Specialists in the colonial coinage of Spanish America as well as shipwreck coins and artifacts of all nations. In addition to publishing several catalogs per year, Mr. Sedwick is a regular vendor at major international coin shows, including FUN, CICF, and ANA.

 Introduction to Shipwreck Treasure Coins

Article by Augi Garcia - Edition: Dan Sedwick

For most people the word shipwreck represents old sunken Spanish galleons, dismasted and rudderless in hurricane seas, their panicked crews helpless and praying as the ships slam into reefs that rip open their fragile hulls and send chests of gold and silver to the bottom. Indeed many Spanish galleons returning to Europe from the Americas met this tragic fate. By some estimates a third of Spain’s treasure ships never made it home. A lot of treasure is still waiting to be recovered!

But Spanish galleons were not the only treasure ships plying the cruel seas. The Dutch, English, French and Portuguese (among others) all sailed treasure ships to and from the New World and the Orient, and all suffered horrific losses in the process. The long voyage from Europe to the Orient in particular was as important to the European economies as the Spanish-Caribbean connection. Many Dutch and English treasure ships (known as "East Indiamen") perished on that route.

Between 1492 and the early 19th century, Spain extracted billions and billions of dollars' worth of gold, silver, precious gems and other treasures from the Caribbean, Mexican and South American colonies. Treasure and other trade goods were loaded at the new Spanish ports in Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and the Philippines, then shipped to Spain in large armed fleets of galleons.


The Spanish colonial mints at Potosí, Lima, Cartagena, Bogotá and Mexico City (plus a few others) labored day and night to produce the irregularly shaped gold and silver coins commonly referred to as macuquinas (crude hammered coins) or “cobs." It is believed the word "cob" is the simplification of the Spanish phrase "cabo de barra," meaning "end of the bar," as the blanks, or planchets, for these coins were actually sliced off the ends of silver bars straight from the mines, this is just another theory and not archival documation support the meaning. The planchets were then trimmed to prescribed weights and struck between crude dies, thus no two cobs are ever exactly alike! That is what makes these "macuquinas" unique and really interesting to collect. Ironically, the Spanish Crown put its colonial mints to the trouble of striking coins only to have much of the coinage shipped to Spain and immediately remelted and restruck as Spanish coins. The point of coining the silver and gold in the New World was to better monitor and control its shipment. Some of the gold and silver coins (mostly the smaller denominations) were of course retained in the New World to serve the function of a local coinage.


Cobs were minted from the early 1500’s until the mid-18th century, when the mechanical press finally introduced modern milled coinage to the Spanish colonial mints. The era of milled coinage began first in Mexico in 1732, then about twenty years later in South America. Milled coins consist of two distinct types: Pillar dollars (and lower denominations), which display a very attractive and main design consisting of two pillars outside of two globes, struck in silver only and ending in 1771-2; and bust (or portrait) dollars (and lower denominations), which show the portrait of the current king as the main design, starting in 1772 in silver and in in 1732 in gold. All types of Spanish colonial coins were minted in denominations of 8, 4, 2, and 1 escudos in gold (plus the diminutive ½ escudo in the bust series only) and 8, 4, 2, 1, ½ and ¼ reales in silver. Copper coins were also occasionally struck in denominations of 4, 2, and 1 maravedis. The gold coins were commonly referred to as "doubloons" and the dollar-sized silver coins as "pieces of eight." It is worth noting that while cobs and portrait-type coins were also minted in Spain, only the New World mints struck pillar dollars. Pillar dollars are therefore widely considered to be the first "dollars" of the United States of America, which prescribed "Spanish milled dollars" as official currency until 1857. The milled "pillar dollar" should not be confused with the "early pillars" and "pillars and waves" designs in cobs.


By a royal statute first promulgated in the reign of Charles I of Spain, the official weights of the silver reales were as follows:

  • 8 reales (cob) = 27.3 grams [0.96 ounces]

  • 4 reales (cob) = 13.65 grams [0.48 ounces]

  • 2 reales (cob) = 6.825 grams [0.24 ounces]

  • 1 real (cob) = 3.4125 grams [0.12 ounces]

  • ½ real (cob) = 1.70625 grams [0.06 ounces] (also known as medios)

  • ¼ real (cob) = 0.853125 grams [0.03 ounces] (also known as cuartillos)

(Diameters vary depending on the mint, year and assayer.)

