Unlocking History: Dive Deep into Spanish Booty from Ancient Shipwreck Up for Auction

A gold bar sits on display in New York from the 400-year-old Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha wrecked on June 18, 2015.

NEW YORK — A solid gold chain and an intricate gold-and-enamel spoon are among items pulled from the wreckage of a 400-year-old Spanish galleon that will be auctioned off next month.

Nuestra Señora de Atocha went down in a violent hurricane in 1622 near the Florida Keys laden with New World gold while en route to Spain. It was among a fleet of nine ships that were lost at sea; hundreds of people perished, including nobility who brought with them personal jewels.

Treasure hunter Mel Fisher searched 16 years for it before discovering the Atocha motherlode in 1985. What he found was the stuff of legends — 40 tons of silver and gold, fine Colombian emeralds, and over 1,000 silver bars.

On Aug. 5, Guernsey’s will auction 40 select items from the doomed ship. The items are part of Mel and Dorothy Fisher’s favorite pieces, said their daughter, Taffi Fisher Abt. Fisher died in 1998; his wife, Dorothy, died in 2009.

They include two spectacular gold chains. One, called a “money chain,” has big links the size of a thumbnail and extends past the waist. Fisher wore it on the “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” soon after the ship’s discovery.

In the Colonial era, the Spanish king placed a 20 percent tariff on gold bullion called the Royal Fifth. But if the gold was turned into jewelry, the tax was forgiven.

Each link of the “money chain” is of equal size and weight and could be twisted off and used as formal currency. It could bring $90,000 to $120,000.

The other chain features ornate carved links that come down to the knees — a favorite Fisher Abt’s mother. It could sell for $40,000 to $50,000.

“It’s real high-carat gold. … Purer than any gold you’d buy in a store today,” she said.

Other highlights include an intricate gold spoon of Peruvian and Spanish origin. It’s believed to have been used and dangled during Communion by priests who sailed to the Americas to convert the natives to Christianity, said Fisher Abt. The spoon’s black enamel neck is decorated with scrolling flora and birds and a carved masculine face flanked by cornucopias, a symbol of bounty from the Inca people. It’s estimated to bring $160,000 to $180,000.

Also up for auction is the Bezoar Stone, which was believed to remove poisons and toxins from liquids. The pendant, about the size of an egg, is encased in a gold mounting with four arms grasping the stone. It was meant to hang from a chain so it could easily be dipped into a cup; when the stone touched liquid, it signified no toxins were present. The piece is actually not a stone, but an organic mass taken from a two-stomached animal like a llama or goat. Today, it is highly valued by the Chinese for medicinal reasons. Its pre-sale estimate is $28,000-$35,000.

The Guernsey’s sale also will offer about 100 silver coins from the Atocha sister ship, the Santa Margarita, ranging from $1,000 to many thousands depending on condition, said Guernsey’s president Arlan Ettinger.

A portion of the auction proceeds will benefit the Michael Apt Jr. Heart Foundation, which provides defibrillators to schools nationwide.


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