Buried Treasure

Treasure hunter

By Judy Berman

A beachcomber shuffles along the sand, shifts his metal detector slowly left, then right, in search of something shiny or black.

He scores a few bottle caps, loose change … and, then, he spots pieces of eight (gold), and silver that has a black silver sulfide patina on its surface.

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.* Treasure hunters today hope to strike it rich like Kip Wagner did in the 1950s.

Wagner, a retired Florida contractor, frequently went to the beach in search of driftwood next to the Sebastian River. Instead, after a hurricane, he found a piece of eight – also known as a cob, a Spanish silver coin dating back to the 1700s.

He wondered why gold and silver kept washing ashore near his home. None of the coins were dated past 1715.

He began working with his friend, Dr. Kip Kelso, in researching shipwrecks from that time.

They discovered that the treasure came from the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet. During a violent hurricane, 11 of 12 Spanish Galleons and one French ship sank between Sebastian and Fort Pierce.

About 700 people – crew and passengers – lost their lives, and the fleet’s precious cargo of gold, silver, jewels and jewelry now lay on the ocean floor.

Some 1,500 survivors struggled to shore and set up camp while awaiting rescue. This site, now known as the Survivors’ and Salvagers’ Camp, is in the Sebastian Inlet.

Treasure Island - book cover - 1911

Help did arrive within weeks. “Over the next four years, official Spanish salvors, Indian divers, English pirates, and privateers and river pirates of various nationalities flocked to the area to retrieve – or steal from each other – as much treasure as they could,” according to the McLarty Treasure Museum in Sebastian, Florida.

“Less than half the material originally listed on the ships’ manifest reached the Spanish treasury. The rest, so recently pried from the mountains (of Mexico and South America), now lay buried in sand and silt of the shore.”

Wagner purchased a $15 Army surplus metal detector. That led to finding the encampment, cannonballs, swords and artifacts from that site. Later, he took his search to the ocean and discovered remnants of one of the ships.

With the aid of their subcontractor, Mel Fisher, Wagner’s group – the Real Eight Company – salvaged the wreck of El Capitana from the 1715 Fleet.

By the mid-1960s, they hauled in “silver pieces of eight, gold doubloons, bars and plates of both metals, pearls, jewelry, and rare Chinese porcelains.”

Efforts continue to “coax from the seabed what 18th century divers left behind.”

Mel Fisher's Treasures, Sebastian - Oct. 2014 (4)

There are still untapped treasures and areas to explore along the Treasure Coast. Who knows what the next major storm will stir up from the ocean?

But some try to resist that siren’s call as young Jim Hawkins did in the last lines of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”:

“The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them, and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island, and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”


Have you ever searched for treasure? Gold? Books? Memorabilia? What was your best find?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: The Spanish ship Atocha Shipwreck Found – Gold Treasure Discovery – Mel Fisher Story. It also includes search for the 1715 Spanish Fleet.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNdi4pbUIwc 

1.Main Photo: Treasure Hunter

2.Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – book cover (1911) – Illustrator: N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) http://www.openlibrary.org/details/treasureisland00steviala http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/77/Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg/436px-Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg

3.Photo: Mel Fisher’s Treasures – 40 pound “clump” of about 500 silver coins as a diver would find them on the ocean floor.

* Quote: “The, eh, stuff that dreams are made of.” Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade) telling Ward Bond (Detective Tom Polhaus) what the black statuette is in the movie, “The Maltese Falcon.” (1941)

Link to: McLarty Treasure Museum at Sebastian Inlet State Park – http://www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet/activities.cfm

  1. What are the odds, Judy?

    Two guys named Kip become friends?

    Seriously, finding that sort of treasure with a 15-buck metal detector. I will not scoff at the people I see combing Norwood Park here in our Syracuse any longer. Though I cannot figure out which ship crashed there and when. 🙂

    Great Saturday morning share, my friend.

    1. Mark … I’d say the odds of two guys named Kip becoming friends are greater than you or I stumbling across gold doubloons on the beach. 😉

      I also used to snicker at those who scoured the sands with metal detectors. No more. I might look into getting one myself. 😉

      Today, I just discovered that a fellow teacher and Facebook friend’s granddad was part of the Real Eight team who searched with Kip Wagner and his belongings are part of the museum’s display. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  2. Just the adventure of it all is so exciting, the prospect of finding silver doubloons, especially! Judy, it is so cool since I published my post and in the midst of it, there is an “X” marks the spot (and treasure maps) reference! I pushed this at 9:56 am on Saturday and you published this today! Wow! Great minds are on a similar vein, not necessarily thinking the same thought, though… my post is about ‘spots!’ ha ha!

    1. If only I had a treasure map, Robin, where “X” really did mark the spot of untold treasures. Then, again, that might be a real headache. Great minds do think alike.
      A teacher friend of mine told me, after reading my story, that her granddad was part of the Real Eight Company who salvaged the 1715 Spanish Fleet wreck.

