The Fate of the Guggenheim Treasure

 

One of the most legendary families of early 20th century America left behind a treasure worth millions of dollars, and no one has found it…yet.

 

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The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggeinheim family came to America in the mid-1800s, and the family rapidly became one of the wealthiest in the world. Involved in the mining and smelting industries, they were also known as philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Today, the family interest, Guggeinheim Partners, oversees $200 billion in assets.

 

In September of 1903, a tugboat pushed the barge Harold past the Statue of Liberty; the barge was loaded down with nearly 8,000 silver-and-lead bars. The metal was bound for the Guggenheims’ smelters in New Jersey. But during the passage of the Arthur Kill strait, the Harold tipped, sending most of the metal bars tumbling into the murky waters. Somehow, the deckhands aboard the barge never noticed the missing cargo; the loss wasn’t uncovered until the ship docked the next morning. A salvage mission recovered most of the cargo, though the salvage company director called the deckhands the “dumbest skunks I ever had to do with.” Around 1400 bars are still unaccounted for, and could be worth up to $20 million today.

 

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Arthur Kill Strait

Rumors of the treasure have surfaced from time to time. A story goes that a local Native American was fishing in the strait when his eel trident snagged on one of the lost ingots. More recently, Ken Hayes of Aqua Survey tried to locate the treasure. An early sweep of the area revealed 255 possible targets, but no guarantees that any of them were the missing silver. Hayes’ attempts to find the treasure have been met with discouragement from locals (who believe a local should be the one to find it) as well as fellow treasure hunters looking for an easy tip off to the location of the silver.

 

To date, neither Hayes nor anyone else has found a single silver bar, much less all $20 million worth. But it may be only a matter of time until the Guggenheim Treasure resurfaces.

 

The Lost (and Found) Treasure Ships of Zhang Xianzhong

 

Sometimes a legend of hidden treasure turns out to be true. For hundreds of years, tales of a lost hoard of gold and silver circulated in the Sichuan Province of China. It was said to have belonged to Zhang Xianzhong, leader of a peasants’ uprising during the final years of the Ming Dynasty.

 

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Shaanxi province

Zhang was born in Shaanxi province; even as a young man, he had an imposing figure and became known as the “Yellow Tiger.” Though he served for a time in the Imperial army that was engaged in keeping rioting peasants under control, he soon defected to the rebel forces, and soon became the leader of his own band of raiders.

 

 

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Sichuan province

Zhang’s entire career is a fascinating story of military success, defeat, and recovery. He surrendered several times, only to rebel and amass an army again. Finally, in 1644, Zhang marched 100,000 men toward Sichuan province. His men blasted a hole through the city walls of Chongqing; some reports claim that Zhang cut the hands off those who defended the city and massacred many inside. Zhang sent word out to the rest of the province that no one else would be harmed if they turned over their officials and surrendered without resistance.

 

Initially, Zhang ruled Sichuan well. Local Jesuit missionaries reported that he “began his rule with such liberality, justice and magnificence by which he captivated all hearts that many mandarins, famous both in civic as in military affairs whom fear was keeping concealed, left their hideouts and flew to his side.” But there was continued resistance to Zhang’s rule; Chongqing fell to Ming loyalists in 1645, and Zhang began a bloody war to stamp out all resistance in the province. Reports of deaths caused by Zhang’s orders vary, but there is no doubt that he had a massive impact on the population. The 1578 census for Sichuan recorded 3,102,073. Less than a hundred years later, only 16,096 adult males were recorded in the province.

 

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Qing army officer

When Qing dynasty forces began to invade, Zhang decided to leave Sichuan, and took the vast treasure he had accumulated with him. In January 1647, while Zhang was fleeing toward Shaanxi, his forces met the Qing forces in Xichong; Zhang was killed during the battle. Some reports say that a trusted lieutenant betrayed him by identifying Zhang to an archer, who shot him as he left his tent.

 

 

 

 

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Gold ingot

For hundreds of years after Zhang’s defeat, stories of his lost treasure abounded. Legends were told of 1,000 ships, loaded with gold and silver, lying at the bottom of the river. Chinese researchers recently confirmed that a newly-discovered wreck is, in fact, one of Zhang’s ships, containing more than 10,000 pieces of precious metal coins and ingots. Seven silver ingots were found during a construction project in 2005, and the site was declared a protected location in 2010, but exploration was halted while experts debated whether there was any merit to the stories of sunken ships. During the interim, treasure hunters began looting the site; while some were caught, there is no doubt that some historic items have been lost.

