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Local Treasure Diver Brings His Booty to Kobey’s

Joe Barnett doesn’t like to call himself a treasure hunter; he considers himself a researcher who has employed scientific methods to recover ancient artifacts, stashes of old coins and silver and gold jewelry. He’s legitimately acquired a hefty booty from salvaging sunken ships.
He brings some of his treasures to Kobey’s on weekends when he’s not away on a diving trip, which isn’t often. He dives 365 days a year, regularly traveling thousand of miles to locations all over the world. A resident of La Jolla, Barnett funds his trips by selling some of his finds, some found off our local shores.

Barnett’s simple booth attracts a steady stream of shoppers who stop to study his collection which includes authentic Spanish silver “pieces of eight” coins, bronze floor spikes from sunken merchant vessels, cannon balls and smaller “grape shot,” Spanish crosses and a nautical rope heavy with gold rings.

Referring to the rope, he explains: “That’s my booty. These rings are from modern ship wrecks, sailboats and yachts, while I’m looking for old coins on the scattering of a ship wreck.”

If a ring has a name or store name engraved on it, Barnett will attempt to trace it back to the owner to inquire if they wish to have it back. His finder’s fee is simply the worth of the gold.

For those who strike his fancy with a good question or a shared interest, Barnett might reveal one of his special artifacts which he keeps close by, but hidden away. These we’ll leave for Kobey’s treasure hunters to discover for themselves.

About himself, Barnett comments: “You could call a person like me a treasure hunter, but the term has a bittersweet connotation. I’m more on the legitimate side of the ledger. For instance, I found a slave ship which needs to be photographed so I won’t touch it because I want it done right That tells you something about me. I’ve also found two other important wrecks which have cannons around them. One looks like a Brinks truck on its side. I’m sure that will have lots of coins. It’s a galleon or a war ship, I’m not sure which, but it’s a time capsule, therefore it should be worked properly.”

Barnett has worked as a consultant on big treasure dive operations and regularly lectures on the topic. His biggest find came when working with Mel Fisher, world-renowned treasure diver, when salvaging the Spanish treasure galleons the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita. He recovered a 24kt. Gold and emerald necklace worth millions of dollars alone.

His most exciting personal finds include an intact cutlass sword, a pair of solid gold pointers and a chunk of concretion loaded with silver pieces of eight. These he could keep to himself.

About treasure diving, Barnett explains: “It has its own inertia. When you’re out in the field, finding things and first touching them after 500, 600 years, there’s nothing like it. But the research and history is the most interesting.”

Shoppers can sort through pictures of Barnett’s many trips and hundreds of artifacts recovered over his 20 years of diving.

Besides selling booty to pay his bills and travel expenses, Barnett returns to Kobey’s because it is a storehouse for him.

He says: “The magic of the swap meet is you never know what you’re going to find or who you’re going to meet. I had people come up and start telling me [ship wreck] stories. I thought, that’s interesting. That makes sense. People would show me things or pictures, and they helped me do research.”

In terms of the jewelry, Barnett asks a fair but firm price. Any piece he believes is of importance from a gemstone point of view he has appraised by friend and jeweler Carl Winchell of La Jolla. He encourages his buyers to have their pieces appraised to assess full value.

Barnett has many friends in the field with different areas of artifact expertise. They help him assess the value of some of his finds. Prices are very reasonable at his table. He was asking just $200 each for his pieces of eight coins, a fair trade for an object only to increase in value.
Barnett is available to private parties as a consultant, lecturer and sometimes will search for incidental losses. He has a reputation around the local dive circuit and those looking to secure his services usually find him that way.

Joe Barnett does not have a permanent space at Kobey’s, but can usually be found on I/H row or the back section.