From whence your gold

From whence your gold

Robert B. Cook

The word provenance is a particularly interesting term when applied to mineral specimens. Generally speaking, it refers to the origin and history of a specific item from its discovery, conception, or manufacture up to some point in time, usually taken as the present. Most of us think we know where our specimens originated and, for at least a few, something about the route they traveled before ultimately coming into our possession. Usually this involves an array of information, much of which is based on faith in the source. For instance, we tend to trust a chronological sequence of carefully prepared labels, particularly if they represent well-known and reputable dealers or collectors. However, are we sure that it always was our particular specimen for which the label or group of labels was intended, or that the original locality information was correct in the first place? Could the locality have been initially given incorrectly in order to ensure that it would remain known only to those collecting there, or to divert potential legal problems if trespassing or highgrading were involved? Sources may need to be protected! On the other hand, there are specimens that, although we may not know their entire history, display such characteristic associations, crystal forms, color, or other features that we can be quite certain of their origin–this regardless of the number of hands through which they have passed before arriving in our cabinet. Even better, perhaps a specimen was personally collected, and thus its history is known with certainty.

For minerals then, provenance entails two points of consideration: The first is the geographic and geologic origin of the specimen: the second, and sometimes the most interesting, is the route traveled by that specimen from mine, prospect, or outcrop through one or more persons, which could include miners, creditors, wholesale and retail mineral dealers, museum curators, other collectors, and finally to you or me. Regarding gold specimens, this information can be particularly intriguing and can significantly affect a specimen’s value.

Gold specimens, like many others for which information is sought, must be initially examined from a historical perspective. Many are of relatively modern vintage with generally straighforward pedigrees. Older specimens are another matter entirely. Good gold specimens that can be proven to date from the first half of the nineteenth century and earlier are rare and are usually seen only in older museum collections. In those times, mining was difficult and often conducted in isolated places where there was no market for gold specimens or incentive to save them. Few if any were retained unless they were unusually well crystallized or large (particularly in the case of nuggets). For golds from the few specimen-productive localities exploited prior to the great California gold rush, prices can be astronomical if believable provenance data are supplied. For example, a modest thumbnail specimen of gold associated with a silvery telluride attributed to the Boly Fields mine, Lumpkin County, Georgia, was available for $800 from a well-known dealer at the 2001 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. The tiny Boly Fields mine closed about 1845, and, although the locality is relatively well known for a single discovery of large masses of gold and tellurobismuthite (“tetradymite”), virtually no specimens from there have been available for at least a century. Was the specimen worth the price? It was to someone who trusted the specimen’s documentation, without which it was worth perhaps $40 and potentially attributable to any one of several contemporary localities. Provenance, therefore, is important with respect to value, if nothing else. Gold specimens touted to be from localities that were productive only prior to about 1850 require tight documentation.

In the mid- to late-1800s things began to change. Attractive gold specimens became increasingly available from a wide variety of California localities. Colorado mines began to produce fine specimens as did those in a number of Australian districts. Money was relatively plentiful, highgrading was virtually a miner’s right, and specimen collecting was in vogue. The early twentieth century saw the great stampede to Alaska as well as the discovery of an array of Canadian localities that produced good coarse gold. Entire collections focusing on gold were assembled by wealthy collectors in both the United States and Europe. Gold specimens became generally available for those willing and able to pay the price. As the twentieth century wore on, old collections were recycled into a growing hobby, museums deaccessioned specimens in order to procure others, the number of mineral dealers grew, and a handful of mines continued to produce specimen-quality gold.

The last two decades of the twentieth century saw a dramatic increase in the availability of both crystalline and nugget gold. Several mines were operated exclusively for specimen gold; other larger, commercial operations developed specimen sales programs in response to the perceived market. Governments began to sell hoarded placer gold, and the patient individual collector was able to fulfill the dream of finding a good specimen or two, thanks to the development of metal detectors designed specifically for gold prospecting. Consequently, a relatively high percentage of all specimen gold on the collector market today and in most modern private collections was mined or collected during the past twenty-five years. It is the provenance of this gold that this article reviews.


