History of the Real Eight Company Through Documents and Letters

No history of the 1715 Fleet would be complete without mentioning the Real Eight Company and the men that formed this group. The Real Eight contribution to the discovery and recovery of the valuable historical coins and artifacts that made up the Treasure Fleet cannot be understated. Much of what we have learned about the Fleet, its history and treasure might never have been recovered but for the men of the Real Eight Company. However, before we focus on the Real Eight Company and its accomplishments a little background is necessary.


In the early morning hours of July 31, 1715, one of the richest Spanish Treasure Fleets ever assembled was destroyed by a catastrophic hurricane that had caught the Fleet in the Florida Straits. Trapped in the channel, the galleons loaded with treasure had nowhere to go. Eleven of the twelve ships in the Fleet, including all the treasure galleons were lost, either capsizing in deep water or tossed upon the reefs and sandy shores off of the Florida Coast. By dawn the next morning, the desolate beach was strewn with lifeless bodies and littered with wreckage. It was one of the worst sea disasters of all time.

When the Spanish Colonial authorities heard of the disaster they responded from Havana and St. Augustine but it was more of an effort directed at salvaging the galleons than rescuing the survivors. Using the limited technology that they had the Spaniards were actually able to recover a large portion of the Treasure. Of course there was some speculation that the Spanish exaggerated the amount of the recovery to deter unauthorized salvage efforts by Spain’s rivals. If that was the case it did not work. Pirates quickly responded to the disaster. The British Governor of Jamaica declared open season on the remaining sunken treasure. In addition to the dangers of actually salvaging the treasure, salvors faced the additional peril of armed raids aimed at relieving them of the treasure that they were trying to salvage. One British privateer, Henry Jennings, was particularly successful. In 1716, with several vessels and a few hundred men, Jennings’ Fleet ambushed the Spanish Salvage Camp forcing the retreat of around 60 soldiers. Jennings made off with an estimated 350,000 pesos.


The Spanish made repeated attempts to salvage the treasure. The first major recovery effort was from September 1715 to April 1716. Thus the Spanish wrecks were open to further pillaging from other sources from early 1716 until early 1718 when the Spanish decided to launch another major salvage attempt. This was the Spaniards last big salvage effort on the wrecks. The second attempt was terminated sometime in 1719.

By the summer of 1717 most of the wrecks were broken up and scattered. After the Spaniards terminated their second major salvage effort in 1719 some minor pilfering continued until the location of the wrecks were essentially forgotten.

As years turned into decades and decades into centuries, time slowly passed and the wrecks of the 1715 Fleet were largely forgotten. Occasionally bits and pieces of the wrecks would show up on beaches, a constant reminder of what lay off the shoreline in shallow water. Local inhabitants from Sebastian Inlet to Stuart were aware of some of the strange items that would frequently wash ashore, particularly after a strong storm or hurricane. Rumors of lost Spanish Treasure Ships persisted and over the years residents would beach comb trying to find their piece of history. However, there was no organized effort to actually research the rumors. However, there was no doubt that “something was out there”.

In 1928 the Urca de Lima became the first of the 1715 Fleet to be discovered in modern times. William Beach located the wreck off of Fort Pierce, Florida. Cannons and anchors were raised from the wreck. In 1932 the state of Florida issued the first salvage permit which allowed permit holders to search for and recover materials from the Spanish wreck sites. Newspaper articles from July 21, 1939 and February 11, 1940 reported the discovery of cannons, artifacts and wreckage along the Florida coast near Sebastian and Vero Beach.

William Beach was not alone. There were others. Among the curious was Charles Dana Higgs, a retired astronomer and historian. In 1941, he began to investigate some of the legends and ultimately was responsible for finding an old Spanish Salvage and Survivors Camp that was hastily created after the 1715 wrecks occurred. Higgs was the first modern investigator to connect this site to the 1715 Fleet. He continued to work and search this area which ultimately came to be known as the “Higgs Site”. Further north is the McLarty Treasure Museum which is now located on the site.

For more information see the 1942 article by Charles Dana Higgs titled “Spanish Contacts with the AIS (Indian River) Country.”


It would take a professional archaeologist, Dr. Hale G. Smith, to actually do an archaeological search of the area. In 1946, he took a team to the Higgs Site accompanied by Higgs in order to survey the area. In 1949, Smith summed up the results of his research in an article wherein he concluded that:

“Considering all the data, it seems very likely that the Higgs Site represents materials from the plate Fleet of 1715 and / or the pirates hangout of the following year. It also must be born in mind that Indians, possibly AYS, were associated with the Site, probably drawn there by the wrecks”. (Hale G. Smith, “Two Archaeological Sites in Brevard County, Florida,” Florida Anthropological Society Publications, No. 1 Gainesville: University of Florida, 1949).

A very colorful and interesting individual named Captain Steadman A. Parker was also familiar with the rumors and legends of Shipwrecks and Treasure that had circulated even when he was a young child. In 1907, his father showed him some wreckage that reputedly came from a Spanish galleon near Sebastian Inlet.

In 1949 Parker obtained an exclusive exploratory lease which gave him the right to explore the off shore waters from Sebastian Inlet to Ambersand Beach Park. However, he was no without competition. As reported in this October 31, 1950 newspaper article a J. W. Prince of Naples, Florida appeared on the scene making fantastic claims and seeking his own lease to explore from Melbourne to Jupiter Island.