      I’m going over to your blog to check out your post about ‘spots.’ 😉

    1. Glad you liked this story, Carrie. The discovery happened within 40 miles of our home. We visited the treasure museums in Sebastian last month and it was exciting to learn about this. 😉

  3. Oh, I went back and read your Dad’s desert adventure with the Mojave mine where there was a hole in a wall of mountain. Cool and exciting tale, too! Smiles!

    1. Robin … My Dad used to go out to the desert in his truck or motorcycle. He had many stories about lost mines, betrayals over finding gold, etc. Dad was very adventurous and an exceptional storyteller. Glad you liked his story. 😉

      1. My Dad and your Dad would have challenged each other with two different adventurous souls. My Dad was a member of the Ancient Astronauts Society who had amazing members, I have signed books by them but wish he could have taken a photograph of them all together. Erich Von Daniken, Carl Sagan and others there all thought there were aliens here on earth. My Dad paid a pilot to fly above the Nazcan desert where the iron filings look like dragonflies and different weird things, he then drew these flying vehicles with their landing gear to look like the shapes he found on the desert. Interesting, but he got quite a lot of weird looks when he would start in on these subjects! He made three self-published books along with his Hot Lab book. This was semi-autobiographical and then, futuristic in the second half. Your Dad would have taught him about nature and the excitement of discovery of minds and caves. Also, those stories of betrayals of finding gold would have interested him, too. They may have vied for each other’s attention, sometimes interrupting or expanding their thoughts. Nice to chat with you, Judy. Thanks for this post and comments, which made me wish we still had them around… I would listen much more intently, Judy!

  4. Love this bit of history Judy! It was my dream as a child, to find a treasure map and then find the treasure. Not so much for the treasure itself, but for the adventure in tracking the treasure.
    Diana xo

    1. Adventure. Exactly, Diana. This is the same reason I loved Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” The only map I recall getting was when some cereal – that I consumed by the boatload as a child – included a map of the Yukon territory. It might have allowed the purchaser to own a square foot (or, maybe, it was an inch) of land in the Yukon. Dang! I wish I could find that map now! 😉

  5. People ask me how I come up with ideas for blog posts. I wonder the same about you – always so fresh with topics unpredictable. I had no idea that N. C. Wyeth illustrated any edition of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s books – striking!

    Where have I found treasure? Two items come to mind: On my writing desk is a paperweight with pieces of fool’s gold we unearthed on one of our trips to North Carolina, I believe. Other treasures? Antique books, most given to me by friends, my favorite being Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne, 1901. Last month we discovered a family Bible in German with a 1765 copyright date. Who knows what we will find next!

    1. Thank you, Marian. Sometimes I feel that I am scrambling for ideas. This one stems from the visits we made last month to treasure museums in Sebastian with our grandchildren. Fascinating stuff.

      Until I was searching for photos of Treasure Island, I was unaware that N.C. Wyeth illustrated Robert Louis Stevenson’s book.

      My Mom would have been so envious of your book finds. She delighted in searching out book stores and other sales for a great buy on a book she just had to have in her hands. 😉

  6. Hi Judy – Very happy to see a follow up! I enjoyed those times way back! I think everyone needs to have an adventure in their life – many really! I also believe you are never too old to venture out into the unknown adventure like writing … God Bless! Rick =)

    1. Thanks, Rick. I was surprised when a fellow teacher told me, after reading my story, that her Granddad was one of the original Real Eight. Some of his belongings are in the McLarty Treasure Museum that my husband and two grandchildren visited with me last month.

  7. I’ve never found anything anybody else would consider treasure, that’s for sure. Isn’t there just so much romance attached to these tales? The very idea of sunken treasure just captures the imagination like almost nothing else. That photo of the giant blob of fused together silver coins is quite something! Very interesting post, Judy, thank you.

    1. Barbara … I never knew that silver and metals – other than gold – would fuse together like that. We might see it and think it’s just some old rock. Glad you enjoyed my story. 😉

      My Dad used to tell my brother and I tales of lost gold mines in the desert of Nevada and California. That was pretty exciting. But, sunken treasure makes me think of pirates and the adventures in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”

  8. Melisa and me find pennies, and occasionally dimes. We’ve never found or won anything of consequence . . . I think we used up our “finding treasure” quota when we found each other.

  9. A $15 Army surplus metal detector? Wow. Thanks for sharing this amazing adventure.
    I once found a big horse-shoe-shaped magnet on my grandfather’s work table in his garage. We went to the grassy hill where picnics had covered the lawn during a 4th of July celebration. I scoured a big portion on my hands and knees, and the magnet (and good eyesight) netted me several nickels, a penknife, a belt buckle and a handful of nails.

