EL CONSTANTE RECOVERY

 

The First Modern Salvage Efforts

on the El Nuevo Constante

Sunk 1766 Off the Coast of Louisiana

 

By David C. Simmons

 

 

In the winter of 1979, a Texas shrimper returned to Port Bolivar with more than shrimp.  While trawling off the coast of Louisiana, he had snagged some large pieces of copper in his net and was very curious about their origin.  I was working in Galveston at the time, and in my spare time a friend of mine and I were building a boat in Bolivar.  We were both known by the locals as SCUBA divers and knowledgeable about shipwrecks.  When the shrimper made port and showed his pieces of copper, my friend and I were asked to look at them and give our opinion as to what they were.  We both knew immediately that they were copper ingots from a Spanish ship headed back to Spain.  After some planning, the shrimper scheduled a voyage back to the wreck site.  A “gentleman’s agreement” was formed between the shrimper, two shrimper brothers who were going to use their vessel on the next trip, and my partner and I to do the diving on the wreck.  Each of the three groups was to receive one third of any treasure recovered.  All five of us, plus some other crew, put to sea shortly thereafter.

 

Once we got in the vicinity of where the shrimper found the copper ingots, it didn’t take him long to locate the wreck.  It was in 18 feet of water and the time was about midnight.  We were all anxious to check out the wreck so my partner and I put on our dive gear and went overboard.  With no visibility, I ran my hands over the ballast pile and brought up some of the round river rocks and some wood.  On deck we noticed that the wood was charred from being burnt.  Upon daybreak we started diving in earnest, and I found that the visibility was not better in daylight that at night.  On that voyage, which lasted only a couple of days, we brought up 33 copper ingots and a cannon.

 

We were now certain it was a Spanish shipwreck and we all agreed on another trip to the site for late December 1979.  In the meantime, we contacted a friend in the Florida Keys well known for his Spanish shipwreck research and from the information we gave him he identified the wreck as the El Nuevo Constante, sunk in 1766.  He also informed us that the Spanish had salvaged the wreck after burning the superstructure to the waterline.  This accounted for the charred pieces of wood I recovered.

 

A more concerted effort was planned for the next trip and this time we towed along a dredge barge used for making channels.  Once on site, we put the dredge to work, but it kept getting clogged up with ballast rocks.  We had brought along another diver so the three of us went to work.  Due to the cold weather we dove in short shifts, and between shifts we warmed up in the engine room.  Even with quarter inch wet suits, we could only stay down for about a half hour each.  Metal detectors were of little use because of all the iron and copper in the ballast pile, so with no visibility everything was done by touch.  We focused on recovering all of the copper ingots and while doing this found three gold discs and two silver discs, plus some ceramic pieces, including a miniature guitar and shoe.

 

Returning to Port Bolivar, we were elated with our finds and were all anxious to go back for clean sweep.  At this time gold was selling for over $800 an ounce and we had about 15 pounds of the stuff.  Through some contacts we found a laboratory north of Dallas that were buying gold and silver, no questions asked.  We made arrangements and took the three gold ingots, the two silver ingots, and one copper ingot to this location.  Each piece was assayed and we were offered over $30,000 cash for the lot.  They would have been melted down and their historic significance lost, so I voted not for the deal.  This held and we returned to Bolivar with all of the treasure.

 

While preparing for the clean sweep, we learned that the original shrimper made arrangements with a Louisiana firm to dredge the site.  My friend and I brought in a money man to contest the shrimpers actions and our backer hired a prestigious law firm in New Orleans to represent us in getting our share of remaining treasure recovered.  The two shrimper brothers, my partner and I, and the investor agreed on one third each of any further treasure received by the group, after expenses.  Next, of course, the State of Louisiana got involved and I only had a paper (and more paper) relationship with the salvage after that.  The State was informed about our prior treasure recovery and as part of our legal agreement, we were requested to deliver the treasure already recovered to the Governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge.  So we leased a large moving van and loaded it with over 100 copper ingots,` 3 gold ingots, 2 silver ingots, and other artifacts.  We were met by two Texas troopers in Bolivar, who escorted us to the Louisiana border.  At a designated rest stop, we were met by Louisiana troopers and one boarded me and the moving van while the rest escorted us to Baton Rouge.  The trooper told me later that he was mighty hot wearing a bullet-proof vest in the unairconditioned moving van.  I told him that I was half seasick rocking and rolling with tons of copper on board the van.  We both laughed at the irony..