Not to be outdone, Parker had his attorney send a telegram to the proper authorities requesting control of a specific wreck (rather than a general area) near Sebastian. This was probably what would later be referred to as the Cabin Wreck.

Other newspaper accounts from December, 1950 report on the fierce rivalry between Steadman Parker and J.W. Prince both seeking to gain an advantage.

It lead to this interesting letter from Steadman Parker to Florida’s government agents complaining about others trying to intrude upon his claim.

It was Steadman Parker  who introduced an unassuming mild mannered contractor from Ohio to the world of treasure hunting. It was that unassuming contractor who would be the catalyst for the greatest treasure hunt in history. That man was Kip Wagner.

Kip Wagner was born in Miamisburg, Ohio in 1906. His father was a contractor and it was Kip’s ambition to follow in his father’s footsteps. As a young man he would visit Florida on a number of occasions and eventually, after World War II, he moved his family to Wabasso, Florida on a permanent basis. Little did he know that his life was about to change forever. Little did he know that one day he would become a legend.

It all started on a rainy afternoon when Wagner met up with Captain Steadman (who at that time was Wagner’s building partner) at a pub. The foul weather had made it impossible for them to carry on their construction work so they decided to have a few beers. Steadman told him about coins being found on the beach after rain storms, particularly strong storms. Wagner was totally unaware of the treasure stories that Steadman, who grew up in the area, heard of all of his life. So, on his own, the unassuming Kip Wagner began searching the beaches looking for any sign of this “lost treasure” that he had only recently been introduced to. Thus started a whole new chapter in Kip Wagner’s life. From that point on he became fascinated (and maybe even a little obsessed) about the treasure that might be lying just a few hundred feet off shore.

For the next decade Wagner formed friendships and partnerships with individuals that shared his dream of finding lost treasure. Most of his efforts to find the lost treasure came up short. He did manage to accumulate a respectable number of Spanish coins but he could never seem to find the source of the treasure. What he did discover, however, was that none of his coins were dated after 1715. This, he felt, meant something. Just what it meant eluded him.

coins copy

Wagner then began researching old Spanish shipwrecks along the eastern coast of Florida. One night he was scheduled to have an insurance physical exam. The Doctor performing the exam was Kip Kelso. Dr. Kelso just happened to be fascinated about the prospects of lost treasure and from that point on they formed a lasting friendship. They pooled their respective resources and began to research old Spanish records about shipwrecks in the area.

The first clue they had was that none of the coins that were found thus far were dated later than 1715. This was good circumstantial evidence that whatever wreck was out there was likely lost in 1715. But just where was this wreck located, exactly? On this question they received conflicting reports.

One source indicated that a flotilla of Spanish ships carrying a vast treasure was sunk in a great hurricane off Cape Canaveral in the year 1715. Another source placed the 1715 wreck in the Florida Keys. But Cape Canaveral and the Florida Keys were 200 miles apart. Clearly, one source was wrong. To find out just where the wreck site was located would require extensive research on the subject. So, the two Kips (Kip Wagner and Kip Kelso) started with some local sources and then broadened out. On October 24, 1958 they wrote to the Old Spanish Treasury in St. Augustine, Florida requesting archival information regarding the minting of Spanish colonial coins.


Letter from kip kelso October 24 1958

They received a response referring them to the American Numismatic Society in New York.

The letter above reads as follows:

Dr. Kip Kelso
P O Box 152
Sebastian, Florida

My dear Dr. Kelso,

We you an apology for the long delay in replying too your letter to the Woman’s Exchange. We do not have any brochures on coins. I have at last remembered the local collector who helped us get our collection. He suggests that while the American Numismatic Society of New York has a small membership, that they are sending out literature to amateurs. Also, that James Gillespie Atty New Smyrna, is an interested collector of coins. I hope that this may be helpful to you and that the next time that you are in Saint Augustine that you will find the Old Treasury open  – and also enjoy our nice old home which we are working to preserve.

With apologies,
Very Sincerely,

Elizabeth F. White
Chm. Board of Managers
Woman’s Exchange
Custodians of the Old Treasury in the City

On January 23, 1959, Kip Kelso contacted the American Numismatic Society. Henry Gruenthall, Curator of the Society, upon examining a coin found by Kip Wagner, declared that he had never seen coins quite like it.

Dr. Kelso kept a list of all of his sources including bibliographies that he prepared in connection with his research. Contained therein was a reference to Irving Rouse who had written a short but detailed study on Spanish treasure fleets. One of the sources quoted by Irving Rouse was a book called A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, written by Bernard Romans and published in 1775. Kelso tried to obtain a copy of the Romans book but was advised that the book was rare and out of print.                                                         

Not to be deterred, Dr. Kelso traveled to Washington D.C. in the summer of 1959 (probably July or August). There he went to the Library of Congress and made a startling discovery. They had a copy of the Romans manuscript. In the book was a map that said:

“Opposite this River, perished, the Admiral, commanding the Plate Fleet 1715, the rest of the Fleet 14 in number, between this & y Bleech Yard”.


This was the exact location where Wagner was finding his coins. “X” literally marked the spot.

