Silver tarnishes and darkens, but gold shines on — even after 400 years submerged in saltwater.
That was the case on July 16, when the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, one of the world’s most famous and valuable shipwrecks, gave up a gold coin for the first time in 20 years. Though other gold artifacts have been found, gold coins are a rarity. Fewer than 130 have been recovered in total. No one knows how many were on board the galleon when it sank. They don’t appear on the ship’s manifest as cargo, and would have been carried (or smuggled) aboard the galleon by wealthy aristocrats or clergymen.
Mel Fisher’s Treasures diver Zach Moore was working with an underwater metal detector, scouring the current search site with other experienced treasure divers from their work boat, the JB Magruder, with Capt. Tim Meade at the helm.
Beneath 30 feet of ocean, under 10 feet of sand, after 400 years, the glint of gold was unmistakable to Moore, who has also worked with Mel Fisher’s Treasures excavating the 1715 fleet in Vero Beach.
Moore’s parents were both a part of “the golden crew” that discovered the $400 million mother lode of Atocha treasure on July 20, 1985.
On one dive in 1985, Zach’s father, Bill Moore, and others found 165 pounds of gold finger bars, chains and discs. His mother Julie Moore was also a diver on the Atocha site during the mother lode days, and recovered several Atocha emeralds, Zach Moore said.
He was still reeling from the golden discovery when the boat returned to its dock at Safe Harbor Marina late Saturday night, July 17.
“I fanned away some sand while working the crease of the hole, between the sand and the bedrock bottom, and it was just sort of stuck partway in the bedrock, shining as brightly as it had 400 years ago.”
The coin’s antiquity value is said to be as much as $98,000, according to the Mel Fisher’s Treasures team. It is only the 121st gold coin recovered from Spanish galleon that sank in a 1622 hurricane 35 miles off Key West.
The JB Magruder’s recent 10-day search also yielded two silver coins and an ancient musket ball.
One silver coin was found by diver Jacob Bell, who scored his first find, and the other was found by Jerry McAdams of Boise, Idaho, an investor in the continuing search for the remaining treasure of the Atocha.
The latest finds occurred just a few days before the 36th anniversary of the 1985 Atocha motherlode discovery and Key West’s annual Mel Fisher Days celebration and fundraiser benefiting Wesley House Family Services and Michael Abt Jr. Have a Heart Foundation.