Skip to main content

Trip to riches: A Florida man unearthed a rare, ‘priceless’ artifact while treasure diving at a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean – after finding piles of previous coins

‘I found $300,000 worth of coins and gold on day out with my family – then I found more’

A Florida man who hails from a family of treasure hunters unearthed a rare, ‘priceless’ artefact while diving for treasures at a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean — after previously finding mounds of ancient coins

A diver’s fateful excursion with his family yielded a timeless, “priceless” religious artefact and mounds of gold — buried among the rubble of an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Florida.

Eric Schmitt is a professional salvager and has dedicated his life to scouring the depths and exploring shipwrecks and other historic sites in search of both knowledge and treasures that he can sell for profit.

On one particularly eventful excursion in 2014, he stumbled across a pendant, which is called a pyx — it’s a trinket used by priests of old as they held communions, ABC News reported. Made of pure gold, the artefact is invaluable.

Eric Schmitt found a wealth of coins at the shipwreck during one excursion

It was the missing piece to a previously salvaged necklace that was recovered from the same wreck in 1989, according to Queens Jewels operations manager Brent Brisben, who has worked with Schmitt and his family before.

Brisben owns the rights to the shipwreck, which is located just off the coast of Fort Pierce, Florida, which is about 60 miles (96.5km) north of West Palm Beach. The historic vessel sunk during a particularly nasty hurricane in 1715.

The ship is constantly being explored, with divers salvaging what they can nearly every day, Brisben said. But super valuable artefacts are rarely unearthed by the excursions, he said, making the 2014 discovery all the more special.

Finding rare artifacts in shipwrecks isn’t a common occurrence, making it special when it occurs, Brisben said

“We find shipwrecked artefacts on a daily basis, but it’s more like ship spikes and musket balls, so when you get an extremely rare, unique piece like this, it’s exciting,” he said at the time of Schmitt’s pendant discovery.

Schmitt himself has found multiple rare finds, including a haul of coins worth around $300,000 while out with his family in 2013. He owns the company Booty Salvage, and he and his family are all avid treasure hunters.

To reach the shipwreck, Schmitt and his family had to venture out on their 44-foot (13.4m), double-engine fishing trawler called the Aarrr Booty, something they do often.

Schmitt and his family have found numerous artifacts over the years, too, including the pendant and another wealth of coins

“It’s incredibly difficult work,” Brisben told ABC News. “It’s long, it’s in the middle of the summer, it’s hot. You’re in the sun all day. It’s quite laborious work, so when you come across an amazing artefact like that, words can’t describe it.”

But much more valuable than the price tags associated with the finds has been the knowledge and history attached to each object. He said it’s “a surreal experience” touching something 300 years old, learning about it and then sharing it with the world.

An official price hasn’t been set for the piece, but Brisben previously said he believes it’s priceless. It’s in the custody of the U.S. District Court in South Florida by law, as the state can take possession of up to 20% of Brisben’s goods. Proceeds from all the rest are split between his company and the Schmitt family, ABC News reported.

Just the next year, in 2015, Schmitt and his family uncovered an additional 52 gold coins worth over $1 million from the same wreckage. And at the age of 14, he found an “incredible” silver platter, Brisben said. Treasure hunting and success in finding trinkets seem to run in the Schmitt family bloodline.