The Sovereign is one of the most storied coins in the world, including coins that shouldn’t exist, some that offended Kings and Queens and even one that contained a poisonous substance…
But have you heard about the one that spent over 100 years on the seabed?
The Shipwreck Sovereign
In Victorian times, the Sovereign was recognised and used around the world, so it had to be transported by sea in large quantity.
The RMS Douro was a luxurious ship with 60 successful transatlantic sailings under her belt, but when she left Lisbon in the Spring of 1882, disaster struck.
On the final leg of a 10,000 mile voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Southampton, she was loaded with coffee, diamonds and gold.
The stopover in Lisbon saw the addition of thousands of Queen Victoria Young Head Sovereigns that were sat in a bank and never circulated.
The coins, minted in London, Melbourne and Sydney between 1843 and 1880, were loaded into the ship’s purpose-built bullion room – an important detail for what would happen next.
As the Douro was pushing through the Bay of Biscay, a passenger spotted a light off the starboard bow and advised the Fourth Officer. The officer identified it as a ship and advised the passenger not to worry as the officers on the bridge were keeping a good watch.
He didn’t notify the bridge. This proved fatal as a good watch was not being kept and the Spanish passenger liner rammed the Douro at speed, rebounded and struck again because of the continuous thrust of its engines.
The Douro’s hull had been penetrated and starting taking on water immediately. It sank completely within half an hour.
17 of the Douro’s 126 passengers were lost in yet another accident off Spain’s Costa del Morte that was infamous for shipwrecks.
The Sunken Treasure
The Douro’s fate – and its precious cargo – was well known, but it would lay undiscovered for over a century until Swedish marine salvage expert Sverker Hallstrom finally located her, 1,500 feet down.
What he recovered was nothing short of remarkable.
Thanks to the coins being locked away in the bullion room, the treasure was not spread out across the sea floor, which would have made recovery painstakingly slow and difficult.
Instead, Hallstrom estimated that he was able to recover at least 93% of the precious cargo – an incredibly high percentage.
One of the most fascinating Sovereigns
Many of coins were auctioned in London by Spink & Son across two days in November 1996. There were 1,700 lots and the final hammer came down, the auction had achieved a sales total of over £1.5m.
Today, these Sovereigns are (once again) very difficult to find. The fascination with a coin that spent over 100 years at the bottom of the sea is immense, so collectors snap these up as soon as any become available.
If you’re interested…
We have managed to get our hands on just a handful of these Shipwreck Sovereigns and one could be yours today.