Atocha Gold Button Found

This week, divers on the salvage vessel, “Magruder” found an ornate solid gold button on the trail of the Atocha, along with 11 “pieces of eight” silver coins. The gold button was found by diver Tim Meade.

When gold comes out of the ocean, it is the rich familiar color of gold, unchanged by hundreds of years on the ocean floor. Gold is an inert metal, and does not oxidize, or rust, so the conservation process for gold artifacts is usually very short, only a few days.

In 1622, a one-ounce silver coin was worth about one month’s wages. But a one-ounce gold coin was worth 16 times the amount of silver, or 16 month’s wages. For this reason, only the very wealthy owned any gold at all. And only the super-rich Spanish Royalty would own something so frivolous as a gold button used to decorate their clothing.

On the Atocha were 48 wealthy passengers, 38 of them were members of the Spanish Royal Court. They all lived in the sterncastle, and kept their belongings and treasure in that section of the ship. It is very likely this newly-found button belonged to one of these people, and was attached by linen thread to some of their clothing.

All the artifacts we just found are now in our conservation laboratory, under the watchful eye of Chief Conservator John Corcoran. The 11 silver coins (one found by investor Dave Januszkiewicz) will take longer to stabilize, about two weeks. Then they will receive a Certificate of Authenticity, guaranteeing to their future owners that they came from the most famous shipwreck of them all, the Atocha.

 
 


 
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