Recovering the Most Valuable Shipwreck in History

July 30th, 2017 by

Ongoing efforts to salvage a shipwreck off the coast of Colombia from the 1700s are making painstaking progress. Moreover, historical records of what the San José was carrying on board suggest that a breakthrough in the recovery process could yield the richest haul of underwater treasure ever found.

The Greatest Find In History?

Coin World recently reported on continuing efforts by Colombia to salvage the early-18th-century shipwreck of the San José, a Spanish warship that exploded and sank along the Atlantic coast in 1708. (It is not to be confused with another vessel named San José that sank off the Pacific coast of Panama in 1631.) It was part of a much larger fleet that was attacked—with some success—by the British. 14 other ships in the fleet of 17 did escape the ambush. All told, 600 people perished in the wreck.

Handout photo of gold coins and gold chain found in the wreckage of a 1715 Spanish fleet that sunk in the Atlantic

Researchers in cooperation with the Colombian government have located what they believe to be the remains of the San José.  Sonar has revealed the cannons of the ship along with other identifying artifacts. This would be of great import not simply for its historical value, but because the ship was supposed to be transporting a vast amount of gold and silver coins, bullion, and other treasure. Its value is estimated to be 5 million to 7 million pesos at the time that it sank. That translates into about a billion dollars (USD) today! Some even believe there are dozens of treasure chests filled with emeralds among the wreckage.

While carrying valuable cargo was often the case with European ships returning from the New World during the colonial period, the treasure of the San José is believed to be more immense than any other shipwreck ever found. President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón of Colombia suggested it was one of, “if not the greatest, some say, in the history of mankind.” Shipwreck coin guru Daniel Frank Sedwick, who publishes many popular guides for collectors and auctioneers, concurred that it is “potentially the richest single-ship recovery of all-time.”

Indeed, the recovery of the ship will be a technological and logistical challenge. In July, it was announced that an independent contractor will work under the parameters of the Colombian government to ensure the cultural heritage of the wreck is respected while also working to bring up the vast riches that sank with the San José.


The opinions and forecasts herein are provided solely for informational purposes, and should not be used or construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell any product.

4 thoughts on “Recovering the Most Valuable Shipwreck in History

  1. Pingback: The Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine Recovering the Most Valuable Shipwreck in History - The Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine

  2. Jorge

    On the story above, where it says “It is not to be confused with another vessel named San José that sank off the coast of Florida in 1631”, that other vessel from 1631 named San José did not sink in Florida, but on the Pacific side of Panama (that vessel was part of the South Seas Fleet).

    1. Everett Millman Post author

      Thanks for the correction! Updated the article. My source mistakenly identified the Atlantic coast of Florida, which sounded logical enough. Much appreciated!

Comments are closed.