Collector gold can be divided into two broad categories: placer, consisting of nuggets typically recovered from alluvial or colluvial occurrences, and matrix and/or “crystalline” gold, characteristic of certain districts where “lodes” are exploited. Each is discussed separately in terms of specific locality information and the dealers and individuals responsible for the gold reaching the collector market.


The following localities and dealers have been the sources of collector-quality nuggets during the past several decades. Supplies have been quite variable in some instances–in part a reflection of the initiative and persistence of the dealers involved. Nuggets were particularly plentiful during periods of relatively high gold prices, such as the late 1980s.


Russian placer gold in richly colored nuggets was available for lot purchase through governmental sources from localities generally given as the “Lena River, Siberia” beginning in 1986 and continuing until the early 1990s (Wilson 1987). Nuggets ranged in size up to approximately 6 ounces. Some exhibited coarse abraded cubes, whereas others were characterized by skeletal octahedral and pseudohexagonal forms. A few contained an attractive white quartz matrix, although most did not. Others possessed an odd resemblance to familiar items (fig. 1). Conversations with wholesale sources of these nuggets indicate that approximately 15,500 ounces of select nugget gold were sold during this period, a significant percentage of which most likely went to the jewelry trade rather than to collectors. According to Sher (1999), “the Chukotka digger cooperative alone managed to mine more than 3000 nuggets in the gold-producing season of 1992. During the same period, several cooperatives in the Ten’ke zone (Magadan Oblast’), Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Transbaikalia together found more than 2500 nuggets.” Although these are districts not formally included in Lena River production, it is likely that at least some of these nuggets found their way into wholesale lots vended by the selling agency. She goes on to conclude that “the number of nuggets produced is likely to be in the range of tens or even hundreds of thousand [sic] nuggets per year.”


Russian nuggets were initially handled by St. Troy Mines and later also by Grizzly Mining, Collector’s Edge, and Earth Resources. Some of the best became part of the well-known Barlow collection and were marketed by Colorado Nuggets when that collection was dispersed.


The development of efficient, discriminating metal detectors operating at frequencies optimal for gold resulted in a nugget-detecting boom in Australia beginning about 1985. Nuggets weighing tens of ounces were found (fig. 2) as were thousands in the quarter-ounce to several-ounce range. Some of this gold was not severely waterworn in the traditional “nugget” sense but was found in dry, desertlike environments where it had been derived from weathering and local erosion of apparently nearby lodes. Nevertheless, the gold was typically free of matrix and marketed as nuggets along with the more traditional, far-traveled, smooth-worn specimens. Most of the major Australian gold fields were reprospected during this period, with particularly productive areas being in Victoria and Western Australia. The Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria surveyed its membership to find the value of gold that they had found during the 1993-97 period. Some 133 respondents claimed to have found gold worth $4,311,493. This would account for perhaps 1,725 ounces per year. Minelab, Australia’s major metal-detector manufacturer, estimated that approximately 1 ton of gold nuggets was found in Australia in 1995 alone. The Perth Mint of Western Australia purchases nuggets for resale and reports that it obtains about 1,500 ounces of nuggets yearly, primarily from Western Australia sources. In recent years their nuggets have been available within the United States from California dealer Darrell Brown.


Well known to American gold collectors are several dealers who spend considerable time in the outback each year successfully self-collecting a significant part of their stock. These include Pieter and Debra Heydelaar (Global Treasures) and Tony Fraser. Both have been consistent sources of good nugget gold in sizes up to tens of ounces as well as quartz matrix specimens.

