June 2018 Treasure of the Month

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This month’s featured treasure was designed to hold a treasure but with time it became a treasure itself. This box (or what remains of it) is only one of two genuine “Treasure Chests” found on the 1715 Fleet.  It is made of pine (or possibly South American Cypress) and held together by copper nails.  This item measures approximately 61 cm (24 inches) long by 31 cm (12 inches) wide and 24 cm (9.5 inches) high.

Side view. Image courtesy of Florida Division of Historical Resources.

Aerial view. Image courtesy of Florida Division of Historical Resources.

This chest was found by divers working for the Real 8 Company on Monday, June 26, 1967 two miles south of Sebastian Inlet (Cabin Wreck site).  The chest is one of 1300 such chests aboard the sunken “Capitana” which was the flagship of the Fleet. Newspaper accounts at the time reported that the chest contained 4,500 silver pieces of eight which at the time had an estimated value of between $60,000.00 – $90,000.00.  Many of the coins showed perfect date marks of 1702, 1714 and 1715.

Dr. John de Bry, of Melbourne Beach, was there the day when the chest was found.  In a personal interview conducted in preparation for this article, he described the intense excitement that was generated by the find and also the great care that was taken to recover the chest from its resting place on the ocean floor.  He indicated that the crew used a platform upon which the chest was placed and slowly brought to the surface with the use of a pulley system.

Pieces-of-eight chest being brought up. From left to right: Tommy Gore (State of Florida), Bob Johnson and John de Bry. Cabin Wreck (1967). Image courtesy of the 1715 Fleet Society Collection.

Once on board, the chest was inspected by the crew and by Tommy Gore, a Florida State Agent from the Board of Antiquities, whose job it was to oversee and tend to the contractual operations of the private firm engaged in treasure salvage within Florida’s waters.

Tommy Gore inspects the chest.

Del Long and crew inspecting treasure chest contents aboard “Derelict” (1967). Image courtesy of the 1715 Fleet Society Collection.

The chest was eventually placed in a museum operated by the Real Eight Company.  Known as the Real Eight Gallery of Spanish Treasure, the museum was located, at that time, in Satellite Beach. Later it was moved to Cape Canaveral.  As an historical note, Dr. de Bry also pointed out that there was a previous chest found at the same location on July 24, 1965. The first chest was found only 80 feet from where the second chest was found.  The first chest was also on display at the Real Eight Company museum. The remains of the second chest can be found at the Bureau of Archeological Resources in Tallahassee, Florida.

Image courtesy of Ben Costello.

Image courtesy of Ben Costello.

Special thanks to Dr. John de Bry for his time and the first-hand information he provided in preparing this article.

Ben Costello

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

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