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Treasure find back in the headlines

The location of a sunken Spanish galleon with $17 billion in treasure aboard has been pinpointed, according to a report by a British newspaper, The Daily Mail.

The ship, the San Jose, lies in an undisclosed location off the coast of the South American nation of Colombia.

It was sunk June 8, 1708, in a battle with British ships during the War of the Spanish Succession.

Unfortunately, the photos provided give no hint of items that might support a $17 billion value estimate.

There are cannon. There are clay pots and jugs. There are tea cups.

Naturally, as a coin collector, I would like to see photographs of gold doubloons and silver 8 reales coins.

Of course, that will probably take a while.

There is a dispute between the finders of the wreck and who the courts say are owners of it.

Colombia claims it.

It uses the magic word “patrimony,” which in recent years has more and more come to mean “confiscation” of all things that can plausibly have touched its shores.

It certainly has a strong claim, as the wreck is around 16 miles off its coast.

To recover $17 billion, you would think some sort of arrangement could be worked out between the finders and the nation.

Apparently, there was one such agreement to divvy up any treasure found, according to the story, but Colombia broke it, or changed its mind, or whatever you call it.

A U.S. court backed Colombia up in 2011.

No wonder the treasure, what there might be of it, still sits at the bottom of the sea unquantified.

How does something that is undefined and unseen get valued?

Good question.

Just playing with figures, the 12.6 billion pounds sterling value estimate in the British story works out to just under $17 billion at the current exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the British pound.

But what basis is there for the 12.6 billion pound sterling value?

If it was all gold valued at melt, it would be over 13 million troy ounces of the precious metal.

This seems like an implausibly large quantity of gold to be loaded onto a single galleon.

But it is possible, given the load-carrying capacity of galleons.

The current story repeats a value cited in another story from a few years back.

Here is a National Geographic story from 2015.

Here is another story from the same time frame.

Coin collectors are interested even if the decimal point of the value estimate is one or two places too far to the right.

However, given the nature of legal disputes, none of us might live long enough to actually see what might be lying at the bottom of the sea 16 miles off the coast of Colombia.

That is disappointing.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

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