Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

December 28, 2013

Former Valdostan discovers pewter fortune

VALDOSTA — A former Valdosta resident has discovered a rare cache of pewter within a wrecked Spanish ship off the coast of the Dominican Republic — a treasure valued in the millions and a discovery that could rewrite history.

A Virginia native, Bobby Pritchett worked as a builder-developer in Warner Robins and Valdosta for about 10 years. He left building and development to “follow my dream — treasures in the sea,” Pritchett says. He now lives in Tampa, Fla., “most of the time when not at sea.”

Pritchett is CEO of Anchor Research and Salvage and its parent company Global Marine Exploration. The companies salvage sunken treasures through a team of experienced divers, researchers and technicians.

On an expedition this past summer, the team discovered a 450-year-old ship that had wrecked and sunk to the ocean floor off the Dominican coast. The ship’s cargo included “the single largest cache of 16th century pewter tableware ever discovered,” according to a September article in The Miami Herald. Other cargo included rare 15th and 16th century Spanish coins and gold artifacts.

“This unprecedented find of 16th century pewter will re-write history books, as many of the maker’s marks stamped into the fine pewter have never been seen before,” according to The Miami Herald article. “While the value of the gold and silver recovered is easily determined, surprisingly, experts place the value of this four-and-a-half century-old pewter collection into the millions. The collection includes plates, platters, porringers, salts and flagons in an array of sizes and styles.”

Before diving and expending resources, Pritchett says the company conducts research, gets leases from the appropriate nation, then surveys for shipwrecks. “After we find them, we document and salvage carefully,” he says.

“There are billions to be found and salvaged in the areas we are working now and in the future,” Pritchett says. “Gold personal items, silver coins from the late 15th and mid 16th century, bronze cannons from another ship, ships bell, astrolabe that was used to navigate. The historical value is incredible. There have already been several articles wrote on the change in history because of this pewter wreck as we call it the largest catch of pewter in the world.”

In the Dominican Republic, salvaged items belong to the government but are split 50-50 with the salvage company, Pritchett says. In other nations, 75-80 percent of the find goes to the salver.

Already, GME has hosted an auction of the pewter found in what is now referred to as the “Punta Cana Pewter Wreck.” The initial 80-some lots of pewter were expected to fetch approximately $200,000 to $325,000 at auction but netted more than $400,000, according to a November Global Marine Exploration newsletter. More pewter is expected to be auctioned in the coming months.

For Pritchett, he entered the treasure-hunting business in 2002, when he traveled to the Dominican Republic to “explore and survey underwater caves,” according to his biography on the GME website. “He was one of four explorers and cartographers for the book ‘Las Cuevas Sumergidas de República Dominicana.’ He is also a member of La Fundación Espeleobuceo Hispanola, the Bermuda Cave Diving Association, lifetime member of both the National Association of Cave Diving and International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers. Bobby is a founding member of the Dominican Republic Speleological Society. Being a Dominican resident, he has spent the past several years doing extensive shipwreck research, especially related to shipwrecks around the island.”

Like many youngsters, Pritchett dreamed of seeking treasure.

“His love for history and relic hunting started at the age of 9, first finding Minnie balls (musket balls) in creek beds behind his house, to later diving in rivers and waters along the East Coast looking for Civil War relics,” according to the GME biography.

He started diving in 1981. He became a dive instructor in 1983. He has authored more than 20 books and articles on shipwrecks off the Dominican shore.  

While the pewter collection continues to attract interest and bidders, Pritchett has been back to sea, finding new wrecks and seeking the glimmer of new undiscovered treasures.

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