Pieces of Eight!

Pieces of Eight!

A Real Treasure Trove Arrives at Auction


A single-owner collection of coins from historic shipwrecks more than doubled its estimate of £2,000 - £3,000, selling for £6,440 in our Jewellery & Watch auction on January 31st.

The sale featured 51 coins in four lots, grouped in the wrecks they were recovered from, ranging from 1686 to 1806.

A Cornwall-based diver who was part of the team that recovered some of the coins from shipwrecks around the Isles of Scilly in the early 1970s was among the successful bidders. As the finders of the coins, the divers were officially named as ‘salvors in possession’ and they originally sold the coins at auction in 1975.

The standout lot in the auction was 17 coins from Hollandia, a Dutch East India Company ship, which was wrecked on the Isles of Scilly’s Gunner Rock in 1743, resulting in the loss of 276 crew and company members. The coins from this wreck, including Mexican pillar reales or ‘pieces of eight’ sold for £2,700 against an estimate of £850 - £1,250.

Twenty-two coins from HMS Association, which was wrecked on Scilly’s notorious Western Rocks in October 1707, sold for £2,300 after being estimated at £1,000 - £1,500. A public outcry followed the fleet’s total loss of over 2000 men due to a catastrophic navigational error by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cloudesley Shovell. This led to the £20,000 Longitude Prize that eventually resulted in the invention of the marine chronometer in 1759.

Eight coins from HMS Athenienne realised £850 against an estimate of £400 - £600. This 66-gun ship was lost on Esquerques Rocks off the Italian island of Sicily on 20 October 1806, resulting in the loss of 347 crew members, including Captain Robert Raynsford.

The final group of coins, which was estimated at £80 - £120 and sold for £380 on the day, contained four coins from three different shipwrecks. The Princesse Maria was lost on the Silver Carn off the Isles of Scilly in January 1686, the De Liefde was wrecked off the Shetland Isles on November 7th, 1711 and HMS Sprightly was lost on Hanois Bank off Guernsey in December 1777. 

“These very special coins attracted bids from as far afield as California and Florida as well as here in the UK including Shetland and the Isles of Scilly,” comments Gildings director Will Gilding. “However all of them found a home here in the UK and it was a surprising but fitting twist in the tale to discover that our auction was able to reunite some of them with one of the pioneering underwater explorers who originally found them at the bottom of the sea during an era of unprecedented advances in diving technology, which enabled the exploration of wrecks that had lain undisturbed for 300 years.”

The coins, which were all offered with their certificates of origin, were originally acquired by the vendor in 1975 at W H Lane’s auctioneers of Penzance  in their ‘Sale of Sunken Treasure.’ This auction offered over 1,300 coins, mainly from famous wrecks surrounding the Isles of Scilly. A copy of the original auction catalogue was also sold at Gildings, attracting a final bid of £210 against an estimate of £30 - £50.

The full auction results can be found HERE