Inspired by this new information, Kip Wagner began searching for the main Spanish campsite. He believed that if he could locate the campsite he would have a “marker”, so to speak, from which he could start looking for the wrecks. Equipped with a $15.00 war surplus military mine detector and an old hound dog he found the campsite. He leased the land from the state and, using a bulldozer, cleared the land and began to excavate using a shovel and screen. When he was not excavating the site, Kip would swim in the surf, opposite the campsite, and investigate the reefs lying in the shallow water. On one occasion he discovered several large cannons and an anchor. Undoubtedly, he had found his first wreck site. Following this discovery he obtained from the Internal Improvement Fund of the State of Florida a nonexclusive salvage lease agreement for a 50-mile area from Sebastian Inlet to Stuart, Florida. Having discovered the campsite, the wreck site and procuring a lease, Kip had it all…..except the means for doing the actual salvaging. How was he going to get the treasure from the sunken ships? He needed experienced divers who shared his passion. This dilemma was the genesis of the Real Eight Company.

The Real Eight Company consisted of eight members including Kip Wagner. The original members were Kip Wagner, Dr. Kip Kelso, Col. Dan Thompson, Henry Cannon, Del Long, Lou Ullian, Erv Taylor and Lisbon Futch. How they all got together as a team, however, is a story unto itself. The one person who probably played the biggest role in bringing everyone together was Lou Ullian…..although he didn’t know it at the time.

Lou, an ex Navy man, started working at the Air Force Missile Test Range at Cape Canaveral in 1959 as an ordinance engineer. He was also a diver interested in treasure (this, from a boyhood fascination with pirates and sunken Spanish galleons). His love of diving led to a friendship with Del Long who operated a shop at Patrick Air Force Base. Del was also a diver and when they met they discovered that they had mutual interests. Del was president of a diving club and Lou joined, There he met Erv Taylor, another diver. Lou told his new friends about his interest in sunken treasure and Erv told Lou about a man he knew…..Kip Wagner. Erv arranged for Lou and Del to meet Kip. During the winter of 1959-60 Lou, Del, Erv and Kip would meet regularly. Their discussions focused on salvaging the sites that Kip had already found. They pooled their resources and developed a plan to begin work in the spring of 1960. They needed divers and equipment. The rest of the Real Eight team was about to be found.

Dan Thompson was a Colonel in the Air Force and a native of Savannah, Georgia. He was also one of Lou Ullian’s bosses and in addition, an expert diver. Lou approached him about joining the team and Dan Thompson eagerly agreed. The group now had sufficient divers but lacked a boat. Lou and Dan came up with the solution….Harry Cannon.

Lieutenant Colonel Harry Cannon worked for Dan Thompson. A native of Gainesville, Florida, Harry Cannon had just what the team of explorers needed……a boat. Although not a diver, he had vast experience in communications and electronics and had an aptitude for handling business and financial matters. With the addition of Harry Cannon the nucleus of the Real Eight Company was formed. Each member brought to the table certain skills and abilities that were needed for the group to function collectively. Lisbon Futch was a handyman, an expert boatsman and knew the channels and waterways of the Sebastian area. Del Long and Erv Taylor were knowledgeable in all things mechanical. Dan Thompson and Lou Ullian were expert divers (in addition to Del Long and Erv Taylor). Dan Thompson also had a good legal mind and organizational talent. Dr. Kip Kelso’s expertise was Spanish history and archaeology. And, of course, Kip Wagner was the glue that held the team together.

As 1960 began, the group made some exploratory runs to a wreck site north of Fort Pierce. It became obvious that they would need a boat large enough to hold them, their equipment and salvage gear. Through the efforts of Lisbon Futch, a 40 foot launch was found in Norfolk, Virginia. Dubbed the “Sampan”, this boat was to be their first real salvage vessel. During that first year of exploration the group found cannonballs, pot shards, porcelain chips, timbers and nails, but no treasure. With their patience and enthusiasm almost gone the team finally got lucky. In August they found eight silver wedges that, when placed together, formed a perfect silver “pie”. The group was reinvigorated. There was treasure out there. It would just take time and more experience to find it.

With renewed hope, Wagner decided to lead his team to another, more promising wreck site further north. It was then, on January 8, 1961, that their fortunes were changed forever. On that day the persistent group located and recovered between 3,500 and 4,000 silvers coins…most of which were fused together in two large clumps, one weighing an estimated 77 pounds and containing approximately 1,500 to 2,000 coins. On their next trip to the site in mid February they found another clump containing about 2,000 coins with an estimated value of $30,000 to $40,000. They were truly on their way. But, with fame and wealth potential problems can develop, even among the best of friends. It was this concern that lead to the creation of the Real Eight Company.

Shortly after their latest discovery, Harry Cannon called Kip and wanted a meeting. Once assembled the idea of forming a Corporation was introduced by Harry Cannon. At first Kip resisted the idea believing that a man’s word and handshake should be good enough. But, after fully discussing the matter, it was decided that a corporation should be formed. When the question of what to call the new company was brought up Kip suggested “Real Eight”, which he automatically associated with pieces of eight. And so, the Real Eight Company was born.

