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Rings of the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet
by Robert "Frogfoot" Weller

 

 

  Beginning in May 1960 when Kip Wagner’s “Real Eight” group first worked the 1715 “Urca de Lima” site about a mile north of the Fort Pierce inlet, a great quantity of coins, jewelry and artifacts have been recovered from the various ballast piles of the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet.  By 1967 Kip and Mel Fisher’s group “Treasure Salvors” had recovered literally thousands of gold coins and well over a ton of silver coins. So, when it comes to the salvage community, it’s sort of “Oh Hum” whenever a few more gold or silver coins are recovered.  But the low and high karat rings being recovered are another situation.  The rings have more character than coins…you see one coin you’ve seen them all even though each cob coin is different. 

 Many of the rings have stones, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, and quite a few have been recovered with engravings on them.  Some rings are circled with engravings of cannon, swords, pistols, and probably belonged to the gunnery crew on board.  Other rings have dogs engraved, or flowers, whatever fancied the engraver. Some of the rings are unusual in their geometric design, a design not seen for several hundred years.
them all even though each cob coin is different.  Many of the rings have stones, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, and quite a few have been recovered with engravings on them.  Some rings are circled with engravings of cannon, swords, pistols, and probably belonged to the gunnery crew on board.  Other rings have dogs engraved, or flowers, whatever fancied the engraver. Some of the rings are unusual in their geometric design, a design not seen for several hundred years.

 The karat content of the rings is also unusual.  The high karat rings are assayed out at 22.3 kt., the same as the gold coins being recovered.  For that reason they are known as “Coin gold content”.  The lower karat gold coins vary from as low as 6 or 8 karat to as high as 18 karat, and definitely have considerable bronze or copper content.  I recently came across a ring recovered during a beach erosion that appeared to be 100% copper, but I am sure that is just a case of being burnished by the sand as the ring washed in and out from the beach. I also have a badly sulfided ring that in all probability has a considerable silver content.

Many of the rings were recovered along the beaches after a storm by ardent metal detector swinging beach hunters.  Nothing wrong with that, its healthy and keeps the guys from being couch potatoes.  There are even a few female metal detector enthusiasts that brave the pounding waves to snatch a glint of gold or silver as it is uncovered.  But for the most part the many rings that have been recovered have been on or around the ballast piles, or in the scatter patterns that stretch along the reefs and sand pockets just offshore.

My group “Crossed Anchors Salvage” has been working the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet since 1978 and over that period of time we’ve recovered well over 90 rings, mostly from the “Nieves” that sank 2 ½ miles south of the Fort Pierce inlet.  In 1993 we did recover 22 gold rings from the “Cabin Wreck” or Almirante of the 1715 fleet, the “San Roman”.  As I look back over the recoveries I tend to agree with the rest of the salvage community that the rings, in most cases, were carried as cargo.  One day I recovered 8 rings within an area no larger than a kitchen table.  Three years later, we revisited the same area, and another diver, Bob Luyendyk, recovered 8 more rings also within a very small space, about 15 feet from my own recovery.  We called this area “Ringsville” because there seemed to be a sort of swale, or low depression between the reefs, in which we had recovered a number of valuable rings.  George Hook, one of our divers, recovered a high karat gold ring with 5 emeralds, and another diver, Don Kree, came up with a beautiful high karat 3 stone amethyst ring.  Photo’s of both rings are included in my book “Sunken Treasure of Florida Reefs”. 

 

 

There is some speculation that many of the more intricately engraved rings were made in China and traded at the Manila fair and brought to Mexico by way of the Manila Galleons. It seems that the Spanish artisans did not have the capabilities during the 1600-1700’s to carve the rings designs, nor cut the emeralds and diamonds that are found on the rings.  The plainer rings were possibly made by the local Mexican artisans, as were the rings engraved with various designs.  These are indicative of Spanish conquistadors, or sailors, with time on their hands.  Regardless, the rings are different in the story they tell.  Most of us in the salvage community really do not believe they graced the finger, or fingers, of some Spaniard that didn’t survive the 1715 hurricane.  Again, this is speculation…I wasn’t there.


Frogfoot

 


 San Roman site - bag of silver coins and K'ang Hsi porcelain cup.


Encrusted conglmerate silver "Pieces of Eight." San Roman Site.



Gold coins, 8-emerald brooch, and the "Order of the Holy Spirit" recovered by Mo Molinar's crew on the Nieves site.

 

 


Commemorative Coin Sets

 

References

"Sunken Treasure On Florida Reefs,"  by Robert "Frogfoot" Weller

For additional information see:  "Galleon Hunt,"  "Shipwrecks Near Wabasso Beach,"  "Salvaging Spanish Sunken Treasure,"  "Famous Shipwrecks of the Florida Keys."  by Robert "Frogfoot" Weller


 

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