 

 

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Recovered coins

In January of 2017, excavation of the site began, with pumps working to keep the area as dry as possible. The project is expected to continue into April, and officials are hoping to build a museum nearby to display and preserve the items. Peking University archaeologist Li Boquian said, “The items are extremely valuable to science, history and art. They are of great significance for research into the political, economic, military and social lives of the Ming Dynasty.”

The Missing Treasure Train: Will It Reappear?

Secret tunnels, a train full of stolen gold and other treasures, and desperate Nazis: it sounds like something from an Indiana Jones movie, but it could be real.

 

Near the end of WWII, so the story goes, an armored train was loaded up with gold, jewels, artwork, and other goods stolen by the Nazis. The German troops were trying to stay one step ahead of the invading Soviet forces, and looking for a place to stash their loot. The train disappeared into a network of tunnels, and has not been seen since, though local legends of its existence have persisted through the decades.

 

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Two men, one German and one Polish, claimed last August to have found the missing train buried deep underground, rather than buried in a tunnel as was previously thought. The dig, expected to take days, is located in Walbrzych, Poland; the team has been using several radar techniques to identify anomalies that show the shape of the missing train.

 

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The two men have released a statement, reading “As the finders of a World War II armored train, we, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, declare that we have legally informed state authorities about the find and have precisely indicated the location in the presence of Walbrzych authorities and the police,” according to the AP.

 

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The dig is currently in progress; only time will tell if the legendary treasure train will finally make an appearance.

 

Ghosts and Lost Treasures: Spooky Stories of Cursed Coins

 

With the new Ghostbusters film coming to theaters this weekend, everyone is trading ghost stories and tales of the supernatural. Coin collectors should be listening. After all, stories of lost treasures and paranormal activity go back centuries. Almost every legend of buried coins comes with the requisite guardian specter or curse, put in place to prevent any upstart from stealing the wealth. Here are a few of our favorites.

 

Captain Kidd’s treasure on Charles Island, Connecticut
1280px-CharlesislandCharles Island is a small spot of land just off the shore of Connecticut, near the town of Milford. It’s been said to have been “thrice-cursed.” The first curse was set by the local Paugussett nation who believed it to be the home of sacred spirits; when European settlers defeated them, the chief proclaimed that any shelter built on the island would crumble (and indeed, no building has lasted long on its soil.) The legendary pirate, Captain Kidd, also cursed the spot during his final voyage in 1699 when he reportedly buried treasure there, insisting that anyone who disturbed the gold would die. The final curse is supposed to be from the Mexican Emperor Guatmozin, whose treasure was allegedly hidden on the island by sailors in 1721.
skull-476740_960_720Officially, no treasure has been found on Charles Island to date. But there are stories that say otherwise. Local tales recount the story of two treasure hunters who found an iron chest buried on the island in 1850. When they began to open the chest, a screaming, fiery skeleton descended from the sky, and a shower of blue flames erupted from the treasure pit. Naturally, the treasure hunters fled in terror; when they returned to the spot by day, their tools and the treasure pit had vanished. In some versions of the story, the two men spend their final days in an insane asylum; in others, they are beheaded by the spirits of the Paugussett nation. Whether any of it is true is a matter for conjecture, but even in the present day, visitors to the island report sightings of ghosts in the trees and disembodied voices.

 

 