On April 17, 1961 another meeting was held at which time officers of the new corporation were elected and shares of stock were distributed. Kip Wagner was elected president and Dan Thompson was elected executive vice-president and treasurer. Harry Cannon was elected secretary.


What follows is an unsigned copy of the Articles of Incorporation of the Real Eight Company Inc. The company was incorporated in 1961. From our research it appears that the incorporation occurred in the early part of the year. Although the original Real Eight Company had eight members there were only seven incorporators. Kip Kelso, an original member of the group, was not one if it’s incorporators.

The company originally issued 1000 shares which were divided as follows:

Kip Wagner 145 shares

Kip Kelso 145 shares

Dan Thompson 120 shares

Harry Cannon 120 shares

Delphine Long 120 shares

Louis Ullian 120 shares

E.W. Taylor 120 shares

Lisbon Futch 110 shares










March 7th 1961 letter from Mendel Peterson, Curator of the Smithsonian Institution, to Kip Wagner about coins he received from Kip Wagner to study.



May 1, 1961 letter from numismatist Robert I. Nesmith, Curator of Foul Anchor Archives, to the Real Eight Company rendering his opinion as to the authenticity of silver coins (“cobs”) found by Real Eight off the Florida coast. He also comments on the historic significance of these coins.



Undated letter from Harry E. Cannon Secretary of the Real “8” Company, Incorporated describing “Cob” coins of the Mexico City mint.



November 7, 1961 Contract for Exploration between the State of Florida (the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund) and the Real Eight Company for a six year extension of it’s lease together with a description of the leased area. This lease extended a prior lease which was set to expire on March 10, 1963. This is one of many leases executed between the State of Florida and the Real Eight Company.


November 12, 1962 letter from Kip Wagner sent to a client who purchased a silver eight reales. Wagner describes the coin in detail and sets forth his opinion to why he chose this particular coin to send to his customer. A picture of the coin described in this letter has been superimposed on the bottom of the page. Also included is a letter from his client dated March 14, 1967. The letter is from Mexico and reads as follows:

“To whom it may concern:

The pieces of eight reales in my possession are part of the treasure recovered by the Real Eight Corporation from the 1715 Plate Fleet wrecked off the coast of Florida, opposite my home in Sebastian, Florida; and were received from Dr. Kip Wagner in exchange for various artifacts of Spanish and Indian origin which are presently on display in the Real Eight Museum at Satellite Beach Florida. These coins were minted in Mexico city during the years of 1712, 1713 and 1714 and are the only ones in existence of these years coinage due to the fact that all ten of the galleons were wrecked and practically no appreciable amount was recovered in subsequent by the Spanish. The total number of 8 reales recovered by Dr. Wagner is approx. 150,000 Eight Reales in silver and 5,000 Escudos in gold.

Homer M. Cato”




A January 16, 1963 letter to a friend commenting on a meeting Kip Wagner had with Henry Christensen before the October 1964 Christensen auction.



May 20, 1963, agreement between Mel Fischer and the Real Eight Company. This contract has historical significance because this agreement helped to launch Mel Fisher’s career in Florida as a major player in the recovery of shipwreck treasure. The circumstances surrounding the execution of this agreement and what happened after the agreement was signed is outlined in Kip Wagner’s famous book “Pieces of Eight” published in 1966.


Rare and Historic Real Eight Company Contract

August 8, 1963

This is the original “second contract” between the Real Eight Company and three individuals named Don Neiman, Bruce Ward and Frank Allen. The contract called for the Real Eight Company to search a special location where Neiman and Ward had found some gold coins. It is referred to as the “second contract” because the first agreement (prepared the same day) failed to mention where the actual treasure hunting was to take place. So, they quickly drew up another agreement (the “second contract”) with the required information. This contract called for the Real Eight Company to salvage a shipwreck (now known as the Nieves). This is the “working copy” original of the agreement. As a result of this agreement the Real Eight Company sublet the site to a friend from California…..Mel Fisher! And, as they say, the rest is history. On May 24, 1964, just before they were about to give up, Fisher and his crew found 1.033 gold coins. From that point on Fisher stayed in Florida and went on to bigger and better things. This document and the story behind it are displayed below.