 

Once arriving at the Governor’s mansion we walked up to the front door and knocked, wondering who would open the door.  We knocked again, and finally someone came from somewhere and said come around to the back door.  All of the treasure was unloaded and we insisted on a receipt.  The next day all the treasure was at the State’s crime lab in Baton Rouge and officially documented.  We were given VIP treatment and a detective showed us around the facility, including their impressive collection of crime artifacts.  I wonder if the archeologists ever noticed the small drill holes in the three gold ingots and two silver ingots we turned in?  Now they know that the holes are from the assayers sample taken when we were considering selling them.  In the end, I received some copper ingots as my share of the division of the treasure.

 

For historic details about the sinking of the El Nueve Constante and its archaeological research, you can request a copy of Anthropological Study Series No. 4 El Nuevo Constante, by Charles E. Pearson and Paul E. Hoffman by writing to the Division of Archaeology, P.O. Box 44247, Baton Rouge, LA 70804

 

 

STATE CRIME LAB BATON ROUGE:

The treasure we turned in to the State of

Louisiana is being inventoried.  On the

table are the two silver discs and one

of the gold discs we recovered.

 

 

CANNON RECOVERY From left to right:

William, one of the shrimper brothers;

Dave Simmons; and my partner, Bob with the Cannon we recovered from the El Nuevo Constante.

 

 

Author of  “The First Modern Salvage Efforts on the El Nuevo Constante”, Retired Marine Biologist and Treasure Diver, Dave Simmons.

Read About the Author

Treasure Hunter Dave Simmon’s……

In the late 1960’s, I started treasure hunting with an army surplus mine detector from World War II, well before models were developed for the general public. Then during the 1970’s while working as a marine biologist at the Fisheries Lab in Galveston, Texas, that’s when I got involved with the mutual salvage efforts on the El Nuevo Constante.  Fascinated with Kip Wagner’s find of the 1715 Fleet off Vero Beach and Mel Fisher’s salvage efforts of the Atocha, I began work as a subcontractor with Mel Fisher in 1987.  Mel, welcomed any subcontractors who wanted to work under his admiralty claim or treasure trove. Off the Treasure Coast, we found several hundred silver coins in the Green Cabin Wreck which sank in 1618 and from two other wrecksites, the Roberts and Spring of Whitby, both which were merchant ships that sank in 1810.  The Spaniards called their silver coins “Reale” coins and  “It’s exciting to discover something, a coin that you know no one has touched since the ship sank”. 

 

Dave Simmons with the world’s greatest

treasure hunter, Mel Fisher on June 20, 1992 for Dave’s bachelor party.

 

 

Dave Simmons today holding the 64 pound copper ingot recovered from the El Nueve Constante.
 
   
 
   
 
   
   


 

 
   


 

 
   


 

 
   


 

 
 The Artifactory

HALF REALES FROM THE MEXICO CITY MINT FOUND
ON THE 1715 FLEET


BY
DAVID C. SIMMONS


Spanish silver coins were minted in denominations
known as reales, with an S reale or piece of eight
being the largest. This coin set a standard for
world crowns, containing about one ounce of silver
(27 grams). Other denominations of Spanish silver
coins were 4, 2, 1, 1/2, and 1/4 reales with the
weights and size being reduced from the 8 reale in
accordance to the denomination. The 8, 4, 2, and
I reale were designed with the Spanish shield on
the obverse side of the coin, and a cross with
lions end castles in the quadrants on the reverse
side. Half reales had the usual reverse, and the
obverse had a monogram of the reigning monarch.
Quarter reales had a castle on the obverse, and a
lion on the reverse.

Cob coins, such as those carried by the 1715 Fleet,
can be difficult to identify because only a portion
of the die design was stamped into each coin blank.
The ocean environment causes silver coins to deter-
iorate over time from both abrasion and, when near
dissimilar metals, from electrolysis. This action
of the ocean for almost 300 years on coins from the
1715 Fleet substantially contributes to identifica-
tion problems.

