For June’s Treasure of the Month we are featuring this beautiful eight escudos gold coin (or “cob ”) from the Spanish colonial mint of Lima, Peru. Dated 1712, it is not particularly a rare date for coins of this mint and denomination found on 1715 Fleet wreck sites. In fact, in its collection, the State of Florida has many such examples. What makes this a special coin, and why we are featuring it, is its provenance. Here is the history of this coin.
In August of 1963, three men approached Kip Wagner who was then president of the Real Eight Company. The Real Eight was at the time the largest salvaging firm operating on the wreck sites of the 1715 Fleet. The three men, Bruce Ward of Vero Beach, Don Neiman of Fort Pierce and W. Frank Allen of Orlando contacted Wagner with some astonishing information. They indicated that they had found some gold coins at a wreck site a few miles south of Fort Pierce. The three men entered into a contract with the Real Eight Company and agreed to take a 60 – 40 split with the Real Eight getting 60% inasmuch as the company would put in the man hours and foot the expenses. Once the deal was sealed, Wagner assigned the task of searching the area where the gold was supposedly located to his subcontractor at the time….Mel Fisher!
Fisher and his team searched in vain at the designated site and came up empty. By January 1964, it was apparent to Wagner that a new deal had to be negotiated with Ward, Neiman and Allen. Over 600 man hours had been devoted to the project with nothing to show for it. So the Real Eight Company sought to modify the contract. A second agreement was signed increasing Real Eight’s share to 90%, with Ward, Neiman and Allen getting 10%.
Then, on May 21st, Mel Fisher’s crew found 200 gold coins. Three days later on May 24, 1,033 pieces of gold were recovered. (This particular recovery is often referred to as the “Carpet of Gold” as these 1,033 gold coins were spread out in such a manner that the whole bottom seemed to be paved in gold). On May 25, more than 900 more gold coins were found. In a week’s time nearly 2,500 gold coins were eventually brought up.
A division of the coins occurred based on the modified 10% agreement. But, unfortunately, the matter ended up in court. Real Eight was sued but prevailed in the lawsuit. Kip Wagner discusses the lawsuit in his book, Pieces of Eight, E.L. Dutton and Co., 1966. Also see the January, 1965 issue of Argosy magazine for an article sympathetic to Ward’s cause. For a very informative article on Spanish gold coins that was written by W. Frank Allen for the American Numismatic Association see W. Frank Allen. “Previously Unknown Spanish Gold Cobs”, reprinted from The Numismatist, 1967.
Our Treasure of the Month is one of the coins found during that exciting week in May of 1964. Being able to relate a specific coin to a specific wreck site found at a specific time is rare indeed. How many of the more than 2,500 coins found at that time can be attributed to that recovery?
This coin was brought to our attention by Tommy Neiman, the son of Don Neiman, in July 2015. This was during the week long commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of the loss of the 1715 Fleet. During our meeting in Fort Pierce we were able to take a few pictures of the 1712 Lima eight escudos that were part of the great gold recovery of May 1964. As can be seen, this coin has an exceptionally sharp strike and is well centered on both sides. With a butter gold color it is truly an impressive coin. Tommy related to us that the coin was from a wreck site south of Fort Pierce and was part of his fathers collection after he received it, which confirms the provenance.
I would like to thank Tommy Neiman for providing us the opportunity to document this coin and add it to our history of the 1715 Fleet, its loss, rediscovery and recovery. Also, many thanks to Alan Neiman, brother of Tommy Neiman, for providing the information below, which further documents and supports the provenance of our special Treasure of the Month.
FOOTNOTE: Regarding the Certificate prepared by Don Neiman in 2012 (above), it should be noted for clarification that the Douglass Beach Wreck is no longer believed to be the Nieves (Lady of the Snow).