    1. That was in the 50s that he bought a metal detector for $15. I wonder what that would go for today.

      Marilyn, that magnet sounds like a wonderful substitute for a metal detector. I wish I’d thought of that. 😉

  10. Ok, you’ve convinced me to try (again), so next week I will clean up my 11-yr-old Fast Tracker metal detector & if it still works, head for the beaches off A1A . 😀 (Good arms’ exercise, if no treasure found.)

  11. My uncle used to take me out detecting as a girl.. we never found anything of value, but to a child wondering about the stories behind our little finds, it was still treasure 🙂

  12. Judy I often joke to my daughter that we might find treasure on the beach when we are looking for shells. Now that would be something to tell the grandchildren. Love the slice of Treasure Island such a melody with words. Thanks for an entertaining read as always.

    1. Kath … I miss those days of being on the beach or a park when our girls were young. Hoping you and your daughter do find a treasure. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” really captures my ex-tomboy imagination. 😉

  13. i love the unlikely odds of his original find on the beach, and i’m always fascinated by the underwater treasure hunts and finds. so much history and so many stories lie below. i’ve never found any treasure, but am always open to the possibilities )

    1. I’d be doing somersaults on the beech if I found any treasure. But, then, that would be a dead give-away. Have to play it cool … I wonder how they managed to keep it quiet until they filed a claim? 😉

  14. When I was about 5, I dug for treasure in my sandbox. In those days, a sandbox was an bottomless box into which my dad dumped a pile of sand. Dug through the sand and into the earth with my little shovel. Dug and dug and dug, until I found a reddish rock. I was convinced I’d found hell (yes, I always did have a very storied imagination), and I ran into the house to hide under my bed so the devil wouldn’t find me.

    I never did work up the courage, after that, to search for any more treasures….

    1. And I thought I had an overactive imagination. No wonder you gave up rock hunting at such an early age.

      I imagine that I must have found some intriguing rocks – pretty colors and shapes. Other than that, Tracy, nothing memorable. I remember when I was about 11 or 12 being with my cousin and a friend. We stopped in at – what we thought was an abandoned barn – and began looking at tools and stuff there when the owner barged in. Man, I caught heck for that one! 😉

  15. How I miss the beaches of Florida where I grew up! Your story reignites all my childhood fantasies of discovering something valuable in the sand.

    1. I just finished re-reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” That story does the same for me, Dor. Who knows what those pirates dropped – and where – in their haste to get back to their ships? 😉

  16. There must be so much stuff beneath the ocean. How exciting though to find something of worth. I’ve never found any treasure as such – just a ten pound note in a waste paper bin outside the supermarket. I used it to but a lottery ticket (well, you never know) and lost the lot 😄

    1. A ten-pound note sounds pretty exciting to me. Sorry the lottery ticket didn’t work out. My Mom used to work in a Las Vegas casino (in the coffee shop) and, from my Mom, I know too well the odds are NOT in my favor. 😉

  17. Hi Judy,

    A good read and definitely carries shades of Stevenson’s Treasure Island, from which you have quoted.

    Somewhere deep down, each one of us believes that we will hit a jackpot. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”. Clearly manifested in the huge interest in Casinos, lotteries and lucky draws. But can the probability of our winning be improved in some way? That is a question I would be keen to get an answer too….


    1. Hi Shakti …

      Thank you for the compliment. I just got thru re-reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” It was published in 1881 and is still an exciting read.

      My Mom worked in a Las Vegas casino (the coffee shop). She did play the slots and often walked away with more than she came in with. But, from my Mom, I learned that the odds are in the casinos favor. I have not put so much as a nickle in them in more than a decade – and we visit family there every year. 😉


    1. That depends, Lisa. If they were gambling men and women, maybe they should have bitten. But these treasure hunters that I’ve written about searched for many years before they found treasure. 😉

  18. Pieces of eight– aye!! Takes me back to the Hardy Boys serial on the old Mickey Mouse Club: The Secret of the Applegate Treasure!! Man, I couldn’t wait to get home from school and see what happened!! Hmm… what did happen? The crystal grows cloudy… : )

    I’ve never read Treasure Island. Probably because I was too busy reading and watching The Hardy Boys…

    The only “treasure” I ever found when I was a kid was two pipes hidden in knotholes in an apple tree I shouldn’t have been climbing. In retrospect: clearly hidden by teenagers who were doing a little puffin’ without their parents’ knowledge. O young and innocent days!!

    Judy Berman? She’s a treasure– sure’n all her readers know that!! : )

    1. I enjoyed the Hardy Boys, too. But having recently re-read “Treasure Island,” I have to say that book really holds up. It’s an exciting adventure filled with greed, betrayal, risk-taking and surprises. Great fun!

      Those two pipes … hmmm. You better hope those teens aren’t still looking for them. 😉

      Thanks for the compliment, Mark. That made my day. 😉

  19. Fascinating! And to discover you know a descendant of one of the members of the Original Eight Company is even more so! 🙂

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