Earlier this week, a ship believed to have been part of the Spanish Armada was announced to have been discovered off the Donegal coast. €50,000 of government money has been put towards its excavation.
That had me thinking about collectibles which have vanished into the sea only to be returned at a later date, and the particular magic this holds for many people.
To give you a flavour of what I mean, here are five rather different collectibles borrowed by the ocean:
5. Shatterproof Ming vases
At the end of June, it was finally announced that the recovery process had begun for the contents of a doomed Chinese merchant ship that traded in Southeast Asia.
Arqueonautas founder and CEO Count Nikolaus Sandizell described descending and finding “Row upon row of delicate intact bowls, nestled together in orderly rows as they were stowed more than four centuries ago.”
Given the current market for antique Chinese ceramics, the value of these Ming porcelain pieces could be extraordinary – and all the more so for their unique history.
4. Interrupted mail
Stamp collecting is generally thought of as a pretty staid business. True, if an envelope was sent between world leaders or something there’s some historical interest, but something travelling in a postman’s sack doesn’t sound that exciting.
Some collectors, though, specialise in mail for which the process has gone wrong. This is called ‘interrupted mail’, where the post fails to get through due to a plane crash or something.
The Jerry Santangelo collection was one example of this, and included mail recovered from The Morgan City, a troopship, which went down of the south east coast of Japan at Innosimo. It was rescued by divers.
Morgan City interrupted mail
Some of Santangelo’s prize pieces are worth thousands.
3. The Ship of Gold
America is only too familiar with the potentially calamitous effects of nature, but some might be surprised to learn that back in 1857 a hurricane threw the whole country into a financial crisis.
This was because it sunk the SS Central America, which was nicknamed the ‘Ship of Gold’ because of its valuable haul, and claimed 400 passengers and 30,000 pounds of gold when it sank in a hurricane causing widespread panic.
Last year an 1857-S Double Eagle, rescued from the wreck sold for $10,800.
The rescued 1857-S Double Eagle, sold for $10,800
2. Booze for mermaids
Acker Merrall & Condit announced on June 3 that it had surpassed the world auction record for a bottle of Champagne, selling a bottle of shipwrecked Veuve Clicquot for $43,630.
It was one of 145 bottles returned from the Baltic seabed last year when divers discovered a wreck, and it is speculated that the cargo was bound for the court of the Russian Emperor, Nicholas I, in St Petersburg.
By comparison, Scottish customs officials became so frustrated with people trying to salvage 28,000 cases (264,000 bottles) of whisky from the 1941 shipwreck of the SS Politician that they tried to destroy what remained with dynamite!
1. Titanic hull
The greatest source for sea-soaked collectibles is of course the Titanic, with many collectors specialising in items associated with the tragedy.
Millvina Dean, who was the longest-living survivor of the Titanic, spent much of her life signing autographs for collectors (we have one ourselves) despite not remembering the event as she was a baby when she was on board.
The shipwreck itself is protected, meaning parts of it rarely come to the market. However there is a collection of recovered items which tours as a museum, and earlier this year there was even a piece of Titanic hull offered at Heritage.
It had broken away from the main ship, leaving it open to private sale. What a powerful reminder of the terrible event that would be to own.
Morgan City mail image from: Grosvenor
Double Eagle image from: Affiliated Auctions