The Treasure Diver's Guide
by John S Potter Jr




IN THE EARLY YEARS when I first became interested in treasure hunting, there were several books out on the market allegedly giving the precise locations of hundreds of ships—all naturally carrying millions in gold, silver and precious stones. While they made interesting reading, providing you like fiction, I soon found that they contained virtually no authentic in formation On the locations of shipwrecks and were more of a nuisance than a help, because most of the shipwrecks were the inventions of the imaginative minds of the authors. To me, this made treasure  hunting an even greater challenge and I started off on my own, without the aid of these phony books, and subsequently my quest resulted in the greatest treasure recovery in modern times.

By 1960 my associates and I were just getting started on some of the wrecks of the 1715 fleet. Although a leading expert on shipwrecks and naval history assured us that We 1715 fleet had sunk in the Florida Keys, the artifacts we began finding indicated that this fleet had sunk in the area between present—day Fort Pierce and Sebastian Inlet. Research undertaken by one of my associates, Dr. Kip Kelso, and myself soon confirmed this fact.

When John Potter’s Book—The Treasure Diver’s Guide—was first published, I was reluctant to buy it,  believing that it was as useless as the others I had read. I remember thinking to myself when someone mentioned I should read it: “Hell, who would be crazy enough to give real locations of treasure wrecks? If someone has this type of in formation he would use it himself and not give it away in a book.’’ Somehow I got around to getting the hook and was as surprised at what it contained as I was when I found my first piece of eight on a beach.

This book should not have been named The Treasure Diver’s Guide, it should have been named The Treasure Diver’s Bible, as it is one of the most essential tools a treasure hunter needs if he wants to be successful. My associates and I found it especially useful in properly identifying and dating artifacts and the shipwreck themselves. In the area where the 1715 fleet was lost, there are also many other shipwrecks of other periods and we would have lost a great deal of time and money if we had not been able to weed out the right wrecks that we knew were of the 1715 fleet and carrying great amounts of treasure.

After news leaked out of our first big finds, the local libraries had to take Potter’s book out of circulation, because of the great reader demand for the book. Someone even offered me $45.00 for my copy of the book.

I receive hundreds of letters from persons around the world every year requesting information on shipwrecks n their areas or hoping that I can identify artifacts they have recovered. Here again, I find Potter’s hook indispensable; otherwise I would have to spend great amounts of time trying to find the myriad of answers these people want.

Everyone in the treasure-hunting business owes John Potter a great deal of gratitude for producing the first edition of his book, and now even more so for coming out with this new revised edition.


Kip Wager, Chairman

Real Eight Company, Inc.

Satellite Beach, Florida

THERE ARE four types of treasure hunters. The first, and nearly all of us do and should belong to this group, is that of the armchair adventurer who thrills to vicarious participation in the treasure—hunting exploits of others. He draws his excitement and pleasure from the spoken or written word. His interest need he whetted only by a mere hint; his active imagination will take over from there. He dreams of digging up pirate loot while on vacation. Being generous, as are all genuine adventurers, he rejoices when someone else first reports a find, and he becomes positively ecstatic if the find actually turns out to be other than just another hoax.

The second type is the scientist, the historical researcher, the man who doesn’t care a farthing about finding doubloons, the man who derives his joy from proving or disproving, from identifying and cataloguing. It is to this breed of men that the next two categories of treasure hunters often turn for help.

The third group is composed of the active adventurers, the present— day soldiers of fortune. They actually go out and search for treasure, although often they seek will-o’-the-wisps. What they really seek is adventure. If it were the actual hard cash which they really sought, most of their searches would die aborning and never mature out of the cocoon of mental imagery into full—blown argosies, for these men do not rake the trouble to do the research necessary to insure that the sought-for treasure ever really existed, or if it existed, what the real circumstances of its loss were.

The fourth group has the fewest members—but we are the hardened professionals. We bring to bear upon the glamorous world of treasure the vital resources of the mundane world of business. We commit major amounts of capital; we assemble adequate equipment and supplies; we gather together professional crews; we do careful research; we utilize the latest scientific know—how; we are able to protect ourselves legally—in short, we are generally the permanent corporate groups devoted to salvage and the related fields. We are the only ones geared to make a living in this field.

However, regardless of the category in which the reader places himself, this hook is perfect for him! It literally has something for everyone.

