JOURNAL OF THE PROFESSIONAL TREASURE HUNTER

KING PHILIP’S GOLD

By Bob “Frogfoot” Weller
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  King Philip of Spain!  Throughout history the name King Philip of Spain will be known as the Midas of treasure—Spanish gold and silver from the mines of the New World, funneled back to Europe by galleons of wood and canvas.  For 155 years the river of glitter seemed to have no end under Philip’s rule, but every story must end somewhere.
    There were four King Philips of Spain during the hey-day of treasure.  First was Philip II (1556-1598), a time when Spain first began to realize the immense wealth that the New World held.  Mints were established in Mexico City, Potosi, Lima, and Colombia, where coins, as well as, bars of gold and silver were struck.  There were private mints that also cast bars of gold, striking them with their particular signatures.  During the 1500s, about 170 tons of gold and 8,200 tons of silver were shipped back to Spain.  Storms and poor navigation accounted for as much as a 10% loss of the retuning galleons.
   The second King was Philip III (1598-1621), and his successor was his son King Philip IV (1621-1665).  They were in power when the annual shipment to Spain of gold and silver reached 16 million pesos.  It was an incredible amount of treasure entrusted to the war galleons, and each of Spain’s envious European neighbors made every effort to take it from them.  Battles were constantly being fought on the Spanish Sea, as well as in the Azores, or wherever French, English, or Dutch armed men-of-war could take advantage of Spain’s inability to protect her shipments. 

   The fourth King was Philip V, (1700-1724, 1724-1746) who had the unenviable job of watching the decline of Spanish power in the New World, as trade barriers were dropped and merchant vessels of all nations began to trade with the overseas merchants.  The treasure fleets were discontinued, the last sailing in 1765.  But during the 155 years of King Philip rule a great amount of treasure was left behind, scattered over the reefs and along the Carreras de las Indias, the “Highway of the Indies.” 
   Almost all of the gold of the “Kings Philip” is gone now, long since recast into other coins of the realm, or commercial gold items.  The little that remains is located in a few museums around the world, the church in Cadiz, Spain...and along the reefs and shoals where galleons of the Kings Philip bilged their bottoms.  As time covers these archeological deposits of the Philipses with sand and coral, most of it will never be seen again.  And that’s a great loss to the general public, as well as to the memory of those frail galleons the plied the Carreras de las Indias.

  There is some commercial salvage being carried out today on old Spanish shipwrecks.  Many of the sites are in relatively turbulent high-energy zones—reefs and shoals where the wave action and tide constantly hammer what is remaining of the shipwreck, scattering the cargo and contents for miles along the bottom.  These sites give up some of King Philip’s gold grudgingly, at high risk and cost.  There are many shipwrecks that lie in deep water, or remote areas, and this part of Philip’s deposit in the bank of archeological gold will probably never be recovered.

  There have been a number of Spanish treasure galleons sunk along the coasts of Florida.  The 1715 treasure fleet stands out because the entire fleet of eleven galleons was sunk by a savage hurricane the night of July 30th.  Even though salvage conditions were miserable for the months following the disaster, Don Josef Clemente, a salvage master in charge, was able to recover about 82% of the silver being transported (5,241,166 pesos recovered), but little of the gold was ever recovered.  Not only was there a considerable amount of gold coins, bars, and discs on these ships, but the wealthy passengers on board carried jewelry and coins was well.  The 1715 sites are in what is typically considered a “high energy” zone, and very difficult to salvage.  Six of the eleven wreck sites have been located to date, and the “scatter pattern” of each site stretches for miles along barren beaches and near-shore reefs.
    As the modern day salvors began to work these sites meticulously, the gold lost for so many years began to emerge.  Many of the artifacts are priceless.  What is be3ing recovered is more than just gold coins and jewelry; it is the handicraft of the artisans of the New World — or China — over 275 years ago.  To think that the artisans had to  make the tools that in turn were used to work the gold and silver into forms of jewelry is even more amazing.
    The 1715 sites have been actively worked by commercial salvors since 1960, and even during this 1997 salvage season more of King Philip’s gold is being recovered.  But the recoveries are “thinning” out.  It is becoming more difficult each year to locate pockets of salvageable material.  It requires more time and money to work beyond the primary scatter pattern, an almost every case the cost far exceeds the return.  The result is that most salvagers working the 1715 sites are following a dream, the hope of recovering their own gold doubloon or silver piece-of-eight.  The romance of salvaging, of finding sunken treasure, is the driving force that keeps these salvagers on the site for weeks and months at a time.  And for much of this time bad weather and poor visibility keep their salvage boats tied to the dock.   But the wait is worth it when the weather makes it possible to work the sites.
   There is still a lot of King Philip’s gold to be recovered from the 1715 sites, and each year the salvage crews test their mettle against the forces of nature.  And each year they recover a bit more gold.  There is the nagging reminder, the almirants, San Roman, and the capitana, Regla, were carrying a great quantity of gold back to old Spain.  To this date that great quantity of gold has not yet been recovered.  The Spanish salvagers didn’t find it, and modern salvagers have yet to locate the “mother lode.”  It’s out there, somewhere, and some day…

                                                            Frogfoot

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Reprints of "The Best Of Treasure Quest Magazine" are used with permission from a series of stories in Treasure Quest Magazine
 by Bob "Frogfoot" Weller,  Ernie "Seascribe" Richards and other great modern day treasure hunters.
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