Papua New Guinea

Phenomenally rich placer and related residual gold occurrences in the Mount Kare vicinity resulted in a consistent supply of nuggets, some with well-preserved crystallinity, reaching the collector market between 1987 and 1996. Most were in the few-gram to 30-gram range. During the period of greatest activity, it was not unusual to see plastic bags with hundreds of Mount Kate nuggets being offered on an individual or lot basis at major shows. Many were generally characterless, whereas others showed complex skeletal faces and twinning and were of high aesthetic quality (fig. 3). Samples consisting of “crumpled and intergrown leaves to 10 ounces” are described (Wilson 1991). One dealer reported that he attended auctions on site where 1-kilogram bags of nuggets were sold in conjunction with the commercial mining operation. The first auction he attended was in 1992 and consisted of ten such parcels (a total of approximately 320 ounces). These auctions took place at least annually through 1996. Good Mount Kate gold has been available from a variety of dealers, including Larry Queen (whose son was a geologist in Papua New Guinea), Bill Forest (former owner of the Benitoite Gem mine), Jendon Minerals, Kristalle, Stefan Stolte, and others.


Guyana Highlands, Venezuela

Perhaps the finest examples of well-crystallized placer gold were available in limited to moderate quantity from an occurrence known as Santa Elena. The specimens are quite distinct, showing elongated tetrahexahedral forms, and occurred in sizes to almost 3 ounces (Wilson 1987). One wholesale dealer exhibited approximately two hundred specimens at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in the mid-1990s. Other exceptionally well crystallized Venezuelan nuggets, possibly from the same placer, have been available for the past several years from the team of Roger LaRochelle and Jack Carlson, who spent 1979-96 mining gold in southeastern Venezuela. Although of placer origin, the best of their specimens are sharply formed singles or groups of crystals that include an amazing 2 x 4.2 x 4.4-cm (217-gram) single hoppered octahedron and a 2-cm trapezohedron of unusual sharpness and luster. Unfortunately, an unknown number of fake castings of gold crystals attributed to Venezuela locations were also sold in the collector market.


Metal detecting in northern Mexico during the past two decades produced spectacular results, including the discovery of individual nuggets weighing in excess of 380 ounces. During the early 1990s, individuals moved through the dealer motels during the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show with attractive Mexican nuggets for sale, in some instances by the kilogram. Nuggets weighing as much as 12 ounces were seen as well as fishing-tackle boxes with their compartments filled with various-sized nuggets. The largest surviving Western Hemisphere gold nugget (389.4 ounces) was found in Sonora in about 1990. This nugget, known as the Boot of Cortez, won the Romero Trophy as the best Mexican mineral specimen exhibited at the 2002 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show (fig. 4).



Several major placer districts produced attractive nuggets in quantity beginning in about 1988. Dealers typically were vague about specific locality data, most simply saying they were from Minas Gerais, Bahia, or Mato Grosso. Dealers’ stocks ranged up to about 100 ounces. Some specimens exhibited crude, somewhat abraded crystal forms, although most gold was rounded and best suited for jewelry or locality collection purposes. One small lot of specimens from Alta Floresta, Mato Grosso, exhibited moderately rounded, well-developed octahedra. Similar crystals were attributed to Piolho, Roraima. The largest stocks were held by dealer Osario Neto in conjunction with his wholesale gem-rough business. His nuggets were attributed to placers at Lencois, Bahia, Brazil.


Small commercial gold mines in British Columbia, such as those near Atlin, and locations given as Dago Hill and Hunter Creek, “Yukon Territory,” furnished attractive nuggets in modest quantities. They ranged up to about 1 ounce, but most were in the 2-10-gram range. Crystal forms were not present. One particular dealer had good examples of unusual, only slightly abraded wire-gold nuggets. Accumulations weighing up to approximately 100 ounces were seen in dealer booths at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

United States

Placer gold from several Alaskan sources has been available to both the wholesale and retail market during the past twenty years. Nuggets weighing up to 1 kilogram, some with attractive white quartz and attributed to a placer near Manley Hot Springs, were being sold by several dealers. Typical, rounded nuggets without preserved crystal form were available in relatively large amounts and in sizes up to about 1 ounce from placers reportedly in the Livengood area, from the Valdez Creek mine, streams in the Chicken area, and operations of Silverado–Nolan Creek. Nuggets exhibiting abraded skeletal crystals were available in small quantities from Kantishna, now in the Denali National Park and Preserve. The largest Alaskan nugget (fig. 5), found recently during nonmining construction work at a remote site, was marketed at the 2001 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show cooperatively by Colorado Nuggets and Oxford Assay Company, both consistent sources of good Alaskan nugget gold.