Half reales can be particularly difficult because
of their size (1.7 grams) and because of the mono-
gram design. During the 1991 treasure season on
the 1715 Fleet, a relatively large quantity of half
reales were recovered. Almost all of the halves in
this collection were minted in Mexico City. I attri-
buted 48 to the reign of Charles II, 101 to the reign
of Philip V, I to Philip IV, and 43 unatributed to reign.

There is little published information about monograms
on half reales, especially Mexico halves of Charles
II. When I first started identifying half reales from
this reign, I kept looking for the “6” in Charles (Car-
clvs in Spanish) at the end of the monogram as it app-
ears in the Lima and Potosi minted coins. In the 1991
collection, a couple coins clearly showed the right
margin of the coin and there is no “5” at the end of
the monogram en halves from the Mexico City mint.

Another puzzling configuration on these coins was a
design shaped like a figure “3” inside the initial “C”.
A coin recovered by Kane Fisher in 1992 confirmed my
suspicion that this configuration is the missing “5”


I took legible segments from several coins and made
a composite drawing of the complete monogram for
Charles II half reales from the Mexico City mint
(Figure 1).



Figure 1. Composite drawing of the monogram on
Charles II half reales from the Mexico City mint
with OM mint mark and assayer initial L.
reign.

 

(Photo A).
Photo A. Charles II half reale from the Mexico
City mint showing the extreme right margin of the
monogram and the initial “5” inside the larger
initial “C” (Cabin Wreck, tag no. 24201).

I took legible segments from several coins and made a composite drawing of the complete monogram for Charles II half reales from the Mexico City mint
(Figure 1).

While identifying Mexico City half reales minted
during the reign of Philip V, I noticed some dif—
ferenoes and configurations that have not, to my
knowledge, been reported~ There are two notice-
ably different crown designs, both by assayer J.
The first is the most common found on 1715 Fleet
half reales and has what appears to be an over-
lapping curve design (Photo 5). This coin also
shows the most common monogram design with a
relatively large “F” and “S” The second ooin
(Photo C), also by assayer J, shows a different
crown design with a relatively small "P"and "S".
A third crown design, with a double arch and a
Philip monogram, does not show the assayer and
may or may not be Philip V (Photo D).
 

Photo B. Philip V half reale from the Mex-
ico City mint showing the most common crown
design, mint mark OM, and assayer initial J
(South Colored Beach Wreck, Tag no. 23614).
 

Photo C. Philip V half reale from the Mexico
City mint showing a second crown design, mint
mark CM, and assayer initial J (South Colored
Beach Wreck, Tag no. 236~3).
 

Photo D. Half reale from the Mexico City mint
showing a Philip monogram and a third crown
design (South Colored Beach Wreck, Tag no. 23619].

 
Other configurations appearing on the most common design are a dot above the fleur de lye between the "P" and "S", and a circle at the end of the "S" as shown in photo E and F.
 

Photos E and F. Half reales from the Mexico
City mint showing Philip V monogram. Notice
the dot above the fleur de lies and circle at
the end of the "S" [Top: South Colored Beach
Wreck, Tag no. 23416; Bottom: Corrigan Wreck
Tag no. 22819].
These two configurations aid me in attributing a coin when only a small portion of a monogram is present. I have made a composite drawing of the complete monogram for the most common Philip V half reales from the 1715 Fleet (Figure 2).


Figure 2. composite drawing of the monogram on
the most common half reales found on the 1715
Fleet. This design is from the Mexico City mint
during the reign of Philip V and shows the OH
mint mark and assayer initial J. Notice the dot
above the fleur de lies and the circle at the end
of the “S”.
I attributed only one half reale to the reign of Philip IV. Based on some other information available to me, there appears to be no vertical bar through the initial “S” on at least some of the Mexico city half reales minted during the reign of Philip IV. The one example is shown in Photo G.

Photo G. Philip IV half reale from the Mexico city
mint showing a weak OM mintmark and assayer initial P. or D. Notice there is no vertical bar through the initial “S” (Corrigan Wreck, Tag no. 22800)
 I would like to thank the following historical treasure finders who retrieved from Davy Jones’ Locker the coins used in this study: Kane Fisher, John Brandon, Bill Elam, Jim “Grouper” Stowell, Jack Haskins, and Danny Porter. would also like to thank Scott Nierling for the photographs and Heather Gibbs for drawing the coins from my rough sketches. The scale of all coins and figures is about twice actual size.

 

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