Spanish silver and gold
Treasure recovered from the Spanish shipwreck of 1554
In the 1970s, a treasure of silver and gold from a 1554 Spanish shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Texas. The wealth of the discovery speaks to Colonial Spain’s ambitions for gold and silver found in the Americas.
Spain claimed the Americas for itself two years after Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Bahamas in 1492. The land had been home to American Indians for thousands of years, but for Europeans it was a new world. News of gold and silver encouraged Spain to send explorers and soldiers called conquistadors to colonize the lands they called New Spain.
In 1554, Spanish ships set sail from Mexico to return to Spain. Four ships carried more than 400 people and cargo worth at least 44 million dollars today. Three of the ships were wrecked in a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. When the wreck was uncovered in the 1970s, some of the remaining gold and silver was found onboard.
The silver planchas (discs) and gold bar recovered from the wreck were shaped in Mexico. They were marked to indicate the mine, the purity of the metal, and the tax paid on them. The silver reales (coins) were minted in Mexico City, in the first mint founded in the Americas under Charles I of Spain (1516–1556).
Courtesy Platoro, Keenon, Purvis Collection of the Texas Historical Commission and the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History
Time Period: 1519 - 1689
Exhibit: Becoming Texas
This artifact is currently on view.