Sporadic nugget production from other states has included a wide variety of suction dredge sites on the west flank of the California Sierra Nevada; “nugget patch” metal-detecting locations including those of the Rye Patch Reservoir or Majuba placers, Pershing County, Nevada (fig. 6), and the Congress, Prescott, Quartzite, and Greaterville areas, Arizona; and small commercial placers in Montana and Idaho. Good nugget finds were reported by metal detector enthusiasts for streams in the traditional placer districts of the southeastern United States, but few of these trickled down to the marketplace.


Miscellaneous Sources

Individual nuggets were available from many localities through several dealers, such as Colorado Nuggets. These include rivers in northern Colombia, one of which produced a trickle of peculiar hook-shaped nuggets; the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, where flattened crystalline masses were recovered by dredgers; unspecified placers in Bolivia both in the high Andes and lower along the eastern flanks; and even placers in Ghana, Gibon, and Mongolia, where exceptionally large nuggets have been available in recent years.


The availability of nonplacer, crystalline, or matrix gold specimens has been sporadic and is only indirectly linked to the price of gold. Although a significant number of new mines were developed on the basis of elevated gold prices of the 1980s and 1990s, many of these were in low-grade ore in which gold was finely disseminated and were not likely to produce specimens. Others in more specimen-permissive geologic settings had tight security procedures that made it impossible for miners to carry even the most insignificant specimens off of company property. Only a few mines permitted the careful collection and sale of specimens. However, several were operated at least in part for the production of premium, specimen-quality gold, usually with well-developed selling strategies or exclusive contracts with dealers. A secondary source of lode gold specimens was fostered by the development of high-quality metal detectors, and, through careful literature research and prospecting, long-abandoned mine and prospect dumps were occasionally converted into generally short-lived specimen producers.

The acquisition of rock containing relatively abundant gold is only the first step in moving what is typically at best a high-grade ore sample to a good specimen for collectors. Preparation is all important, and the tricks of this “trade” are manifest and usually learned only through hard experience, during which specimen after specimen is damaged by the improper use of various acids. It should be understood that, for the most part, those specimens seen displayed by major dealers did not mysteriously arrive with perfectly exposed, delicately perched crystalline gold on snow-white quartz. Masters of the gold specimen preparation art are few and include the Coogans of Coogan Gold, the Leichts of Kristalle, and Cal Graeber. Many specimens prepared by these three groups have been dispersed to collectors and other dealers worldwide.

United States

California: California’s Mother Lode belt and related deposits have been the historical source of what is an understandably unknown, though apparently very large, quantity of gold specimens (Leicht, W., 1982, 1987; Leicht, D., 1982, 1987; Leicht and Leicht 1994). Beginning in the mid-1980s a consistent flow of exceptionally well crystallized gold specimens with or without massive white quartz matrix appeared from the Michigan Bluff district in southern Placer County (figs. 7 and 8). Labels gave such locations as Eagle’s Nest mine, Red Ink Maid mine, Mystery Wind adit or mine, DeMaria mine, Frenchman’s adit, and even the Bathtub mine for material that is essentially indistinguishable. Production from various workings belonging to the largest claim owner–who, with other members of his family, mines almost entirely for specimens–is handled exclusively by Kristalle. The number of recently produced specimens from this group of close-spaced occurrences is surely in the thousands, with some containing tens of ounces of bright, medium yellow, sharply crystallized gold in arborescent and other aesthetic configurations. Flattened octahedra with faces fully 1 cm on edge grouped in parallel crystallographic growths are characteristic, as are elongated, complex octahedra, spinel twins, and a wide variety of reticulated-appearing aggregates of elongate octahedra and other forms. Michigan Bluff specimens have gained worldwide acceptance as the hallmark for fine gold, and this occurrence will likely be the most prolific historical source of well-crystallized gold specimens.


