Treasure Coins from the Wreck El Cazador
The United States relied almost exclusively on foreign coinage and precious metals for commerce from the time of the colonist to the mid-1850s. The largest source of this coinage was Spain because the Spanish American empire, at one time, encompassed the entire southern portion of the present-day United States to the tip of South America.
The popularity of the Spanish Silver Reales and the Gold Escudo coins was so strong in the U.S. that President Thomas Jefferson proposed, in 1783, our national coinage be based upon the Spanish monetary system. In 1804, the U.S. Congress enacted a special bill declaring Spanish coins official legal tender. This law stayed in effect until, an increase in national pride, forced Congress to rescind the original bill in 1857, making foreign currency no longer accepted for commercial transactions.
As George Washington was serving our nation as the first President, Napoleon was leading the France in their invasion into Italy and Austria. Through alliances, this conflict placed Spain in an awkward position with France. At the same time, the Spanish-owned territory of Louisiana was failing financially due to the nearly worthless Spanish paper currency in circulation there. In order to stabilize the economy in their North American territory, Spain sent “El Cazador” to Mexico (Mexico City was the site of the first Spanish Mint in the New World) to transport about 450,000 pesos of Silver Reale coinage to New Orleans. On January 11, 1784, “El Cazador” left the Port of Vera Cruz, having set sail for New Orleans. The ship, her crew and the silver Reales disappeared without a trace.
Spain was facing war with France; she also owned the financially faltering Louisiana Territory, which was draining her treasury, and war with England was now becoming imminent. What was Spain to do?
In 1800, King Carlos IV of Spain ceded the Louisiana Territory to Napoleon in order to avoid war with France. Three years later, Emperor Napoleon, sold the Louisiana Territory, a land area of about one million square miles, to President Thomas Jefferson (the Louisiana Purchase) for about 3¢ an acre. This acquisition doubled the size of the U.S., instantly. A year after that, Spain declared war on Great Britain only to see its fleet destroyed at Trafalgar.
In August of 1993, the Captain Jerry Murphy, on the Butterfish Trawler called the “Mistake”, accidentally found the wreck of “El Cazador” in the Gulf of Mexico. A salvage company was formed, named The Grumpy Partnership, and the recovery of the wreck site was underway.
The coins discovered on “El Cazador” were 8 Reales (Silver Dollars), 2 Reales (Silver Quarters), 1 Reales (Silver Dimes) and what I consider to be the most understated and "star" of the treasure, the ½ Silver Reales.
The ½ Reale is the coin that would have been the most heavily used in the United States at that time. It was the coin of the common citizen and worth about 6 cents. Most ½ Reales found by collectors, today, seem to be well worn. The group of “El Cazador” ½ Reales, I saw, looked like they were made yesterday. They were beautiful.
The silver coin is about 18 mm in diameter. On the obverse of the coin is a portrait of King Carlos III of Spain. The reverse of the coin carries the Spanish Royal Coat-of-Arms flanked by columns wrapped in banners with the Spanish Royal Crown above. All of the coins were dated 1783.
Treasure coins are graded in grades I through IV with Grade I being the highest and Grade IV being the lowest. The ½ Reales, I saw, were so far above Grade I, they are being called “Prime Select.” They were museum quality. Each coin comes with a Certificate of Authenticity issued by the salvage company, The Grumpy Partnership, that tells the story about “El Cazador.”
Knowing the history, having seen the coins, and given the affordability, I knew it was a must for my collection. As it reads on the Certificate of Authenticity, “There is no way to know what the history of Louisiana, the United States and the world would have been had El Cazador completed its voyage.”
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