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400-year-old Spanish treasure on sale in NY

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400-year-old Spanish treasure on sale in NY
An employee shows a Spanish gold chalice, which will go up for auction at the Guernsey's in New York next month. Photo: Jewel Samad / AFP.
08:46 CEST+02:00
An exquisite gold chalice, an emerald-encrusted crucifix and a gold bar go on auction in New York next month, recovered from a Spanish ship that sank off the coast of Florida in 1622.

The extraordinary items were discovered by a US treasure hunter from the wreckage of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, the most famous vessel in a Spanish flotilla that sank after sailing into a hurricane.

The ship, laden with New World riches, was one of at least eight that sank in the storm en route back to Spain. She went down with 265 people on board, of whom only five survived.

After a painstaking, expensive search taking more than 15 years, Mel Fisher located the wreckage on July 20th 1985, recovering $450 million worth of treasure, including coins and precious jewelry.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the discovery, Guernsey's says it is auctioning nearly 40 items retrieved from the Atocha and other wrecks found by Fisher, on August 5th in New York.

Among the items going under the hammer will be 100 rare and sought-after silver coins from the Atocha and her sister ship, the Santa Margarita, the auction house said.

It estimates the total value of the items up for sale is around $1.5 million to $2 million (roughly between €1.35 million to €1.8 million).

The lots were the favorite pieces of Mel and wife Dolores, their daughter Taffi Fisher-Abt told AFP.

"It's going to be kind of a bittersweet ordeal," she said. "They were my mother and father's favorite pieces. We'd like to keep them forever, but dad always used to say we were just the holders.

"It's time to let these pieces go," she said.

A vast array of the unique treasure is on display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida and at a private museum in Sebastian, Florida.

Many pieces have been also donated to other museums across the United States, Fisher-Abt said.

Her father's dreams of treasure began by reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island as a child.

He went onto serve with the US Army in World War II. In 1980 he discovered more than $20 million worth of gold and other riches of the Santa Margarita, which sank in the same storm.

Fisher died in 1998. His wife Dolores passed away in 2009.

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