Gold doubloons and pieces of eight. Spanish galleons and sunken treasure. What human being has not dreamed the dream those words conjure?
But dreaming is easy; for every thousand persons who dream, there are but a handful who risk following that dream. And from that handful, there are but a few who find what they seek.
Roger Miklos is one of the few. Call it luck, call it guts or call it a combination of both, Roger Miklos has found his fortune in sunken treasure.
And believe it or not, Miklos says having a few million dollars in gold and silver to run your fingers through is almost as much fun as he thought it would be.
At the age of 38, Miklos has unearthed a fortune in precious metals himself, and he is a partner in a corporation that has recovered $200 million to $300 million in treasures.
The job is "not all that romantic, for the most part," he says. In fact, it is dangerous, unpleasant work. The shallow waters off the Florida Keys are warm; in fact, their warmth is part of the problem.
"In the summertime, you have to dive with ice cubes inside your swimvest to keep your body temperature down. Otherwise you sweat so much under water that you dehydrate," he says.
Ironically, the best time to dive, he says, is the summertime "when the hurricanes keep the tourists away." But the summer also brings rough weather of the sort that makes climbing from the water into a rocking boat a dangerous chore.
"I have broken almost every tooth in my mouth, as have most divers, by getting slammed up against the boat by a wave," Miklos said. "You have that kind of danger, as well as sharks and everything else that can kill a diver. It is not pleasant work."
But the pay can't be topped, if you are lucky, he says. "For a person who is a true hunter, there is no thrill like the hunt. You can't beat the feeling of swimming along and suddenly seeing something all gold and sparkly just waiting for you."
That thrill, Miklos says, extends beyond the finds a diver makes in the water. "Gold is great," he says. "It is non-corrosive; underwater it looks like brand new, even if it has been there 250 years.
"But the rest of the artifacts are different. Most of them are partially corroded or buried beneath layers of coral and marine growth. You never know what you have until you get it back on land and go to work.
"I can get almost as much thrill out of taking a lump that looks like a rock and treating it with acid and lye until it becomes a pile of glittery silver pieces of eight."
Precious metals have always held a fascination, but Miklos says that the true value and fascination with treasure lies not in its intrinsic worth, but in its historical form.
"A gold doubloon has a couple hundred dollars worth of gold in it; a silver eight real piece has maybe $5 worth of silver.
"But a doubloon in good condition may be worth $20,000 or more and a silver piece of eight is listed in any coin catalogue at $275."
The difference between intrinsic and historical value is a function of dozens of variables and Miklos says he now spends at least as much time "proving, proving, proving the authenticity" of artifacts as he does in diving for them.
"The name of the game is documentation," he says. "In Spain, there are archives full of ships' records and manifests, logs and diaries. Every piece of treasure that is recovered is registered and checked against historical records for authentication."
Without such authentication, Miklos says, treasure is next to valueless. "That's why most treasure hunters are glad to pay the 25 percent tax Florida levies on all treasure finds.
"It doesn't pay to find a wreck and not let the state in on it," he said. "You need the publicity and the verification of the state to authenticate its value."
Historical validity is valuable in other, more subtle ways, too, he said. To illustrate, he produced a silver piece of eight with a hole drilled in it and a gold with a notch cut in one end.
"Many people would think these pieces are worth less because they have been damaged, but in reality, the hole and the notch make them more valuable," Miklos said. "The assayers would collect their pay by taking a five-penny-weight cut from a bar or by punching a small hole out of every hundredth coin. These coins and bars are special."
As Miklos has gone more deeply into the mystique of treasure, he says, he has found himself more and more encumbered by the tools of historical authentication -- catalogues, archival records, historical documents and background material.
"Unless you can show a collector or a client this sort of material, and unless you are sure you are right, you can't stay in the treasure business very long," he said.
Miklos copes with potential ripoffs by surrounding himself with the best security gadgets he can find or invent.
His annual bill for bank vault space rental is huge, and on those occasions when he must keep treasure in his home to display for clients, he arms himself and he arms a laser-based security system which is as sophisticated as modern electronics can make it. For traveling, he has pushed modern technology to an impressive extent, plowing more than $36,000 into a custom-made van.