Old treasure for sale

RARE silver coins from the 1712 shipwreck Zuytdorp worth an estimated $70,000 have been put up for sale by a Fremantle coin dealer.

Andrew Crellin, owner of Sterling & Currency, was approached by a Geraldton collector to sell 23 coins, recovered from the wreck site of the Dutch trader.

Mr Crellin says he’s only ever handled one coin from the Zuytdorp previously, so having almost a third of all known coins in private hands makes the sale big news in the world of coin collecting.

The Zuytdorp departed the Netherlands in 1711 en route to Batavia (now Indonesia) to purchase goods, such as spices, and take them back to Europe. However, like several of its fleet-mates – most infamously the Batavia – it ran aground and sank off the WA coastline.

It is unknown what became of those who survived the wreckage, as it pre-dated regular European contact with Australia, but there have been rumours.

“It is thought that some of the survivors may have settled and lived with Aborigines,” Mr Crellin told the Herald.

• Andrew Crellin with two coins retrieved from the Zuytdorp wreckage. Photo by Steve Grant

• Andrew Crellin with two coins retrieved from the Zuytdorp wreckage. Photo by Steve Grant

The coins, which include unique stuivers and Mexican currency, were purchased by the collector from Russell Cooper, a Geraldton fisherman who’d retrieved them from lumps of limestone found at the site. They were registered and issued certification as part of an amnesty introduced by the federal government in 1993 (under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, it is an offence to remove relics from historical shipwrecks in Australian waters and significant penalties apply for doing so).

The amnesty provided that holders of such relics could legally retain the items if they were brought forward and declared.

Of the coins in Mr Crellin’s possession are some believed to have been newly minted for two ships departing the Netherlands at that time: the Zuytdorp and the Belvliet. Unlike the Zuytdorp, the Belvliet’s journey to Batavia was a success, however no such coins ever surfaced. Mr Crellin believes that shows the Belvliet didn’t end up with any of the coins, making the Zuytdorp discovery unique.

The wreckage site, which lies approximately 70km north of Kalbarri, is heritage protected and cannot be accessed by the public. Due to inhospitable cliffs and hostile weather and tide conditions, it is accessible only a few days of the year. Still, over the years, looters have risked the treacherous dive. In 2010, an investigation by the federal environment department led to the recovery of more than 1400 coins from a home in Geraldton. The coins were subsequently handed over to the WA museum.

Mr Crellin believes the history of the coins is enriched by the events which followed the wreckage. “The story of the discovery and the retrieval of the coins is as interesting as the story of the wreck.”


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