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Coins from Davey Jones’ Locker

Coins from Davey Jones’ Locker
Category: Articles
Author Name: Sean McConeghy
Posted: 04-10-2019

Important though the tales of survivors of the Titanic and other shipwrecks are, they are missing one key ingredient: a physical connection to the event. That is what shipwreck coins provide. Almost no other coins can compare to the intimacy and immediacy of the connection to past events like shipwreck coins.

On the night of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic, the so-called “unsinkable ship,” hit an iceberg. After two hours and forty minutes of panic and chaos, the ship broke apart and sank. 1,514 passengers were lost, and just 710 were saved. It was one of history’s deadliest maritime disasters during peacetime.

 Although the ship sunk more than 100 years ago, the survivors of the tragedy told their stories, as well as the stories of those who perished, for decades. Books like A Night to Remember and films like 1997’s Titanic continue to keep the tale in popular culture. Together, these testimonies provide human connections between those who endured the event and those hearing about it second, third, or fourth hand.

Important though the tales of survivors of the Titanic and other shipwrecks are, they are missing one key ingredient: a physical connection to the event. That is what shipwreck coins provide. Almost no other coins can compare to the intimacy and immediacy of the connection to past events like shipwreck coins.

A Physical Connection to the Past

Historic coins inspire the imaginations of their collectors. Those who already own them and those who are considering buying them, often contemplate when and where the coins could have been in the past. Roman denarii could have been used to purchase bread, to build roads, to fund military expeditions, and more. Judean mites could have funded rebellion against the Romans, been used as offerings in temples, or even have been handled by important Biblical figures, perhaps even Jesus Christ Himself! More recent examples include Morgan Silver Dollars, which were important in the Wild Wild West, perhaps being stolen in train robberies, used to pay gambling debts, or even in brothels to pay for a night of company.

 Shipwreck coins are different because collectors know for certain at least one part of each coin’s story. They provide collectors with a physical connection to people, a time, a place, and an event. Coins from the 1641 Nuestra Señora de La Pura y Limpia Concepcion wreck make for perfect examples.

The Concepción

The Concepción set sail from Havana, Cuba for Sevilla, Spain on September 29 loaded with silver from the Americas, as well as treasures of the Orient, such as silks, spices, jade, and indigo. The ship and the fleet it was a part of were making their second attempt at the voyage after being hit by storms on their first try ten days earlier. Once again, the fleet was hit with severe storms, quite possibly a hurricane, which dispersed and damaged them. Concepcion was severely damaged and drifted for a month before running aground on a reef near Hispaniola in an area that is today the Dominican Republic.

Fascinating though the ordeal of the ship was, it is only part of the story. Nearly half a century later, Captain William Philips got wind of rumors of the wreck and set about to find it. He was successful in 1687 and managed to salvage part of the treasure. As time passed, rumors of what remained gained force, but the precise location of the wreck was lost in time, or so it appeared. After unsuccessfully attempting to find the wreck on their own, Jack Haskins, Burt Webber, and their crew got a tip about the logs of a salvage ship and used them to find and recover what remained of the ship’s treasures. The bulk of the coins were famous 8 reales pieces, while about 12% were the rarer, and today more valuable, 4 reales pieces.

The S.S Gairsoppa

While coins are certainly the most popular pieces recovered from shipwrecks, sometimes collectors have their chance to own metals from shipwrecks in other ways. For example, the SS Gairsoppa was returning to Liverpool from India with a military convoy in 1941. After being forced to break away from the convoy, it was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German U-Boat 300 miles off the coast of Galway. Nearly three quarters of a century later, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a salvage firm, found the wreckage on the ocean floor at a depth of 15,420 feet and entered into a contract with the British government for an 80/20 split of the roughly 48 tons of recovered silver. Both the British Royal Mint and Sunshine Minting melted and restruck some of the recovered silver into bars and metals that reference the Gairsoppa. Among them are 2013 Silver Britannias that bear the inscription “S.S. GAIRSOPPA” on the edge.

NGC Designation: Shipwreck Effect

 Recovery companies typically turn to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) when looking for certification and/or grading for shipwreck coins. NGC employs exacting standards for the recovery and handling of coins, enabling purchasers to be as comfortable as possible with the authenticity of their purchases. Some of the coins recovered from wrecks look just as they would have, had they not been submerged in water. This is especially common with gold coins due to the metal’s inertness. Other recovered pieces show surface disturbances that are collectively called “Shipwreck Effect.” These categorizations include, in order, “Shipwreck Effect A,” “Shipwreck Effect B,” “Shipwreck Effect C,” and simply “Shipwreck Effect.” The first among those show minimal surface disturbances and maintain superior eye appeal for shipwreck coins, while the last is at the opposite end of the scale, meaning that coins are not even conclusively identifiable. NGC may also simply certify recovered coins “Genuine” with or without additional information, such as who recovered them, how they were recovered, etc. Coins falling into Shipwreck Effect A-C categories may also receive adjectival grades, while recovered coins that are not categories as having suffered Shipwreck effect may receive numeric grades from the Sheldon Grading Scale just like any other coins.

All coins have stories, but shipwreck coins tell them in ways that few other pieces can. The coins make fantastic conversation pieces, often enamoring collectors and non-collectors alike both with the tales of the original wrecks and with the ordeals of those recovering them. As you grow you grow your collection, and with it your connections to the past, be sure to consider shipwreck coins and the fascinating stories behind them.






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About The Author

Sean McConeghy Author Name: Sean McConeghy
Sean McConeghy is a freelance writer and network marketer living in Roatan, Honduras. He originally hails from New York and specializes in writing about numismatics, real estate, and politics.

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