By Ana Mengotti
Miami, Sep 14 (EFE).- An Italian diver and former naval officer is set to auction off a corroded 15th-century bell that he says – with documentary proof in hand – rang aboard Christopher Columbus’ flagship Santa Maria and is the only remaining object from the Genoese navigator’s first voyage to the Americas.
“If Michael Jackson’s white socks were sold for millions of dollars, how is the only artifact remaining from the voyage of the discovery of the Americas not going to be sold?” Roberto Mazzara said in an interview with Efe at a hotel in Miami.
He said in a statement Monday that the bell will be sold to the highest bidder in a private auction in that South Florida city at a date that will not be announced.
“If it were Oct. 12 (the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492) that would be great,” he told Efe coyly when asked when the auction would take place.
Regarding how much he expects to receive for an object that Sotheby’s and Christie’s say is worth more than $100 million, Mazzara said only that the starting price would be just over $6 million, the same amount he was offered – and rejected – at an online auction in 2018.
He said his hope is that an institution in the United States such as the Smithsonian Institution or the Library of Congress acquires the bell, as opposed to a private collector, because that way it will be put on public display.
Mazzara said the bell has been in Miami since 2006, when “someone” took it there to keep it safe, without providing further details.
He recalled that Spanish authorities, in response to Portugal’s “false” claim that it had been stolen, confiscated the bell when he tried to auction it in Madrid in the early part of this century.
Portugal’s attempts to take possession of the bell eventually failed in 2006, when a court in Madrid rejected a claim that country had filed based on the fact it was found among the wreckage of a Spanish galleon – the San Salvador – that had sunk off the Portuguese coast in 1555.
The bell had been missing for more than 400 years when Mazzara, a scuba diver and expert in underwater retrieval, found it in 1994, he told Efe while surrounded by documentary evidence showing it came from the Santa Maria (whose real name was Lagallega) and belonged to cartographer Juan de la Cosa.
The Santa Maria, the biggest of the three ships that set sail in search of a new route to the Indies, ran aground on the northern coast of the island of Hispaniola. Columbus then ordered its timbers be used to build Fort Navidad, where the small bronze bell was believed to have been hung from a tree.
Mazzara discovered in a letter written by Columbus’ grandson, Luis Colon, that the bell was loaded onto the San Salvador and was to be returned to Spain along with other objects related to the discovery of the Americas.
The Italian told Efe his objective during his 1994 dive was the gold-laden San Salvador and not the bell, the first in the Americas and the oldest ship’s bell recovered to date.
Asked what he will do with the proceeds if the bell is sold, Mazzara said he will use the money to finish developing a system he designed to generate hydroelectric energy without the need for falling water.
He said that system also can be used to produce hydrogen. EFE