Exceptionally large specimens of crystalline sheet gold have been recovered intermittently from the Red Ledge mine near Washington, Nevada County (Bancroft 1984). Today, it is reportedly worked only for specimens, and an extraordinarily fine noncompetitive exhibit of large, recently recovered gold sheets appeared at the 2002 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Specimens from this location up to small-cabinet size were occasionally available in the 1980s and early 1990s from Cal Graeber and Kristalle.

The 16 to 1 mine in Sierra County has been an important producer of gold-matrix jewelry rock and specimen gold consisting of medium yellow, rough gold in white quartz matrix. Reopening of the mine, coupled with the careful use of metal detectors in the deeper levels, resulted in spectacular discoveries of coarse gold similar to that for which the mine was well known in the earlier years of its heyday. One such find occurred on 17 December 1993, when more than 2,600 ounces of gold were recovered from only 890 pounds of quartz that was shot from the vein in a single blast. A 600-ounce pocket containing reasonably well crystallized gold was hit in June 1996 and a 5,000-ounce pocket in August of the same year. Small lots of 16-to-1 gold were marketed at major gem and mineral shows during the 1990s as well as through at least one major auction (Butterfield and Butterfield 1994). Although most of this recently mined gold does not exhibit significant crystallization, several lots–apparently from the 600-ounce pocket, mentioned above–consisted of moderately well developed, complex crystals and spinel twins (fig. 9). Some specimens contained coarsely crystalline arsenopyrite.


One of the most famous specimen gold finds of the past twenty years occurred on 26 December 1992 at the active mine of Sonora Mining Corporation at Jamestown, Tuolumne County (Nelson and Leicht 1994; Cook 1994). Recovered were approximately 2,400 ounces of crystalline leaf gold, including one piece that weighed 25.8 kilograms (about 13 kilograms of which was gold) (fig. 10). These unusually attractive specimens were handled by Kristalle and were quickly absorbed by the market. The largest of these specimens was prepared by Collector’s Edge and placed on prominent display at Ironstone Vineyards, Murphys, California. Specimens from this find are occasionally identifiable by the presence of small, wartlike, nodular masses of black hessite perched on the faces of gold leaves. Subsequent to the mine’s closure in 1994, periodic specimen mining by a group headed by the owner has recovered hundreds of additional good-to-excellent specimens ranging from small thumbnail to medium cabinet in size. Most are associated with massive white quartz and graphitic slate. Coogan Gold has handled much of this production, and specimens are labeled Harvard mine, one of the several old mines ultimately swallowed by the large Sonora Mining Corporation open pit.


The southern terminus of the Mother Lode belt is in Mariposa County, all area that is particularly blessed with specimen gold occurrences. Most noteworthy of these are the Colorado Quartz (Kampf and Keller 1982; Wilson 1996), the Diltz, and the Mockingbird mines. Each has produced distinctive, exceptional crystallized gold specimens within the past several decades. Perhaps best known is the Colorado Quartz mine, the source of unusually well developed, brilliantly lustrous, typically skeletal octahedra in relatively large groups (fig. 11), culminating in the famous 18.1-cm “Dragon” specimen of recent vintage. Most Colorado Quartz mine specimens are now handled by Collector’s Edge. The Diltz mine is characterized by chunky gold masses composed of complex crystal aggregates and flat groups of distorted cubes exhibiting a satinlike or matte luster. The Mockingbird mine (Bancroft 1987) is the source of bright sheetlike aggregates of flattened octahedra in white quartz; some specimens from this location resemble material from the Michigan Bluffs district far to the north. Production from this mine during the past few years has been available from several dealers, including Coogan Gold.


Mines and prospects in the western part of Mariposa County have been well represented in the stock of Coogan Gold for the past fifteen years. Localities include Burns Creek, Cotton Creek, Hire Cove, Bear Valley, Quartzburg, Hunters Valley, Ham Coward Gulch, Indian Gulch, and the general Hornitos area. The gold is medium to dark yellow and typically in coarse, hackly masses in white massive quartz. Specimens range in size from micromount to large cabinet with contained gold in amounts up to more than 20 ounces. Much gold attributed to these occurrences and marketed by other dealers has originated through the diligent, persistent electronic prospecting of Ed Coogan.

