish Gold.”

As I read Kip’s story and examined the images of some of the wonderful treasures he had found, I experienced a degree of excitement and enthusiasm exceeding anything I had experienced before then. Quite simply, I had never seen, or heard about, or read about, anything as fantastic to me as what I found in that article. I even, at the age of 16, got certified as a scuba diver with the idea of one day diving on one of the 1715 wrecks.

Later that year, in August, I decided to write to Kip Wagner, hoping that I could purchase a piece of eight from him. I had $25 and a pillar dollar, dated 1817, that I could send as payment. I did not have an address for him, so just wrote his name and town (either Vero Beach or Sebastian) and Florida on the envelope. My letter, with the enclosed $25 and pillar dollar, reached him. In my letter to Kip, I indicated my hope that he could send me a piece of eight, preferably uncleaned.

He sent me a very nice Mexico eight real coin, along with a hand-written note, and a cert bearing his signature. He wrote to me that he had cleaned the coin just enough to make sure that he was sending me a nice coin. I still have that coin, his note to me, and the cert, as well as the envelope he used to send them.

About one year later, sometime in 1970, I sent Mr. Wagner $80 with a request that he send me, if possible, a dated piece of eight. In response, Kip sent me a beautiful Lima coin, dated 1699, along with a lengthy hand-written note and cert. Those items are still in my possession.

Over the years, I have collected other coins, and some artifacts, recovered from the 1715 wrecks, as well as other treasures from various parts of the world. However, I would have to say that the treasures that I value the most are the items that I received from Kip Wagner in 1969 and 1970.

I am pleased to share images of these items with you as a tribute to Kip Wagner and as a little piece of additional evidence of what a great man he was. To me, it is quite telling that he responded so generously to letters and enclosures received from a kid living on the other side of the country. He was indeed generous in taking the time to write to me and in selecting two very nice pieces of eight to send me, that were worth more than what I had sent to him as payment.

I am retired from various careers that include working as a chemical engineer, airplane maintenance instructor for Boeing, math teacher, and patent attorney. I regret that I never experienced diving on one of the 1715 wrecks. I imagine that, if I were ever to do such a dive and found even just a spike or musket ball or fragment of K’ang-hsi porcelain or piece of lead sheathing, I would give thanks to Kip Wagner for the thrill of finding it.

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Ben Costello

Ben Costello is a director of the 1715 Fleet Society and an attorney in Washington, PA.

Comments

  1. To The 1715 Fleet Society–

    What a great story has been submitted by Mr. James Mesher of Seattle, Washington. Each of us in the Society Membership could pen a story similar to James’, as each of us, I’m sure, was inspired by the efforts of Kip Wagner and the Real Eight Company and their crews in uncovering and publishing the history –numismatic and otherwise– found by these intrepid souls. My own story begins with the reading of the National Geographic article, as well as one in the January 1965 ARGOSY magazine on a similar subject. I immediately moved my family and myself to Florida’s East Coast in order to “work in the ocean”. I had been through the YMCA course for SCUBA diving in 1955, but the water in Connecticut turned me blue in short order! Otherwise our “stories” are quite similar, except that I had the opportunity to dive the wrecks of the 1715 Fleet and recover a few artifacts.

    GOOD HUNTING!

    ER

    • Thank you, Ernie for your response to my story. I am pleased that you enjoyed it.
      That’s great that you moved to the East coast of Florida and had the opportunity to
      dive on the 1715 wrecks. I often wish that I had done that. Instead, I got involved
      in a career as a chemical engineer in the Chicago and Seattle areas. I would be
      interested in knowing how you got to dive on the 1715 wrecks. I have traveled to
      Florida a few times over the years with my metal detector and did manage to find
      a couple of reales from the wrecks.

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