Odds are the Schmitts had a more productive vacation than anyone reading this article. The Florida family went treasure hunting off the coast in June and discovered an estimated $1 million in sunken Spanish treasure that people have sought since 1715. Eric Schmitt reportedly found the loot in 15 feet of water off Fort Pierce, which is approximately 130 miles north of Miami.
The treasure trove, just made public, included 51 gold coins, approximately 40 feet of ornate gold chains and one silver-dollar-sized coin, called a Royal that was made for the King Phillip V of Spain and is dated 1715. Only a few of the coins are known to exist, and the one they found is worth an estimated half a million dollars alone. The find was announced by Brent Brisben, from 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels LLC, the salvage company that owns the rights to the wreckage.
Three hundred years ago this week, 11 boats in a Spanish armada sailing from Cuba to Spain sunk in a hurricane off Florida. More than 1,000 people died that July 30, one week after they set off from Havana (more than that were reportedly saved).
A treasure estimated at $400 million in today’s money was sunk in the wreckage. The convoy’s manifests detailed the cargo, which included more than 3.5 million pesos in treasure and the queen’s jewels. According to 1715 Treasure Fleet’s Web site, the treasure also included “a heart delicately crafted of 130 pearls, a 74 carat emerald ring, a pair of pearl earrings-each complemented with a 14 carat pearl, and a rosary of pure coral the size of small marbles.”
Salvage efforts began immediately and, by yearend, officials reported that they had already recovered the royal treasure and a lot of the content belonging to private individuals. More was recovered the following spring and, about one year after the wreckage, Spain halted salvage efforts.
Modern estimates, though, are that less than half of the priceless load has been found after 300 years. The wreck of the Spanish armada has resulted in a trove of books, documentaries, the movies The Deep and Fool’s Gold, and treasure-hunting efforts.
With more contemporary salvage techniques and equipment, efforts to find the treasure have been taking place for more than 50 years after a building contractor found a gold coin on the beach. His diligence led to finding more coins and, eventually, five cannon sitting in nine feet of water.
In 1963, Mel Fisher formed Treasure Salvors, Inc., and jointed the hunt for the cargo. Fisher developed a new means of dredging the sands below. It yields considerable amounts of coins from the wreckage. Salvage operations continued under his daughter’s supervision until June 24, 2010, when 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels LLC took over searching for the treasure.
1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels is operated by Brisben and his father, William, who both work in real estate. The company works with subcontracted treasure hunters (like the Schmitts), museums and underwater archaeologists on salvage efforts..
This is not the first time the Schmitt family – Rick and Lisa, a 27-year-old son Eric, another child and a daughter-in-law – have struck pay dirt, so to speak, treasure hunting off Florida. They reportedly found 50 feet of gold chain in 2013 and gold filigree 2014.
So, who gets the spoils of the salvage effort? Under federal and state laws, Florida will get up to 20 percent of the find to display in a museum. Brisben’s firm and the Schmitts will split the remainder.
This $1M in sunken Spanish treasure they discovered is likely to ensure that the Florida family, the Schmitts, come back again next year. It is also likely to lead to more treasure hunters trying to become subcontractors. The bounty is that great. According to Brisben, of the 11 ships that sank, only six have been identified. Five more are out there carrying more treasure to be found.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
1715 Treasure Fleet – Queen Jewels, LLC
Orlando Sentinel: Sanford treasure hunters find $1M in gold off Florida’s coast
Reuters: Florida family finds $1 million in treasure from sunken Spanish armada
USA Today: Fla. family finds $1M of sunken Spanish treasure
Press photo from 1715 Fleet — Queens Jewels