Other California localities given as the source of small to moderate quantities of matrix gold specimens include Angels Camp, Calavaras County; the Round Hill mine, El Dorado County; the Red Bank mine, Mariposa County; and the Kenton and Oriental mines in Sierra County.

Nevada: Humboldt County has been the source of good gold specimens for the past two decades. Mines of the Ten Mile district, some 10 miles west of Winnemucca, produced gold of medium to dark yellow color in dense, spongy, meshlike masses; herringbonelike aggregates of thin sheets; and thin wires. Most occurred in white quartz and was associated with crystalline adularia. Some specimens are matrix-free and weigh up to 4 ounces (fig. 12). The most productive localities appear to have been the Golden Amethyst mine and Stormy Weather prospect. The Mad Mutha mine (fig. 13), on the north end of the district, has also been the source of a consistent supply of good wiry masses of medium to dark yellow color (fig. 14), some of which are associated with pale amethystine quartz. Most of this material is vended by the Mad Mutha himself, Ed Muceus, who has become a recent fixture at the Tucson and Denver Gem and Mineral Shows. Good, though small, gold crystal aggregates have been found on a spur of Blue Mountain several miles west of the Ten Mile district (fig. 15). Several mines in the Slumbering Hills of the Awakening district have been the source of a modest supply of attractive gold specimens consisting of delicate wire and crystalline gold masses on iron-stained, adularia-bearing rock. Most of this material was handled by Coogan Gold. Interesting silvery electrum with a distinct reddish tint in wire-mesh-like aggregates in fine-grained banded quartz has been available periodically from the National district at the north end of the Santa Rosa Mountains.


Adjacent Pershing County at times has produced abundant gold specimens. Good, typically pale, crystalline leaf gold has been produced from prospects in the Willow Creek drainage basin (fig. 16). In 1994 a prospector using a metal detector discovered an unusually rich area of float gold over and adjacent to a pocket-bearing quartz vein at the north end of the Eugene Mountains, in Pershing County. This deposit produced a large quantity of gold specimens in sizes ranging from a few grams to 195 ounces (figs. 17 and 18). Much of the gold was crystallized, exhibiting rough cube and octahedral forms with individual, somewhat skeletal crystals reaching 1 cm on edge. Many of the larger specimens contained coarse crystalline gold laced with relatively minor quartz, and they required careful preparation. A large quantity of slightly abraded, generally matrix-free pieces found their way to the specimen market and were available at the Denver and Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows from several dealers, particularly Coogan Gold, between 1994 and 1998. Specimens containing up to approximately 50 ounces of gold were sold, although many of the largest pieces were retained by one of the owners, who is a gold collector. Many pieces of this gold were dispersed on the European market.


Elsewhere in Pershing County, a completely different type of gold–associated with naumanite and occurring most commonly as somewhat silvery electrum in thin leaves, ribbons, and masses in quartz–was recovered by collectors on the now-reclaimed dump of the Fairview mine in the Seven Troughs district. Of much rarer occurrence were pieces of vein quartz thickly laced with yellow sponge or interconnected thin sheets of crystalline gold. Several dealers carried a small supply of these specimens throughout the 1990s.

Persistent electronic prospecting by Ed Coogan of Coogan Gold in the Pamlico and Mina areas of the Excelsior Mountains, Mineral County, produced a significant number of good specimens of densely matted dendritic gold in quartz. Typically, the gold was associated only with secondary iron oxides, although several locations produced attractive specimens with malachite and chrysocolla and, in one location, minor galena and cerussite. Specimens individually containing up to several ounces of gold were recovered and marketed at gem and mineral shows during the early and mid-1990s.

Subsequent to Lieberman’s 1989 article on gold collecting at Olinghouse, Washoe County, the deposit was opened as a large commercial mining operation, and a significant number of distinctive pale yellow, ribbon and wire gold specimens were recovered over a several-year period (figs. 19 and 20). Specimens range in size from micromounts and thumbnails to several weighing tens of pounds and containing unusually long individual wires. The specimens were marketed jointly through Coogan Gold, Global Treasures, and Great Basin Minerals. Although the mine has been shut down for the past several years, these dealers reportedly still have a small stock of attractive specimens from this locality.

