For those individuals that are collectors of rare, ancient, or shipwreck coins, there are few options more popular than Atocha coins.  Atocha coins are coins retrieved from the shipwrecked Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a Spanish galleon that sank near Key West, FL in 1622 from a hurricane.  Mel Fisher, a famous U.S. treasure hunter, found the shipwrecked vessel in 1985, which included over 40 tons of gold and silver in various forms, including 100,000 Spanish silver coins, referred to as “pieces of eight.”  These coins are commonly referred to as “Atocha coins.” Unfortunately, due to their popularity and demand from coin collectors, counterfeiters have entered the market in an attempt to capitalize on their value, and many counterfeit versions have entered the market.  The purpose of this article is to help you identify authentic Atocha coins versus replicas so that you don’t make a costly mistake when investing in rare coins.

Thoroughly inspect the coins. Look for obvious signs of forgery. Authentic Atocha coins feature a Spanish shield on the obverse, or front of the coin, and a design of a cross on the reverse. If such depictions are missing from your coins, the coins in your possession aren’t authentic – at least not authentic Atocha coins. Another attribute to take into consideration is the fact that Atocha period coins bear subtle differences based on the New World mint where they were produced. If the coins carry a date after 1622, this means that the coin is not a genuine. This should be obvious, as the galleon carrying the coins was sunk in 1622. Although many counterfeit Atocha coins were produced for monetary gain, there are a few coins that were minted for Florida tourists to commemorate the tale of Atocha. For more information on Atocha coin history and original photos of such coinage, visit

Atocha Coins

Authenticity of Atocha Coins

Use visual aids. While the previous step can be undertaken with the naked eye, some imperfections can only be seen with visual aids such as a jeweler’s loupe, microscope, or magnifying glass. Using any of these aids, carefully examine the coin for obvious signs of forgery such as casting bubbles, plating wear, or lines that shouldn’t be present Keep in mind that genuine Atocha coins were manufactured using solid gold and silver bars, therefore they shouldn’t show any signs of plating, bubbles or seams on the edges of the coins.

Obtain a COA to verify the authenticity of the coins. Once you’ve made your purchase, ask for a COA to confirm the authenticity of the coins.  When you purchase Atocha coins directly through Mel Fisher you’ll receive certification papers.  While there’s no reason to question the authenticity of coins purchased directly from Mel Fisher, coins purchased in the second hand market should be scrutinized. Because certificates of authenticity can also be forged, it’s important to not solely rely on these documents when purchasing your coins from sources other than Mel Fisher.  When in doubt, seek the advice of a rare coin dealer.

If you’ve been in doubt about the authenticity of your Atocha coins, the aforementioned tips will help you determine whether you’ve struck gold or if you’ve possibly been the victim of a counterfeit coin.  Conducting a thorough inspection, using visual aids, and receiving certification for your Atocha coins can prevent you from being scammed. Even after implementing each of these steps, it’s important to consult with a rare coin dealer to confirm the authenticity of your items.