Sunken treasure ship coins can be very appealing to us when we think we're getting a bargain, or we believe that they will increase in value quickly. However, the more hype you see surrounding a sunken treasure coin sale, especially when it comes to a famous lost treasure ship, the more likely it is that the coins will actually decrease in value over time. Here's why...
Sunken Treasures Create Short-term Excitement
When sunken treasure coins are brought up from a long lost treasure ship, it's an exciting event for many collectors.
Sometimes lots of new material comes on the market, giving you a chance to get a key coin or rare type that was never affordable before. But think before you buy: Are the prices being inflated temporarily by all the hype surrounding the find? Are you paying a huge premium just because the coin came from the Good Ship Lollipop? Will anyone care about this five years from now? Probably not.
New Sunken Treasure Discoveries Cause Prices to Fall
One of the things that make many coins valuable is their rarity. When lots of new specimens of a rare coin type hit the market, the value of the coins usually deflates. At first, the dealers will probably get the "old" price (and maybe even a premium because it came from that Good Ship Lollipop), but over time, with more specimens on the market, the values of the coins almost always fall. Treasure coins do not have a good history of holding their value based on treasure status alone.
Coins that Have Been Underwater for a Long Time Usually Suffer
Another thing to consider with sunken treasure coins is their condition. Oftentimes, being underwater for centuries degrades the condition of the coins. Bronze coins suffer greatly in salt water; silver coins can vary depending on the purity of the silver.
Gold coins of good purity usually survive mostly unscathed. Look at sunken treasure coins carefully before buying, and assess the coin's value based on its grade without its accompanying sunken treasure slab insert or authenticity certificate.
Remember that Investor Quality Coins Must be of the Highest Grade
If you are buying treasure ship coins as an investment, keep in mind that only the highest grade coins are recommended. As a general rule, this means buying MS-64 or better specimens that have been graded and slabbed by a reputable grading service. Since many sunken treasure coins don't survive their ordeal well, the promoters often sell off the lower-grade material in fancy holders and plaques that try to imply that the condition doesn't matter because this is a Lollipop coin. Don't fall for it!
Evaluate the Sunken Treasure Coin on its Own Merits
When you decide whether or not a sunken treasure coin is worth the money, evaluate the coin on its own merits. Forget about the treasure status and extra trappings. Just look at the coin, determine the grade, look up the value, and make your decision while keeping in mind that a lot of these might be flooding the market soon. Better yet, wait four or five years and buy it on the secondary market at a deep discount.
Buy the Book Before You Buy the Coin
If you are serious about collecting recovered treasure and sunken treasure ship coins, take some time to educate yourself about the realities of these coin types. They're probably a lot more common than most people realize, but if you want to try to invest in this type of material, learn what the rarities are, what the "common junk" is, and what grades and conditions the average specimens are found in.
Recommended Treasure Coin Reading
One of the better books on the subject of Spanish coins (which are the most common treasure ship coins,) is the one by Sewall Menzel, called Cobs, Pieces of Eight, and Treasure Coins. Another excellent book on the subject, but hard to find, is Stephen Voynick's Mid-Atlantic Treasure Coast - Coin Beaches and Treasure Shipwrecks from Long Island to Maryland's Eastern Shore.
This book is more of a background on the subject, rather than an accounting of coin specimens like the Menzel book.