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Treasure within treasure: Cannon found off Sebastian contained hidden gold, silver coins
Wednesday, 16 February 2011 07:42
  A historic bronze cannon found near Sebastian contained gold and silver coins concealed inside, treasure on its way back to Spain before the shipwreck.  PHOTO PROVIDED

A historic bronze cannon found near Sebastian contained gold and silver coins concealed inside, treasure on its way back to Spain before the shipwreck.

SEBASTIAN — Dozens of gold and silver coins hidden nearly 300 years ago were found Friday when a cannon recovered July 11 from a wrecked Spanish ship was being cleaned for preservation, salvagers reported this week.

Divers from the salvage boat “Gold Hound” brought up the ship’s bronze swivel cannon, a rare find in itself, in less than 20 feet of water between Wabasso and Vero Beach, said Anne Kazel-Wilcox, a spokeswoman for 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, a private salvage company based in Sebastian and Jupiter.

The heavily-encrusted cannon was taken to the Mel Fisher’s Treasures facility in Sebastian for preservation, Kazel-Wilcox said, “and as workers were conserving it, the cannon became unplugged and coins were found inside.”

In addition to 22 gold coins found near the cannon, 25 gold coins and 63 silver coins were found inside, worth an estimated $500,000 or more.

“This is an amazing historic find,” Greg Bounds of Fellsmere, captain of the Gold Hound, said in a prepared statement. “We found treasure within the treasure. This is right out of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ except this is the real thing. For centuries there has been talk of treasure possibly hidden inside of cannons, but up until today that was only pirate lore. Now it’s the real deal.”

The wreck was part of a fleet of 11 galleons and war ships laden with gold bars, coins, diamonds, emeralds and pearls bound from Havana for King Philip V of Spain. The cargo included the so-called “Queen’s Jewels,” a 74-carat emerald, pearls and diamonds meant for Philip’s new bride Elisabeth, who reportedly said she wouldn’t consummate the marriage until she received them.

The ships sank in a hurricane off the Treasure Coast on July 31, 1715.

Last month, 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, a private salvage company, acquired salvage rights to the fleet from the heirs of treasure hunter Mel Fisher, whose family had retained the fleet’s U.S. Admiralty Custodianship of a 300-square-mile stake off Indian River County that extends from the low-tide mark into the ocean. Together with subcontractors such as Bounds, they are searching for a mother lode estimated to be worth $900 million.

By law, the state gets 20 percent of the haul and gets to pick the pieces it wants first. The rest is split 50-50 between 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels and the subcontractors who found it.

Bounds, one of about 15 subcontractors who have worked with Mel Fisher Treasure and continue to work with 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, uncovered more than $12.9 million worth of gold chains, pearls, coins, swords and other artifacts in 2007 from the 400-year-old Santa Margarita site in the Florida Keys.

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