From sea to land, what is described as a historic artifact of Christopher Columbus’ fabled journey has arrived in Florida’s capital city to be auctioned.
The 31-pound, 10-inch tall, cracked and tarnished sea green bell connected to the Santa Maria could go home with one lucky buyer for the price of $2.5 million to $5 million.
It’s had a long and sometimes tortured journey to Tallahassee.
Saved from the ashes and the deep
The flagship’s bell is said to have rung out during Columbus’ 1492 voyage with the Niña and the Pinta.
The Santa Maria ran aground on the island of Hispaniola on Christmas Eve of that year, and Columbus ordered his crew to use the timber to build “La Villa de la Navidad” in Haiti. The bell was reportedly removed from the vessel and used in the fortified village.
Columbus then set sail aboard the Niña for further journeys, but when he returned a year later with 17 ships and 1,200 men to grow the settlement, he found La Navidad burned to the ground.
Historic entries begin a half century later, when Columbus’ grandson demanded the return of his personal effects, including the bell.
“They were to be returned to Portugal from storage in Puerto Rico aboard the ship, San Salvador I in 1555,” the auction description states. “That same year The San Salvador would wreck off the coast of Portugal.”
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In 1994, the bell that was once used to signal other ships through fog, was discovered in the depths by former Italian naval officer and underwater salvage expert Roberto Mazzara using a metal detector.
“In the ruins of this vessel, Mazzara would discover that the San Salvador had been carrying an extraordinary piece of history; what he would later come to believe was Christopher Columbus’ bell from the legendary Santa Maria,” according to the auction notes.
After discovering the bell and researching its authenticity, Mazzara attempted to sell the bell through an auction company in Madrid in 2003.
The bell was seized by Spanish police in February 2003, three days before its planned auction, because Portugal claimed the artifact, found in Portuguese waters, was their country’s property.
The auctioneers acting on behalf of Mazzara told NBC News in 2004 that the bell is Spanish because it was found inside a Spanish vessel, the San Salvador.
A criminal court agreed, and the bell was returned to a Barcelona-based auction house. Mazzara eventually regained possession of the bell and it’s been stored in an undisclosed Miami location since 2006.
How the bell made its way to Tallahassee
A private auction of the bell was planned in Miami on Nov. 18, 2021, but that auction ended in disappointment when a prospective buyer wasn’t able to arrange the financing.
Shortly after, Mazzara reached out to, Affiliated Auctions and Realty, a Tallahassee family-owned auction company.
“He called us and said he wanted to sell the bell from the Santa Maria,” Kathleen Whitworth, auctioneer and the daughter of the owner at Affiliated Auctions, told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Whitworth said they were excited when they got the call but skeptical: “We were hard to convince because its our name and reputation,” Whitworth said, adding that she “thinks he went with a family-owned auction house because we are trustworthy and good at what we do.”
Affiliated has previously sold other noteworthy items such as two of Elvis Presley’s rings and a Jasper F. Cropsey Hudson River School painting.
The company broke the record for the highest sale price of any Elvis memorabilia by selling Elvis’ 10-carat ring that he took from his finger and gave to a fan during a 1975 concert, according to live auctioneer’s website.
The ring sold for more than $100,000 and the Cropsey painting sold for roughly $200,000, according to Whitworth.
The auction house also made headlines in 2018 for selling what were said to be some of Adolf Hitler’s early sketches.
Silver coin found inside bell also being auctioned
Along with the artifact, Mazzara is auctioning documents he received from the Archives of the Indies supporting the authenticity of the bell, two books he wrote on the bell’s discovery and the silver coin that was located inside the bell.
“We have original documents that Columbus’ grandson, Luis Columbus, used to ask the courts for restitution for his grandfather’s belongings in 1557 after the San Salvador sunk off the coast of Portugal.” Whitworth said. “As well as the original receipt from Columbus’ grandson getting paid 1,000 ducats for what was on the ship.”
Whitworth says Affiliated Auction will accept any offer, but the items will not be sold for less than the unrevealed reserved price.
“We certainly expect a lot of eyes to be watching, if not bidding,” Whitworth said. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls … we’re expecting pretty significant interest.”
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Contact Democrat writer Shamonee Baker at [email protected]
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism