homepage logo

Rare coin exhibit draws a crowd

By Staff | Jan 17, 2010

Lines gathered outside the Cape Coral Historical Museum this weekend to catch a glimpse of rare coins salvaged from a Spanish galleon which sunk because of a hurricane nearly 350 years ago.
The museum has been in possession of the rare coins for nearly a year, explained Curator Anne Cull, but this weekend was the first time they were on display. For the rest of their time at the museum the coins have been under lock and key to prevent theft.
“They belong to the historical society, so we don’t display them all the time for security reasons,” said Cull.
Locating lost treasure is relatively easy with modern technology, but the difficulty arises with protecting it around the clock, a problem documented in a 1976 National Geographic article entitled “The Trouble
With Treasure.”
The treasure on display this weekend included more than a few dozen silver coins, emeralds and the remnants of a pair of scissors. Their value is in the hundreds of thousands and were donated by Cape Coral resident Lou Tilley.
In 1985 Tilley, a tugboat captain, assisted treasure hunter Mel Fisher in finding the buried treasure of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a Spanish galleon that sunk off the coast of the Florida Keys in 1622.
“They are worth a substantial amount of money,” said Paul Sanborn, Cape Coral’s historian.
Fisher salvaged a total of $450 million worth of gold and silver coins, as well as emeralds and other treasures.
Before the coins were unveiled on Saturday, the museum hosted an historical lecture at the Cultural Park Theater next door and Cull said approximately 180 people attended.
“We really didn’t have any idea how many, but the theater was full,” she said, adding there was a constant stream of people visiting the museum all weekend.
Tilley made an appearance at the museum over the weekend to pose for pictures and give visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hold one of the silver coins in the palm of their hand.
Elaine Palmer, a member of the Cape Coral Historical Society, and her husband came to the museum on Saturday. After hearing about the exhibit, she was immediately interested.
“We had a friend who dived for treasure,” she said. “He found a few things.”
Palmer joined a group who gathered around the glass exhibit and gazed at the coins, each with an official certificate of authenticity. Her first observation about the rare coins was on their shape.
“I thought they’d be more round,” she said.