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Galleon's Golden Treasures Surfacing at Vegas Auction

August 31, 1987|PAUL DEAN

It is only a fraction of the find, mere trinkets from a trove that may count out to more than $400 million--yet quite enough to impress even impassive Las Vegas, where this small portion of the treasure of the Spanish galleon Atocha goes on pre-auction display today.

"We really have no clear idea of how much the collection is worth," said Deborah Munch, a spokeswoman for Caesars Palace. "One gold cup has been valued at $1.2 million. So we think $20 million for the total is safe."

It may even be conservative. Discs of 23.7-karat gold will be auctioned Sept. 26. Also seven thumb-thick ingots known as finger bars. Uncut emeralds worth more than their weight in gold. A red-coral rosary with a gold crucifix that belonged to a wealthy Spaniard who died with 400 other travelers when the Nuestra Senora de Atocha sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622.

Generically, the treasure is known as Fisher's Gold, after Mel Fisher, the Southern California chicken farmer-turned-treasure-hunter who spent 16 years dreaming and diving to locate and recover the underwater mother lode of the Atocha and her sister galleon, the Santa Margarita.

Yet only one auction item, the $1.5-million gold cup, belongs to Fisher. The other pieces are from his employees and investors in Treasure Salvors, who received ingots, silver and gold coins, jewelry, emeralds and galleon artifacts as payment for their work and investments. Munch said heavy buyer interest is coming from museums, numismatists and individuals intent on owning and wearing pieces of 365-year-old Spanish jewelry.

Such buying comes high. Even bidding paddles cost $100. To some a small fortune.

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