The next stop on our little self-guided treasure tour this week was Mel Fisher’s Treasures in Sebastian, FL. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mel Fisher’s is one of two must-see attractions for those who harbor hopes of finding artifacts from the 1715 Plate Fleet wrecks along the local beaches. Like the state-run McLarty Treasure Museum, Mel Fisher’s has strengths and weaknesses, but overall, the dazzle-factor is much higher at Fisher’s museum, and the exhibits convey a sense of wonder that makes it hard not to run from case to case in a wild dash of eager discovery.
It’s best to begin your visit by watching the film in the small theater to the left as you enter the building. The film follow’s Fisher’s career from pioneering scuba diver to his greatest triumph: the 1985 discovery of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. The movie is old and a bit grainy, and the sound is not very clear, so be prepared to pay close attention. You will recognize many items from the film inside the museum, and it helps to add context to the exhibits, so it is worth sitting through the full presentation.
The museum may seem a little dated, but in my mind this only adds to its nostalgic charm (I particularly love the life-sized diorama of a diver exhaling bubbles made from bubble wrap). Someone put a lot of heart into these little displays when the museum was built, and while it may seem a bit tarnished on the surface, at its core it’s solid gold.
The displays are whimsical and contextual (coins suspended from fishing nets or scattered on a “sea floor” of sand and stones), and many of the objects are thoughtfully arranged in front of mirrors so you can see both sides. There are cases of weapons, pottery, everyday goods, gold and silver coins and bars, exquisitely crafted jewelry, and high-end pieces such as intricately wrought plates and chalices. Visitors are even allowed to touch one of the gold bars (housed in a special case),* which I thought was a particularly avant garde bit of interactivity for the eighties.
Treasure Sales Specialist Brandon Orsino encouraged me to take pictures of the exhibits to share with you, so I have posted my top ten favorites from our visit (click the arrows on either side of the photo above to see the others). There were many more beautiful artifacts in the museum than I am able to show you here due to Tumblr’s 10-picture limit per post, so please visit Flickr to see more.
Brandon was very helpful and informative and he allowed us to have a close look at several objects for sale in the museum’s gift shop cases. In addition to a selection of fun maritime gifts, visitors can buy gold and silver coins recovered from the wrecks. There are cases of jewelry crafted from original coins and pieces of eight, as well as affordable reproduction “coin” pendants and earrings (made from a mixture of regular silver and silver from the Atocha wreck). There are even lead musket balls and pottery shards for sale, all salvaged from the shipwreck sites. Most items include a certificate of authenticity explaining their history and provenance.
One of my very favorite objects in the museum is Deo’s Ring (the ring is included in the photo set above), and the gift shop sells a replica that is quite similar. The ring can be purchased in gold for $1,099.00 or in silver for the much more affordable price of $154.00. Although the shop did not have my size in stock, Brandon kindly offered to have the silver ring made to fit me, so don’t despair if you don’t see your size in the case. I have selected Deo’s Ring as this week’s One Thing Worth Having, so watch for that post to follow shortly.
Before we left I asked Brandon if he would do me one very big, very special favor. Several years ago I heard the story of a woman who was combing the beach between Golden Sands and Treasure Shores looking for sea glass. She spied a flash of green, but it was not sea glass. It was a 69.32 carat raw Columbian emerald. She loaned the stone to Mel Fisher’s museum where it is on display in the front case. I asked Brandon if he would take stone out and set it on the counter so I could get as clear a picture as possible . He hesitated, but then ever so carefully cradled it on its little mirrored stand and brought it out so I could snap my final shot before leaving. It is the last photo in the group above, so don’t miss it (and always pick up sea glass)!
Special thanks to Brandon Orsino for making our most recent visit to the museum so special and enjoyable. We’ll definitely be back!
*Note: Unfortunately a similar gold bar from an exhibit at one of the sister museums in Key West was stolen in 2010. Who steals Mel Fisher’s gold bars!!? Honestly! There is very clear video of the robbers, so hopefully one day they will be caught. Do you recognize them? There is a $25,000 reward for the return of the missing gold.