The Treasure of Jean Lafitte
Anonymous_portrait_of_Jean_Lafitte,_early_19th_century,_Rosenberg_Library,_Galveston,_Texas.JPGPirate legends are a treasure trove of stories of headless ghosts and spectral ships; it’s hard to tell which stories are original and which have simply borrowed these common motifs. But one of the most common stories is the ghost of corsair captain Jean Lafitte. Lafitte was legendary for his exploits, and was condemned, pardoned, and condemned again by the United States government. He and his fleet helped save the city of New Orleans from British troops during the War of 1812, and though Lafitte operated as a man without a country, he had great respect for the new country. Lafitte’s ghost is a fairly common sight at his old blacksmith shop, which is now a bar. In many legends, ghosts are fine mists or shadowy shapes, and pirate ghosts are often said to be headless, but Lafitte has always been a full apparition, according to all accounts. He is always seen on the first floor, usually in the shadows, and never interacts with any visitor. When spotted, he looks like a normal human dressed in old sailor’s clothes, until he simply fades into the shadows.
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Also unlike most pirate ghosts, Lafitte has only been seen in his place of business, never near any of his treasure sites. One of the sites commonly thought to hold some of his riches is Fowler’s Bluff, Florida. Lafitte and other pirates were known to frequent the area, especially to bring their ships onto land and clean to hulls. No treasure of Lafitte’s has been recorded here, but stories persist of a man who left the Bluff in 1888 with unexplained riches. Some attempts at using ground-penetrating radar have revealed shapes that could be chests of gold doubloons. Perhaps some treasure chests remain to be found by future treasure hunters.

 

The Cahuenga Pass Treasure

1922_Cahuenga_Pass_HollywoodA large hoard of coins is reportedly buried near the Hollywood Bowl in southern California. This complex story starts in 1864, when four Mexican soldiers were sent to San Francisco with a load of coins and jewels to purchase munitions for the Mexican war (at the time, Mexican silver pesos were one of the most valued trade coins in the world.) One of the soldiers died during the voyage under suspicious circumstances, and his comrades buried their fortune for safe-keeping while they kept a watch for foreign agents.

 

However, the soldiers had been watched not by spies, but by a man named Diego Morena, who took the coins and made his way south to the mountains near Los Angeles, through the Cahuenga Pass. That night, he dreamed that he would die if he took the treasure into the city, so he buried it in the Pass. He went into town the next day, where he fell violently ill. He told a friend, Jesus Martinez, where the treasure was buried, before dying of his illness that night. Martinez and his stepson went to find the coins, but Martinez died of a heart attack as soon as they began to dig. The stepson died in a shootout 10 years later.
Hoard_of_ancient_gold_coinsPart of the treasure was uncovered by a Basque shepherd in 1885. The shepherd sewed the coins into his clothing for safekeeping and set off on a boat for Spain. As he stood looking towards the approaching country, he fell overboard and the weight of the gold in his clothes sunk him to the bottom of the sea.
The legend (and curse?) of the coin hoard continued into the twentieth century. Henry Jones, an oil expert, dug for the treasure in November of 1939, while a film crew documented the dig. Nothing but dirt was ever found, and Jones committed suicide over his failure. The coins have never been recovered.

 

The Folly Island Treasure

 

The ghost of Blackbeard the pirate has been seen out at Folly Island, South Carolina, many times, possibly connected with this spine-tingling tale regarding treasure on the island.

 

Civil_War_Battle_Scene_1887_William_T_Trego.pngDuring the Civil War, Union troops landed on Folly Island while preparing an assault on the nearby town of Charleston. Soldiers were sent around the island to ensure that all civilian residents had vacated the island; one young officer, reportedly named Yokum, came across an old black woman and a child living in a run-down shack. The woman refused to leave the house, as she had grown up in it, and began telling Yokum stories about the area. He wasn’t interested until the old woman mentioned treasure buried nearby.

 

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According to the old woman, pirates had buried six chests full of gold and silver coins (likely doubloons and pieces of eight) between two oak trees. After the chests were lowered into the hole, the pirate captain stabbed one of his crew and tossed the body into the hole. The pirates covered the pit and sailed away. The old woman insisted that the treasure was guarded by the ghost of the pirate buried with the gold.

 

 

moon-1275694_960_720.jpgYokum helped the old woman and the child off the island, then returned with his friend Hatcher to look for the treasure that night. As they dug, the tops of the trees began swaying as if in a high wind; the deeper the dug, the higher the wind rose, until the wind-blown sand began scratching their faces. Flashes of light began to appear, with greater frequency as the hole grew deeper. Finally there came a long flash, that made the night “bright as noon,” and Yokum and Hatcher saw that they were not alone. The dark form of a pirate stood behind them; the two men dropped their tools and escaped across the dunes, swearing never to tell anyone what had happened. The coins have never been found.

 

 

 

 

Unparalleled Exploration: How New World Treasure Fueled Spain’s Empire

Exploration and currency are inextricably linked; as explorers moved around the globe, they took their coins and other wealth with them. As trade was established, these coins began to move along the trade routes.