February 18, 2005
Around mid-summer in 1963, I was driving my beach buggy down the beach from Ft. Pierce to Stuart looking for glass floats, ambergris, bottles and any other interesting “artifacts.” At a point just North of the “Colored Beach” access road as it was referred to then, I noticed a large fragment of reddish orange material and upon further examination I recognized this as terra cotta…my prior knowledge gained from reading. I knew that terra cotta pottery was associated with Spanish shipwrecks. Later that week, I returned to that area taking along my old Fisher M-scope metal detector just to check it out. That same area contained black soil because of the mineralized sand. Within several minutes of working the edge of the “cut away” area of the beach, I found a heavily oxidized silver coin that appeared very old. More research into the known wrecks of the Spanish galleons and looking at pictures of “old silver coins” made me realize that it might just be possible that these coins were coming from an unknown wreck.
Within about a month, going every day or two to this same area, I found many silver and copper coins, small fragments of lead sheathing, more terra cotta pot shards, several gold coins, and a couple of silver rings and one cross. About June or July I was again metal detecting the area and noticed a man walking toward me with a metal detector. Eventually we met, introduced ourselves (his name was Bruce Ward) and swapped treasure stories from Indian relics to old bottles. Neither of us mentioned Spanish coins or treasure. We both decided to quit for the day and walked together back to our vehicles. As we were walking we were swinging our metal detectors in a very hap-hazard manner. Within a minute or two my detector gave a loud beep as I was crossing a small narrow washed out area. I back tracked my steps, zeroed in on the reading and about three inches under the sand I found an 8 escudo with the full date of 1714! My newly met acquaintance let out a holler of joy and I did too. Before we got to our cars, we both had divulged the finds we had made at this area and agreed a wreck must be nearby. Bruce had found a few silver coins as well.
Within another week we met again and decided (as a team) to rent a boat and search for ballast. However, neither of us had the funds to rent a boat and scuba gear. Bruce knew how to dive and I was familiar with boats. Consequently, we decided if we could find someone to finance our hunt by offering a partnership, we just might be able to locate underwater evidence of a wreck. I had heard of a coin collector by the name of Frank Allen who lived near Orlando that might be interested in this venture. He informed us that he had the money to invest with us and definitely wanted in as an equal split partner for anything that might be found in the water. Frank was not able to participate in any of the physical activities as he was busy teaching school (I think) and taking care of a newly inherited grove.
Bruce and I made many trips to the site but failed to find anything but several ballast stones under the water. We both realized, however, that the “good stuff” was probably buried under the sand. We decided we had gathered enough hard evidence from the surface to estimate the general direction of the wreck by triangulation. We knew it would be scattered and under the sand due to the violent manner in which the ship sank during the 1715 hurricane.
Bruce, Frank and myself formed a verbal partnership formally when all three of us met to eat at a little restaurant just North of Vero Beach. At that same time we agreed to take all the coins and artifacts to a man known to have knowledge of Spanish shipwrecks…Kip Wagner. Bruce entrusted me with some of his coins and along with all of my material I made an appointment with Kip Wagner. He was amazed with what we showed him and within 30 minutes agreed it was a 1715 wreck. As president of the Reale 8 company he initiated a contract right then and there with Reale 8 doing the “digging.” We discussed the terms and I wrote up the first contract but an omission of the location was left out. Consequently, Kip’s wife wrote the second document immediately correcting this. We all agreed to the second contract and signed it. As it turned out Kip, without our knowledge, sublet the digging to a friend in California (Mel Fisher) who had nothing to do with our initial contracts.
The foregoing statements are true to the best of my recollection. There could be errors or omissions as the happened 42 years ago.
Don Neiman

Post Script

After writing the above article it was brought to our attention that we had erroneously identified the “first contract” (shown below) as the “second contract”. We have corrected our error and provided a short narrative written by William A. Pearson, President, Forecastle Treasures, explaining the interesting history behind the “first contract”.

Note the striped appearance of the document which resulted from discoloration when another document was placed over it in a frame.



August 28, 1963.    Letter to Kip Wagner from J.G. Ayers of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. While salvaging the wreck sites of the 1715 Fleet, the Real Eight Company found numerous examples of fine porcelain which Kip Wagner, President of the Company, wanted to have evaluated. He sent pictures of the recovered porcelain items to the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum seeking their opinion on the origin of the porcelain. This is the letter he received in response to his request.

October 10, 1963 Letter of agreement between Universal Salvage Company and the Real Eight Company (designated Real “8” Company Inc.) for the purpose of salvaging shipwrecks along the east coast of Florida. Note the handwritten comment on the bottom left of the agreement that says “This agreement expires Aug 1, 1965 when another agreement may be made if agreeable to both parties.”



July 13, 1964, letter from James T. Williams, Chief of the State Land Office Section of the Trustees of the Internal Development Fund to Kip Wagner President of the Real Eight Company Inc., enclosing a fully executed Lease Agreement No. 1329-A bearing a date of June 30, 1964.

The lease agreement sets forth in specific detail the areas leased by the State of Florida to the Real Eight Company together with site numbers, longitudes and latitudes.








August 1, 1964 letter from the firm of Person and Zirilli, Auditors, to the Real Eight Company Inc. enclosing an inventory of coins and artifacts found by the Real Eight Company. The auditors were appointed by the State of Florida to inventory Real Eight Company findings to ascertain the State distrubition of 25%. The inventory itself, dated July 21, 1964, consists of ten pages.












Real Eight Company Gallery of Spanish Treasure

In January, 1965 the Real Eight Company story was featured in the National Geographic magazine. To coincide with the release of this story an exhibit showcasing key treasure finds was planned at Explorers’ Hall in the magazine’s new quarters located in Washington, D.C.  The exhibit opened in December, 1964 and by all accounts was extremely successful. After a two month stay, the exhibit was then moved intact to the Florida State Museum in Gainesville. Again, it was a great success.

At about the time that members of the Real Eight Company were preparing for the National Geographic exhibit at Explorers’ Hall, the idea of establishing their own museum was conceived. They shot for an opening date of May 1.

