Jewels tell a story

In small medieval town of Elba Island Capoliveri there is a museum entirely dedicated to the shipwreck of the steamship Polluce. I just happened to be there and was impressed by the story of its recovery and capacity of only several museum rooms to tell a story of that tradegy.

The steamship Polluce of famous Raffaele Rubattino from Genova sank on the night of June 17, 1841, not far from coast of Elba island. Returning from Naples to Marseille it was rammed by the Mongibello, steamer belonging to Compagnia Vapori Napoletani. Fortunately none of those on board including the crew perished except for one passengers. Pollice sank in few minutes with ship’s documents, letters, coins, personal objects and of course jewelry. The same year Rubattino attempted a recovery of the ship. But the mission was failed. With passing the time the memory of the sinking became confused until it disappeared completely.

In 2000 some unscrupulous treasure hunters, well-informed about the history of the ship, were able to locate and plunder the wreck, organizing an international fraud. In 2002 Heritage Squad of Florence with British authorities reconstructed the fraud and were able to recover jewels, gold and silver coins and other artifacts that were going to be auctioned on the London market.

The load of coins offers a significant insignt into the currency of that time: a period of transition from tradition to progress, from sailing to stream navigation, developed maritime connections. Most of the coins were Spanish silver coins, minted in ticks of the New World, and French decimal coins. There was also almost a complete golden series of Napoleon, probably part of a private collection.

Most of the recovered jewels were not of a high value and distinguishged by neo-archeological style so popular in those days. There were few supersticious amulets and symbols. Taking into consideration that the steamer had sailed from Naples, perhaps small amulets could have been bought as souvenir of the city.

The museum is a real journey back in time which make me retrace the stages that characterized the life of the ship and give few ideas of an artistic panorama of that time.