 

1024px-Map_of_HispaniolaAlthough the Vikings (and possibly other Western civilizations) had visited the New World, formal discovery with the addition of trade was not established until the late 15th century. The Spanish Empire’s influence on the Americas began in 1492 with the first voyage of Christopher Columbus; Spain would eventually control most of North, Central, and South America. Regardless of danger and a high death rate, by 1500AD, there were nearly a thousand Spanish settlers in the Hispaniola region (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic.)

 

Expeditions quickly moved inwards as more ships arrived from the European mainland. Nueva Cádiz was founded in 1500 in Venezula, followed by Alonso de Ojeda in Colombia. Cumaná, in modern-day Venezuela, was the first permanent European settlement, though  it was destroyed by the indigenous peoples several times before its final re-building in 1569.

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One of the most famous—and ruthless—of the Spanish explorers was Hernán Cortés. His forces, with help from the Tlaxcala and other indigenous allies, overthrew the Aztec Empire in just a few years, between 1519 and 1521. The Viceroyalty of New Spain was created in 1535 by Charles V, who appointed Don Antonio de Mendoza as viceroy.

 

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In 1532, Francisco Pizarro and his troops, including indigenous warriors, took the Incan Emperor Atahualpa prisoner, beginning a war that raged for years. It took four decades for Spanish forces to conquer the strongest empire in the Americas. The Spanish encountered the Inca during a time of unrest and civil war, and were able to use the political situation to their advantage, despite smaller numbers of armed soldiers.

 

In the 16th century, over 200,000 Spaniards had made their home in the Americas, with the number swelling to 500,000 in the 17th century. Even after the American Revolution, Spain controlled California through the missions until 1833, when Mexico passed the Secularization Act.

 

While exact numbers are not available, sources indicate that the indigenous population of Caribbean prior to the arrival of Columbus was about 6 million, with several million more in Mexico and South America. These populations declined by up to 90% in many areas by the early 17th century. In addition to coins and trade, the Spanish explorers brought diseases against which the native peoples had no natural resistance. The hard labor and other punishments of the Encomienda system also had an effect.

 

Some of the gold, silver, and other precious items valued by the explorers originally took the form of religious items, which were melted down prior to the voyage to Catholic Spain. It is unknown how many archeological treasures were destroyed in this process.

 

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While Columbia and Brazil produced gold, the main metal coming out of the New World was silver. During the 300 years of Spanish dominance in the Americas, a peso had approximately 25 grams of silver. A Spanish treasure ship could carry as many as two million such coins. According to Timothy R. Walton, “The modern approximate value of the estimated 4 billion pesos produced during the period would come to $527,270,000,000 or €469,839,661,964 (based on silver bullion prices of May 2015).” These coins did not stay predominantly in Spain, but were sent to their allies and trading partners for imports, military supplies and expenses, and other trade expenses. The wealth of the Americas was the foundation for the might of the Spanish Empire.

 

 

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As the Spanish crown insisted on receiving ⅕ of the wealth collected, more and more ships and crews began smuggling unregistered coins and other goods. This makes it difficult to know the exact contents of shipwrecks and other lost treasures, as official records may not show all goods on board.

 

 

 

The Spanish Empire eventually began to decline, and their presence in the New World weakened. But the coins and other goods still circulated the globe, following the trade routes of the legendary sea-faring nation.

This Treasure Could Be Yours, If You Can Find It First!

To celebrate National Scavenger Hunt Day, we’ve created two special scavenger hunts… and there are prizes! The rules are simple: go to www.stampandcoinplace.com and look for the items on this list. The first one to submit a (verified) list of the correct items for each hunt wins!

Now for the important part: the prizes! There are two scavenger hunt lists, and two amazing prizes! For the Treasure Quest, you can win 3 genuine silver Mexican pesos, from the 1930’s.  But if you are the first to complete the Epic Quest, we will send you a small chest containing a silver 8-real coin and replica gold coin from the legendary Atocha shipwreck. (Certificate of authenticity provided as-is.) That’s right: you can win ACTUAL SUNKEN TREASURE.

