NANTUCKET, MASS. -- Treasure hunters hoping to salvage $1.6 billion in gold coins from a sunken luxury liner said this week that rare books, including original Shakespeare volumes, also could turn up. But some book experts disagreed.

The Sub-Ocean Salvors International of Tampa, Fla., hope to recover as much as $1.6 billion worth of American Eagle coins believed to be on the RMS Republic, which sank 55 miles south of Cape Cod on Jan. 23, 1909.

Salvagers were planning to start clearing debris from the ship yesterday, a job expected to take more than a week. Weather permitting, divers could begin within 10 days searching inside the doomed ship, which rests at a depth of 270 feet.

"We have to make the assumption that there are very valuable volumes aboard," Michael Gerber, project director, said in a telephone interview from Tampa.

Gerber explained that J.P. Morgan, the American industrial tycoon who owned the White Star Shipping line, coveted books and advertised the Republic as the finest floating library.

"It is our belief that the books aboard could be original manuscripts from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries," he said, "but there is no way of knowing."

Gerber said they could include works by Shakespeare and Francis Bacon, an English philosopher and essayist and subject of a historical controversy about whether he wrote some plays attributed to Shakespeare.

But a spokeswoman for archivist D.W. Wright of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York doubted any rare books belonging to Morgan were on the Republic, saying his involvement with the ship was primarily fiscal.

Elizabeth Wilson said it was "extremely unlikely that Morgan had anything to do with the {ship's} library and even more unlikely that any of his rare and important books were on that boat."

Mary Todd Glaser, conservator for the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, described Morgan as "quite a bibliophile," but also doubted he would put rare volumes on a ship.

She said that despite the years beneath the sea, there is a slim chance the books could be restored if they were shelved tightly and not disturbed when the 600-foot ship went down. If books were strewn in the wreckage or on the ocean floor, she said, the chance of restoration is remote.

Gerber returned this week from several days aboard the salvage ship and said crews prepared Monday to dive. The first several days below the surface will be spent stripping debris from the ship.

That operation had been delayed because of a snapped anchor cable and difficulty in positioning the ship -- the SOSI Inspector -- directly over the Republic. That procedure was expected to be completed Monday, Gerber said.

"The ship is broken in two pieces, the upper decks are collapsed and the wheelhouse has fallen away," he said. "There are several tons of debris to clear before we get inside the ship."

Once inside, Gerber said, "we will start looking for the gold," which they believe they can find using recreated ship layout plans -- the originals having mysteriously vanished from the Library of Congress shortly after the wreck.

The Republic sank a day after colliding with the SS Florida, filled with Italian immigrants. The Republic was believed to be carrying five tons of gold to Czarist Russia, relief from the French government.

Salvagers estimated the coins, valued at $3.5 million in 1909, to be worth between $400 million and $1.6 billion today.