June 2020 Treasure of the Month

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Our featured treasure for June does not have all of the eye appeal of past items that we have showcased here. But, nonetheless, this item was critical to the successful construction of ships used in the Spanish fleet system. Nails, pins and spikes made of iron, are often found among the scattered wrecks of the 1715 Fleet. Much is known about these fasteners and can actually be used in some instances to date a wreck.  Our spike is made of iron, and is partially encrusted in a matrix of sand, shells and other ocean deposits. In addition, a small piece of lead sheathing is attached to the conglomerate.

Close up of the matrix with lead sheathing attached.

Close examination of this spike reveals a square shank with grooves near the point designed to enhance its holding power. The head of the spike appears to have been round but was flattened by the impact of being driven through planks or beams.

Reverse side of spike with matrix.

Although it may seem that our featured treasure is not as significant as other more impressive artifacts it is nevertheless a valuable insight into the shipbuilding practices of that era. Also, there has been a great deal written on the subject of iron fasteners including bolts, spikes, pins and nails. According to Fleet Society member Frank Noga (Membership #1) there were several silver spikes found on the Cabin Wreck site in the early 1960’s by the Real Eight Company. Frank indicates that this was confirmed by  Lou Ullian, an original Real Eight member. Apparently, using silver spikes was a way of avoiding the quinto real, or royal fifth, which was a tax imposed on merchants who would ship their gold and silver back to Spain. The spike would be painted black and passed off as an iron spike which was commonly used on ships beams or flooring. Later it could be retrieved after the journey was over. In short, it could be used as just another item of contraband.

Fortunately, our spike illustrated here was not used for that sinister purpose. It fulfilled its duty as a ship fastener until it was recovered and became our Treasure of the Month for June.

Many thanks to Frank Noga who provided information that was important to the content of this textual material.

Ben Costello

Ben Costello

Ben Costello is a director of the 1715 Fleet Society and an attorney in Washington, PA. His full bio can be found here.

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