For the past year and a half Treasure Hunters, Inc., has been financing John Potters Vigo treasure operation. Thus we know from firsthand experience just how authoritative his words are. We are familiar with, and often awed by, the amount and quality of his research. His diligence in pursuing elusive hits of historical evidence among the long-forgotten archives of a never-to-be-repeated era of treasure shipment, and his resourcefulness in fitting the uncovered fragments of evidence into the mosaic of historical fact, will satisfy even the most scholarly. The armchair man will he set to dreaming. The adventurer will be off diving. Those of us who pursue this business for profit will be set to computing possible return on investment.

The technical aspects of modern treasure hunting are carefully summarized and explained in a manner that will give even the uninitiated a working (or perhaps, dreaming) grasp of the field. John Potter’s divers, equipped with Aqua Lungs and using a magnetometer, arc a far cry from the primitive salvors of yesteryear who dived with buckets over their heads so as to prolong bottom time.

But most important of all—and this for all four groups—John Potter is a treasure hunter who has lived an incredibly romantic and inspiring adventure—and he knows how to write!

If you are interested enough to have picked up this volume, you will enjoy it. In fact, when you find yourself hopelessly caught up in it, and the fever hits you, you may come to curse it. But I guarantee that you will not put it down—unless it he to look up ship departures!

Surely this is a book destined to be a classic in the field.


Daniel Stack,



Treasure Hunters, inc.

Washington, D.C.

July 1960




It should be unnecessary to warn divers not to overlook any round or variously shaped blackened and corroded objects, for they may he encrusted coins, ingots, or bars of gold or silver. These (plus jewels, of course) are the real treasure generally worth many times their weight in bullion. Moreover, it is also possible sometimes to date the wreck from coins or bars recovered and so get help in identification.

The Florida galleon wrecks lost in the hurricane of 1715 would not be carrying pieces of eight of a later date and the wrecks from the 1733 hurricane, such as those found by Art McKee, were identified because the two thousand coins recovered were all struck before that date. In fact, many of them were the first so—called "Pillar or Dos Mundos" coins first struck in Mexico in 1732 with the screw press, and hence very valuable. Large quantities (say, five hundred or more) of coins of approximately the same date found in one spot would indicate a chest of registered treasure from a Capitana or Almiranta. The mints from which these coins originated wilI provide a good lead as to whether the wreck was part of a New Spain or Tierra Firme armada. Metal ingots provide the same information. The gold bars from Teddy Tucker’s big find were all from Colombia (Nuevo Reino de Granada) and one was stamped with the name of the milling region PINTO, indicating that the ship most likely sailed from Cartagena.

Mints operated during Spanish colonial days at Mexico City, which first snuck silver in coins of 4, 3, 2, 1, 1/2 and ¼ reales beginning in 1536 under Charles and Johanna; in Peru at Lima mint which first struck silver coins of 8, 4, 2, 1, 1/2 and 1/4 reales in 1568, under Philip II; at Potosi (then Peru) about 1572; at Santa Fe de Bogota (Colombia) as early as 1627, under Philip IV; in silver at Santiago de Chile in 1751 (Pillar design) under Philip V; in Guatemala about 1733. There are known silver coins supposed to have been struck in Santo Domingo, but it has never been proved that a mint operated there, although one was authorized in 1573.

Gold coins were struck at Santiago de Chile in 1744 as trial pieces

only and were first issued in 1749. Gold escudo pieces have been found

from the Nueva Reino de Granada mint at Santa Fe de Bogota dated

1635 (El Mesuno Hoard). Gold was first coined in Mexico City in

1679. Before that date it was shipped from Mexico only in bars. Peru

coined gold from 1697 on.

A Spanish ounce contains 28.6875 grams and the old Spanish-American gold piece of eight escudos was also called onza (ounce) and doubloon.

It seldom weighed a full ounce. In fine condition it generally weighs 27 grains.

Documentary references to cargo values on old ships are given in all kinds of obsolete units of weight and currencies. For example, the 1590 plate fleet landed treasure in the port of Viana in Portugal amounting to "13,243 arrobas and 20 pounds, in bars weighing 25 to 30 pounds each, 1125 pack animals were used to transport it to Seville....In the 1591 fleet they took to Spain safely over 5 to 6 million in gold and silver and 8oo,ooo ducats worth of cochineal.” The New York Gazette of December 17, 1733, records: “On the 25 and 26th past, the Fleet from Pernambuco arrived [at Lisbon in September] bringing about 6ooo chests of sugar, 1000 hides, some wood, tobacco, diamonds and about one million crusados in gold.”

Converting old weights and values into present-day equivalents is very difficult and frequently almost impossible since currencies changed frequently in value over the years. In the seventeenth century gold was 16 times more valuable than silver; today it is worth some 20-21 times more.


1969-70 1715 Fleet Salvaging Contracts


 Reprinted with permission from Florida Classics Library.

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