And so, on May 1, 1965 a museum was opened next to the First National Bank of Satellite Beach about 35 miles north of Sebastian, Florida. In the first half year more than 25,000 people visited the museum. The museum exhibits included gold and silver coins, K’ang Hsi china, a solid gold ingot that weighed seven pounds, hinges, brass nails, gold jewelry, religious items, cannonballs, musket balls, a ship’s anchor, navigational equipment, encrusted objects and a whole assortment of many other items that the company recovered over the years. A treasure chest recovered in 1965 (still submerged in water) was another popular item. The following images were taken at the museum during its operation in Satellite Beach. They depict many of the items that were on display at that time. Also, please note the picture of the treasure chest in a tankful of water.




The treasure chest in this image was the first ever found by the Real Eight Company in July 1965.


The treasure chest depicted above was the first of two such chests ever found. What remains of the first chest now resides in the State of Florida Collection. Pictured below is that chest as it appears today.

Remains of the first treasure chest found in July 1965.





Footnote: A second chest was found by The Real Eight Company in June 1967.

The second treasure chest being brought up at the Cabin Wreck site in June 1967. From left to right: Tom Gore (State of Florida), Bob Johnson and John de Bry.


Del Long and crew inspecting second treasure chest and contents aboard “Derelict” (1967).


Tommy Gore inspects the second chest found in 1967.

May 19, 1965 letter to Kip Wagner from Melvin Payne, Executive Vice President and Secretary of the National Geographic Society. This letter encloses an earlier letter of May 18, 1965 from John A. Pope, Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Mr. Pope describes the origin of a gold chain found by Kip Wagner on one of the 1715 Fleet wreck sites.

In July 1968 the Real Eight Company moved their museum to a larger facility located at Cape Canaveral Florida. The “Museum of Sunken Treasure” displayed many of the gold and silver coins, jewelry, priceless Chinese porcelain and other artifacts recovered by the Company. The museum also had a gift shop where visitors were able to buy replicas of treasure coins as well as jewelry.

The following are newspaper accounts and press releases of the opening of the new museum:

The following photographs depict images of the Real Eight Company Museum of Sunken Treasure. According to former Real Eight member, John Jones, the museum opened in 1968 and closed in 1974.

















You may want to know what happened to the Real Eight Museum of Sunken Treasure in Cape Canaveral. It did not come to a happy ending as set forth in the article below.   P.S. The building was demolished in 2017.


Real Eight Company Gallery of Sunken Treasure

These historic archival brochures are from the Real 8 Company Gallery of Sunken Treasure. Although undated it is believed that these brochures were used from the late 1960’s to early 1970’s . Courtesy of Frank Noga.






April 9, 1969.  Letter from John S. Potter to Kip Wagner. This letter includes the final version of a draft of approximately 17 pages which was set to appear in a book being written by Mr. Potter called “Treasure Diver’s Guide”. This book is considered to be a classic in the shipwreck community.

November 14, 1969 letter to Dan Thompson with list of current exploration or salvage contract holders with State of Florida.


September 2nd, 1970 letter from Robert Williams, Director of the Division of Archives, History and Records Management to the Real Eight Company with a contract of exploration awarded to the company by the Department of State.



August 26th, 1971 letter from Real Eight Company member Dan Thompson to Treasure Salvors Inc. for the delivery of a Magnetometer. Note that the letter was received by and signed by Mel Fisher on August 27, 1971.



1970 Annual Report of the Real Eight Company. This Annual report to the stockholders of the Company outlined the status of the Company. The report indicates that the principle activities of the Real Eight Company, Inc., encompassed the recovery of sunken Spanish treasure from Florida coastal waters and other locations. Another principle activity of the Company was to operate the Museum of Sunken Treasure which became a very popular tourist attraction in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Report also includes financial statistics regarding the viability of the company. Kip Wagner, founder of the Company and Chairman of the Board, reached retirement age and officially retired at the end of the fiscal year. Harry E. Cannon was elected Chairman of the Board and John P. Jones was elected President of the Company on August 13th 1970. The Company also reported to its stockholders that it successfully eliminated its dependence on treasure hunting by establishing itself as a manufacturer and distributor of sophisticated underwater vehicles, underwater cameras and lighting systems, oceanographic instrumentation, electro-optical devices and closed circuit tv systems through Real Eight Ocean Systems Inc., formally known as Rebikoff Underwater Products, Inc.

















1971 Annual Report of the Real Eight Company. This annual report was not as optimistic as the 1970 report. The letter to the stockholders indicates that “new management responsibilities, new accounting systems, new auditors, company consolidation and reorganization and a multitude of other internal and external factors have caused inordinate delays and excessive efforts.” Despite this cautionary comment the stockholders were given some optimism in that it was believed that “Our company is in a far better posture than ever before and our future has never been brighter.” It should be noted that the letter to the stockholders was issued later in the year than was expected.
















Autumn, 1972 letter sent by Schulman Coin and Mint, Inc. announcing auction of Spanish treasure recovered by the Real Eight Company to be held on November 27, 28 and 29, 1972.



27 thoughts on “History of the Real Eight Company Through Documents and Letters”

  1. Darrel Strickland

    Where can I send some copies of letters (from the S.A.H.S.) that you do not have on file? I have thoroughly checked your site, and you do have many that I have, but many you don’t. Some are really interesting with Reale 8 and others trying to get permission for microfilm, etc.

    Thank you, Darrel

    1. Nikalos Bentley

      I’m so sorry im trying to find out what I have. It’s a. Real eight co., inc. treasure certificate. It’s very unusual. It appears in a old frame with what appears to be Kip wagner s signature . It has a reales on the certificate. The paper is cut to include the coin. If anyone knows what im talking about im glad to photograph it.