 

Rules for Both Quests:

 

  1. All items MUST be found within our store site. Links to eBay will not be counted.

  2. Each item on the list must have a URL attached so we can verify that you have found the correct item.

  3. The items may be from any section in our store: bullion, coins, currency, or stamps. No items have been pulled from the S&C Etc page, but you are welcome to look through it anyway! (There are some real gems there.)

  4. The first winning entry submitted for each list, according to our clock, will be the winner. If no entry is completely correct, we reserve the right to choose the entry that we believe fulfills the rules the best.

  5. You may submit entries for both lists, but you may only win one. Your first entry received will be the first counted.

  6. International entries welcome!

 

 

To enter, send your completed list(s) to elizabeth @stampandcoinplace .com The email must contain the correct URL for each item on the list.

 

 

Treasure Quest

Prize: 3 genuine Mexican silver pesos

List:

A kiwi from 1942

A panda that sells for over $1300

A lucky penny with two metals

3 bronze condors

Musical instruments in gold

A five-pound octopus

A harp from 1947

A set of seven butterflies

A bunch of grapes

A blacksmith with hammer and anvil

 

 

Epic Quest

Prize: A small chest containing a silver 8-real coin and replica gold coin from the legendary Atocha shipwreck. (Certificate of authenticity provided as-is.)

List:

A gold springbok

A blinded cornucopia

One of the wonders of the world with the sun overhead

Two rabbits on one item

A palm tree from 1954

A coin with a hole and a crown from 1909

A triangle of wheat

A double queen in blue

Three waving lions

A muscly moose

A face in red, on its side

A golden spaceship

A silver wedding in blue

A ram from 1939

A holey bill

 

 

Head to our site, and happy hunting!

 

UPDATE: Congratulations to our winners, Bart Ingraldi and Stephen Gagen!

Treasure Week!

One of the most enduring legends of the Americas is the legend of lost treasure. We tell stories about everything from lost Incan and Aztec gold to sunken Spanish galleons to swashbuckling pirates.
In honor of National Maritime Day (May 22) and National Scavenger Hunt Day (May 24), it’s Treasure Week on Past and Present! Look for posts all week long, with a special event on Tuesday: the Stamp and Coin Place Scavenger Hunt. You can win your very own treasure!

 

Stay tuned for stories of pirates, treasure fleets, and lost gold!

Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure

The treasure of sunken ships seems the stuff of glory gone by, told in swashbuckling stories around the world to a captivated audience. These tales talk of gold and silver beyond your wildest imagination.

For a few lucky people, these sunken treasures came within their grasp.

When one talks of lost treasure, one thinks especially of Spanish galleons, where much of sunken treasure comes from. Some estimate that a third of Spain’s ships full of treasure never made it all the way across the sea.

Spanish colony mints produced gold and silver coins called “cobs”, believed to be a simplification of the name “cabo de barra” (“end of the bar”). Each of these coins had their own unique features as each was created individually; each coin is its own treasure. Unfortunately, the coins struck in the colonies were often shipped back to Spain then melted and re-struck as Spanish coins.

The mid-18th century brought milled coinage, including pillar dollars, which showed two pillars and two globes, and bust dollars showing the portrait of the Spanish king. Coins were minted in 8, 4, 2, 1, ½, and ¼ silver “reales” based on weight (though they often ended up underweight). These were commonly called “doubloons”; the dollar silver coins were “pieces of eight”. These words weren’t just for pirates!

A Spanish Galleon ship.

A Spanish Galleon.

From the 15th century to the 19th, Spain shipped treasure from the Caribbean, Mexican and South American colonies, as well as from South and Central America, back to Spain.

Coins shipped between other countries lie in the ocean too, including coins from Dutch, English, French and Portuguese ships that sunk in the process of journeying from Europe to the Orient.

Silver coins lying underwater will have corroded from salt water and erosion after being stuck in the ocean for 300-400 years. But gold coins usually remain unaffected by the saltwater and are found in great condition.

A lucky few have found treasure at the bottom of the ocean. In 2013, one family of treasure hunters found $300,000 worth of treasure from a 1715 wreck of a ship sailing from Havana to Spain. Plenty of treasure from famous wrecks now lies at the bottom of the ocean for people to discover — if they’re lucky! (We wrote about one such discovery from the wreck of the El Cazador.)

What would you do if you found treasure at the bottom of the ocean?