The production of silver cobs from irregularly cut blanks of silver (planchets) meant these ideal weights were rarely achieved. Silver cobs were often up to 3-4% underweight, and occasionally overweight. With the introduction of milled silver coins, weights became much more standardized. When you talk about "treasure coins," though, keep in mind that underweight silver coins are very common due to corrosion from salt water and erosion from 300-400 years at the bottom of the sea. Gold coins, however, are almost totally unaffected by the sea, and in fact come up from shipwrecks in much better condition than specimens that spent centuries in circulation instead.

Both cobs and milled coinage are found on treasure wrecks, depending on date the ship was lost. Here is a list of some of the most famous shipwrecks (mostly Spanish, but some Dutch and English), with an overview of the type of coinage recovered from each wreck:


  • The “Golden Fleece wreck," an unidentified Spanish ship lost in Caribbean circa 1550:  gold and silver bullion, plus early Mexican silver cobs from the reign of Charles and Joanna (Juana la Loca).

  • Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a galleon of the 1622 Fleet lost to the west of the Florida Keys:  large quantities of silver bullion and silver cobs.

  • Santa Margarita, another 1622-Fleet ship lost in the same storm:  same cargo of silver cobs and bullion.

  • The "Lucayan Beach wreck," an unidentified Spanish ship sunk off Grand Bahama Island circa 1628, possibly related to the Dutch pirate-hero Piet Heyn:  large quantities of Mexican silver cobs.

  • Nuestra Señora De La Concepción, lost in the reefs of the Silver Shoals north of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) in 1641:  substantial amounts of silver cobs.

  • Jesús María de La Limpia Concepción, AKA "La Capitana,” a Spanish galleon wrecked off Chanduy, Ecuador in 1654:  many Potosí silver cobs showing the transition from a recalled shield design to a new pillars design (with many Transitional varieties and countermarks).

  • Nuestra Señora de Las Maravillas, a Spanish galleon sunk off Grand Bahama Island in 1656:  Mexican silver cobs and Potosí shield- and pillar-style silver cobs plus rare Colombian silver and gold cobs.

  • Santa María de La Consolación, a Spanish galleon lost due to piracy off Santa Clara Island, Ecuador in 1681:  significant amounts of Potosí silver cobs.

  • The 1715 Fleet, eleven Spanish ships lost together in a hurricane along the east coast of Florida in July of 1715:  large numbers of gold and silver cobs.

  • The 1733 Fleet, twenty-two Spanish ships, most of which were lost in a hurricane in the Florida Keys:  silver cobs and some early pillar dollars.

  • The Dutch East Indiaman Vliegenthart, sunk in 1735 off Zeeland, the Netherlands:  vast quantities of Mexican silver cobs.

  • The Dutch East Indiaman Rooswijk, lost in 1739 on the Goodwin Sands off England:  silver bullion, cobs, klippes and early pillar dollars.

  • The English East Indiaman Princess Louisa, lost off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa in 1743:  silver cobs and pillar dollars.

  • The Dutch East Indiaman Hollandia, lost off the Isles of Scilly, England, in 1743:  large quantities of silver pillar dollars and some silver cobs.

  • The Spanish/Portuguese ship Nuestra Señora de la Luz, lost in the harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1752:  gold bullion and milled gold bust coins in addition to gold and silver cobs.

  • The Spanish ship El Cazador, sunk off the Louisiana coast of the US in 1784:  bust-type milled Spanish silver coins.


We can summarize the common types of Spanish coins recovered from shipwrecks as follows:


Macuquinas or cob coins:


  • Early pillars/Charles-Joanna Type (elegant pillars design, with simple shield on other side, 1536-1572)

  • Shield Type (full Hapsburg shield, with cross on other side, 1572-1652 for South America, 1572-1733 for Mexico)

  • Pillars and Waves (stylized pillars above waves, with cross on the other side, South America only, 1652-1773)


Milled coins:

  • Pillar Type (1732-1771, silver only)

  • Bust type (1772-1825 in silver, 1732-1824 in gold)

Virtual Shipwreck and Hoard Map

Virtual Map with approximate shipwreck or hoard locations sorted by date.

Zoom-in to see the location and click the icon to retrieve information about the wreck.

click the map to access



-Reproduction of the articles in whole or part is strictly prohibited without written permission of the author/s.



Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC Professional numismatists specializing in the colonial coinage of Spanish America, shipwreck cob coins and artifacts of all nations. Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC Professional numismatists specializing in the colonial coinage of Spanish America, shipwreck cob coins and artifacts of all nations.


Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC

P.O. BOX 1964 | Winter Park, Florida 32790

Phone: 407.975.3325  |  Fax: 407.975.3327


We welcome your order, want lists, comments, material for sale or consignment and suggestions.

Please send email to: office@sedwickcoins.com


We Accept Visa and Mastercard