      1. Nokalos, Ben Costello here. I’m president of the 1715 Fleet Society.
        What you have is likely a legitimate Kip Wagner certificate.
        Cutting the paper out to include the coin was a common practice. I would suggest that you send me a copy of the certificate so I can verify the signature, but it sounds legitimate. Email me at 1715fleetsociety@gmail.com and I’ll get back to you there.

  2. Thanks for the history lesson.
    I dove for Real Eight during the summer of 1970 between high school and college, under the command of Sir Robert Marks. And what a thrill to find artifacts, including coins, while diving. It is that experience that set me off on the path to studying oceanography and life in extreme environments, including on other planets.

  3. Thank you for such a good article on the Real Eight Company. I was a very little girl when this was going on in our family. My dad loved being one of the founding members of the Real 8. I was blessed growing up with this history.
    Kind Regards
    Cheri Long Bedford
    Daughter of Del Long

    1. Donna,

      Thank you for your comment. Real Eight stock certificates do have value. They sell for $35 on up (per certificate) depending on the year they were issued and to whom.

      If, for instance, they were issued to a Real Eight member, the value could be five or ten times more.

      If you have questions, feel free to contact us at 1715fleetsociety@gmail.com.


  4. In the early 1960’s my husband and I met Kip Wagner at his rented beach house directly opposite the dive site. We talked for a while and he was so nice, and told us what was currently going on. We asked if we could use our metal detecter in the area and he said sure. We found a ship spike close by and kept it for years, before it was lost in a move to Texas. We were fortunate to live in a time and place where so much history (both treasure hunting and space exploration) happened. I am trying to document our family history for my family to know what an interesting time we lived in. Thank you for the history of the Real 8 Corp.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind comments. We always appreciate hearing from our readers! Good luck in documenting your family’s history. If there is anything we can do to help you in that endeavor – please do not hesitate to contact me directly. Ben Costello, Director.

  5. I have no physical connection to Real 8 or any other facet of it’s history, other than the fact that I’ve been fascinated with their finds, since I was a kid (born in 1970) listening to my dad talk about these incredible folks who found treasure. I grew up to become a US Marine, and after that a law enforcement officer.

    This is a fantastic article, and I just wanted to say thanks for putting it out here for me to find.

  6. Enjoyed looking at your site today. Many thanks for posting. Nice to peruse some of the original documents and recall my days as a diver for the company back in the 60’s (four summers). What a remarkable opportunity for me as a seventeen year old. I was lucky to have been able to meet so many different and talented people from so many walks of life including astronauts, Nat.Geo. reporters, archaeologists, and to have so many memories from which to draw to share with my children,family and friends.

    1. Jim,
      Thank you very much for your very kind comment. It’s always a pleasure hearing from people who have had some association with the Real Eight Company. Please keep in touch. Thank you very much.
      Ben Costello

      1. Lonalee Thompson

        My husband’s uncle was Dan Thompson and we have the National Geographic with Real Eight’s article. His mother Dan’s sister-in-law has a certificate of stock dated May 2, 1974 for 60 shares. We were wondering if it’s worth anything? Thank you.

  7. This was a great history read and now i know many more facts concerning the early treasure salvage operations of Real Eight. I never met Kip Wagner but I knew Mel Fisher and even appointed him to my board of directors of my publicly traded treasure salvage co Golden Quest inc circa 1989. At that time we had 3 contracts with the State of Florida for several areas and we also, in 1991, had another salvage contract for a huge area in Great Abaco, Bahamas. Finding some shipwrecks in Abaco provided me the opportunity to write my first book named ‘Shipwrecks of Great Abaco, Bahamas.’ My 2nd book is titled “Shipwrecks and Discoveries” and it was published in 2011. Mel Fisher supplied me with 1,100 pages of details about all facets of marine archaeology and even daily logs of finds from the 1715 fleet as well as the Atocha wreck. I bound the documents into books and had it professionally assembled and made gave various books to foreign countries such as the Philippines (National museum in Manila), Namibia Africa, Indonesia and one copy to the government of Puerto Rico. Now i have a very good shipwreck researcher in Paris and her father who have recently supplied me with 7 virgin treasure wrecks to the east of Cuba. One wreck has 220,000 gold coins on it. All of the wrecks are at one island in shallow water. Anyone wishing to join us and have some fun and a share of our finds should contact me. My email: sirwilliam5333@aol.com

  8. Eugene R Murns SFC USArmy Ret

    In 1962 I was station at Fort Bragg N.C. were I had the opportunity to meet Tom Wagner the Son of Kip. Tom, Al Gordon and myself took leave and went to Fl.and I got to meet Kip and many of his crew. We got to go out on the “SanPan” and dive with them. At the end of our visit Kip gave Al and I a “Gob”
    ( peace of Eight) I have (some were along the way) lost mine but I still have the memories.what became of Tom? I lost all track of him after I was sent to Germany.

