By John Herzog
Many interesting coins will be available for sale at the Wall Street Coin, Currency and Collectibles Show, Oct. 17-19 at the Museum of American Finance, 48 Wall Street, New York City. Some might even be treasure coins.
The loss of any ship carrying gold and silver indirectly impacts trade, economies, wars, even kingdoms. However, unlike the hundreds of ships lost at sea, the El Cazador had a specific mission to accomplish and its loss had a directly negative impact on the Spanish Empire, and a conversely positive one – by way of Napoleon Bonaparte – on the development of the nascent United States.
El Cazador (“The Hunter”) and the 450,000 freshly minted coins in its hold sailed Jan. 11, 1784, from Vera Cruz for New Orleans, and the then Spanish Louisiana. The task was to shore up the local economy by retiring discredited Spanish currency, issued some 20 years earlier.
It never made it to New Orleans. The ship and all aboard, along with the transported treasure, were lost in the cold wintry seas, never to be heard from again. This loss hastened the devaluation of the local currency and economy, and its value in trade negotiations between Spain and France. Spain was facing war with France and could not maintain the financially faltering Louisiana Territory. In order to avoid war, the pragmatic King Carlos IV of Spain ceded the territory to Napoleon.
Facing his own problems, Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to President Thomas Jefferson for the sum of only $15 million. At three cents an acre, Jefferson more than doubled the size of the United States, acquiring Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota west of the Mississippi River, much of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, northern Texas, the portions of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. Thus, the loss of the El Cazador and the events it triggered truly altered the development of the United States on the world stage.
It wasn’t until about two centuries later, on Aug. 2, 1993, that the mystery of the El Cazador would be solved. The wreck was discovered by Capt. Jerry Murphy aboard his commercial fishing boat, The Mistake. This was truly a fortunate turn of events. The coinage lost so long ago has, over the course of the last two decades years, been rescued and made available to collectors and scholars.
Some of the coins are expected to be offered at the Wall Street Coin, Currency and Collectibles Show in October.
Organizer of the Wall Street Show, John Herzog is Founder of the Museum of American Finance and now its Chairman Emeritus. Having spent his life in the financial services industry, he is also a collector and has specialized in the financial instruments of the American Federal period, which made the creation of the United States possible. The Museum holds a major portion of his collection and uses it in exhibits. For information: wallstreetbourse.com or (203) 292-6819.
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