Double the money for Scilly shipwreck coins

Isles of Scilly Sunken Treasure sale (Gildings Auctioneers)
(Gildings Auctioneers)

A collection of rare coins recovered from famous Isles Of Scilly and other shipwrecks went under the hammer yesterday (31 January) and sold for more than twice the expected amount – £6,230. 

The seller was offering 51 coins across four lots, each grouped around the 17th-19th century wrecks from which they had been recovered. They had originally been bought in 1975 at a Penzance “Sale of Sunken Treasure”, which had offered more than 1,300 coins recovered from nine historic wrecks by scuba divers of the time.

“Due to advances in diving technology during the 1970s, that decade saw a great boom in the exploration of wrecks that had been inaccessible for the previous 300 years,” said Gildings Auctioneers of Market Harborough. 

“As a result of their direct ties to famous maritime disasters of yesteryear, we expect these coins to attract great interest at auction,” its jewellery specialist Denise Cowling had said prior to the sale. “Due to the dramatic events associated with them and the fact that they lay undisturbed at the bottom of the sea for hundreds of years, we expect them to realise between £2,000 and £3,000 on the day.”

HMS Association

Twenty-two of the coins dated from 1663 to 1699 and had been found on the 90-gun HMS Association, which served with distinction at the capture of Gibraltar in August 1704. The vessel was wrecked on the Isles of Scilly’s Western Rocks on her return from the Mediterranean on 22 October, 1707, in the greatest maritime disaster of the time.  

Coin from the Association shipwreck (Gildings Auctioneers)
Coin and documentation from the Association shipwreck (Gildings Auctioneers)

The ship sank in fewer than four minutes with the loss of more than 800 men, contributing to a total loss that night of nearly 2,000 under the command of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cloudesley Shovell. This lot sold for £2,300.

Another 17 coins, dating from 1736-1742, had been recovered from the Dutch East India Company ship Hollandia, wrecked on the Isles of Scilly’s Gunner Rock in July 1743 on her maiden voyage. As well as the 276 crew and company members on board, a vast load of silver, coins and personal artefacts had been lost. 

Coins found on the wreck include examples of Dutch ducaton coins and Mexican pillar reales or pieces of eight (worth eight reales, these could be cut into eight pieces to make change). The Hollandia coins raised £2,700. 

HMS Athenienne

A further eight coins from 1779-1802 also originated from Spanish South American colonies. They came from the 66-gun HMS Athenienne, lost in the Mediterranean on Esquerques Rocks off Sicily on 20 October, 1806. Captain Robert Raynsford refused to abandon ship and went down with 347 of his crew, though 121 men and two women survived. The coins found on the wreck sold for £850.

The final lot contained four coins from three shipwrecks: a reale from the Princess Maria, lost on the Silver Carn off the Isles of Scilly in January 1686; a ducaton from the De Liefde, wrecked off the Shetland Isles on 7 November, 1711; and two George II shillings from HMS Sprightly, lost on Hanois Bank off Guernsey in December 1777. These coins changed hands for £380, reported Gildings

It was later reported that a diver from the Isles of Scilly who had recovered some of the coins in the early 1970s, and been acknowledged as a “salvor in possession“ at the time, had been among the buyers of the coins.

Also on Divernet: ‘I Didn’t Know’: Batavia Silver Resurfaces, Divers Find Smuggled Coins On Rooswijk, Coins Led Divers To Ancient Roman Shipwreck, Spanish Divers Uncover Roman Gold Coins


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