  9. I worked for Real Eight as a diver in the summer of 1975, I just graduated from F.I.T. and a friend told me he new of a company that was looking for divers and I was looking for work. I got hired. The operations only lasted a few weeks, but I have memories that have lasted for years, and the piece of eight that I got to keep (my first find). I was told that was the tradition, the first coin a diver found was theirs to keep. I pulled it out this Christmas morning and it looks almost exactly like the one depicted on one of the letters you have posted. Great memories. I’ve been trying to remember the name of one of my bosses, he said he was the nephew of one of the Real Eight founders and that he was the person who found a gold dragon on the beach (an original Spanish camp site?). He let me steer the boat part way back to the marina. I think my chest puffed out a little. His name might have been Rex (the older I get the harder it is to remember names. What’s good about growing old?). Thanks for your web site, it brings back great memories. Jim Perdue.

    1. Mr Perdue,

      Thank you for your comment. The gentleman that is referred to as “Rex” is Rex Stocker. Rex is alive and well and lives in Sebastian, Florida. He is the last surviving member of the Real Eight.

      The Real Eight Company was dissolved in 1981. During their decades of salvaging, they recovered more silver and gold coins than any other salvage operation.

      Ben Costello
      Director, 1715 Fleet Society

  10. Just thought I would add to my earlier comment; I found this web site while searching for info on the Real Eight co. after reading an article that gold coins were found off the coast of Vero Beach, valued at $4.5 million. That got me wondering what ever happened to Real Eight. The last dive trip I remember going on with them was near Vero Beach, where it was thought that quite a number of gold coins were still waiting to be found. Gold coins were found in very shallow water this past July 2019, in only 2-3 ft. of water near Vero Beach. We were diving in depths of 25-30′ and we came up empty handed. It was exciting to read so many years later that the coins were finally found. I dove for Real Eight in the summer of 1975.

  11. You may be interested to know that the Museum of Sunken Treasure was featured in the Nancy Drew book “Mystery of the Moss Covered Mansion” copyright 1968. The history of the 1715 shipwrecks is given, Nancy Drew and her friends visit the museum and even track some bad guys there. The audiotour and interior of the museum are described, and Nancy buys several pieces of souvenir jewellery at the gift shop!

    The book brought me to this website. Fascinating! Your work to put this website together is wonderful. I only wish I could have visited the museum.

    Mary Young

    1. Mary,

      It was so nice to hear from you. I really appreciated your kind comments. I never knew that about the Nancy Drew book. I think I will post something in our newsletter about that. By the way, although the Museum of Sunken Treasure is no longer here, you can visit the McClarty Treasure Museum in Sebastien, Florida and see a nice display of 1715 Fleet coins and artifacts. Additionally, there is a museum in downtown Sebastien, the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum which also has many items from the 1715 Fleet as well as the Atocha.

      Once again, thank you very much.

      Ben Costello

  12. This was a very interesting and comprehensive coverage of the Real Eight Company. My experience with Real Eight, was in 1969, I was a classmate at university in Ohio, with Harry Cannon’s son, also named Harry. In December of 1969 I was a guest of the Cannon’s for Christmas break. Since I was a diver, Harry (Jr.) and I headed down to Islamorada to meet the guys. It was great. We stayed on the Grifon and I got to out and dive the reef with Bob Marks (Sir Robert Marx). It was awesome although I didn’t see any treasure.

    Unfortunately after we came in, we were hanging out in the marina while the crew was filling tanks with a big air compressor. The air compressor blew up with a tremendous explosion in which I was injured with shrapnel to the extent that I had to have a tourniquet applied and rushed to the hospital; first the little place on the key and then by ambulance to Miami where I was to spend a couple of weeks before flying home.While in the hospital I got to meet most of the principals of the company who I had not yet met, everyone was great.

  13. Kip kelso is my grandfather, and my father is Ian kelso whom also helped on some of the dives. It truly is inspiring and just amazing to see all of this history! Getting the pleasure of seeing these coins in person as a child and read more and more of its history is just awesome!

  14. I have recently bought a copy of the book “Pieces of Eight” 1966, by Kip Wagner, to learn about the history of minting and source of pieces of eight transported to Spain. In particular Chapter 4 “Disaster on the High Seas” interests me very much, and wonder whether I may quote the first 4 pages or so of that chapter in a book I am working on. Alternatively, can you tell me, who has the copyrights today?
    My book explores a tea trade voyage from Copenhagen to Canton in China 1765 – 1767 captained by Lars Swane, an ancestor of mine. The trade with China was partly funded by Pieces of Eight loaded in Copenhagen and Cadix, Spain.

  15. Richard Londeree

    Just read the whole article….I lived in a duplex on Oak street in the early 1960’s….our garage was connected to Dan Thompsons garage….I was like 10…..I remember the cannon, and piles of silver coins in his garage…..just wish I was a little smarter back then…..He was a colonel and my dad a Major at the time…..we did dig up a galleon mast on the beach out in front of Capehart one day…Dan helped us dig it up…what a time!

    1. Hello
      I just finished reading Kip Wagners book and it was a fantastic read. I live in Vero Beach and remember the find of the coast here a few years ago.
      I found this site and was a little sad in the telling of the last years of Reale Eight Inc. It seems it slowly went downhill after Kip (Wagner) retired. He was really the driving force wasn’t he?
      Do you know the approximate total value gained from the action in that took place in Nov 1972 at S Mint and Coin?

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