The Wrecking of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha
More than half a century before the founding of the chief colonial cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, the Spanish were leading the rapid expansion of the New World, at centers like Mexico City, Lima and Potosi. Vital to the Spanish throne was the continent's mineral wealth of silver and gold. Between 1561 and 1748, two fleets a year were sent with supplies to colonists in the New World and would returned to Spain filled with silver and gold.
On 6 September 1622, one such heavily laden treasure galleon of King Philip IV's Tierra Firme Fleet sank during a hurricane near Florida Keys. Two hundred and sixty people and many tons of cargo were lost at sea. Over one thousand silver bars, mined in Upper Peru (modern Bolivia) were lost, of which the present lot is one.
Salvage attempts began immediately. The Atocha was found in 55 feet of water with the top of its mast in plain view. Divers, limited to holding their breath, attempted recovery but were unable to break into the hatches. While the divers were gathering further materials needed for the recovery of the cargo, a further hurricane destroyed the parts of the ship visible above water level. With no marker of the location of the Atocha, salvage attempts proved futile for many centuries, until the shipwreck was discovered in July 1985 by famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher. When discovered, the hull of the Atocha was lying in 55 feet of water, exactly as recorded by the first salvagers in 1622.
The V Mark
The V mark, found on the present lot, is that of Jacove de Vreder, the silvermaster for the Spanish Silver Fleet of 1622. De Vreder was a Dutchman, also known as Jacob de Vreder. He was Master of the all treasure in the Fleet, shouldering personal responsibility for logging all treasure being transported. If a bar displayed his mark (V), it was properly registered, not contraband. De Vreder died in the wreck of the Atocha.