In recent years, management of the Round Mountain gold mine, in Nye County, has had an annual gold specimen sale to employees. Much of this material is freed from white calcite matrix and consists of medium yellow wires, sheets, and spongelike masses (fig. 21). Specimens weighing up to several ounces have been available from dealers at major shows.


Colorado: Although well known for its historical gold production (Raines 1997a, 1997b), Colorado has not been a source of abundant gold specimens in recent decades. Mines of the Boulder County telluride district, including the Cash, Slide, and Golden Age, produced small lots of modest gold specimens that were incorporated into dealers’ stocks and quickly dispersed (figs. 22 and 23). Similarly, although the Dixie mine south of Idaho Springs in Clear Creek County produced a considerable quantity of fine gold specimens in the late 1950s and early 1960s, only small amounts of generally uninspiring specimens were available from this location as the twentieth century closed. Most are distinctive, however, consisting of somewhat dull sheet gold commonly associated with sphalerite and gray fine-grained quartz. Sizes range up to small miniature, although larger specimens were occasionally available from older collections. During the 1980s and early 1990s the Sunnyside mine near Silverton, San Juan County, was a consistent source of generally inexpensive specimens containing fine meshlike gold in white quartz with minor associated sulfides. Even the famous Farncomb Hill localities near Breckenridge, Summit County, produced a small quantity of fine gold specimens for collectors and lessors who worked the steep dumps with metal detectors (fig. 24). Although the Cresson mine at Cripple Creek, Teller County, is not known for gold specimens per se, its reopening, coupled with the reported release of old accumulations of “telluride ore” from miners or their descendants, resulted in a trickle of interesting gold telluride specimens reaching the market. At least one such collection was dispersed by Back Country Gems in the late 1990s.


Oregon: Gold specimens–typically chunky masses in partially etched quartz–were periodically available from several localities in the Baker City area of Baker County. Small specimens of bright gold in white quartz attributed to Canyon City, Grant County, were briefly available in the late 1990s.

Washington: Small fine specimens of typically matrix-free, reticulated wire gold were available in the early 1980s from Kittitas County. Although specimens from a variety of localities, such as the Ace of Diamonds mine (fig. 25) and Blewett Pass, have been seen, most apparently originated in the Ollie Jordan mine at Liberty.


New Mexico: In the late 1980s and early 1990s a moderate supply of medium to pale yellow, ribbon, wire, and crystalline gold in white, coarsely crystalline, massive calcite from the San Pedro mine, New Placers district, Santa Fe County, New Mexico, was available from several dealers, including Wayne Holland. Specimens ranged from small thumbnail up to cabinet in size and were in all price ranges.

North and South Carolina: Two North Carolina localities produced small lots of gold specimens. The Cotton Patch mine, Stanly County, now operated as a tourist attraction, was the source of hundreds of thumbnail specimens consisting of dark yellow crystalline gold in white quartz. The Hercules mine near Morganton, Burke County, produced interesting pale yellow gold in gossanlike matrix for a brief period in the 1980s. Although South Carolina was a major gold producer throughout the late 1980s and 1990s–thanks to the Ridgeway, Haile, and Brewer mines–only the latter in western Chesterfield County was the source of specimens. Near the end of its operation, mine personnel recovered exceptional gold in bright, medium yellow masses and splotches on chertlike, vuggy quartz and associated with sulfides, including enargite. Only a few of these specimens were dispersed to collectors.


A significant number of diverse types of gold specimens have been available from several important Ontario mines. About twenty years ago excellent coarse gold in white quartz with sphalerite was sold through the Pamour mine near South Porcupine. The agent for this material occupied a room in the fabled Desert Inn in Tucson and did a brisk though apparently unprofitable business. More recently, phenomenally rich ore was encountered in the new Goldcorp mine at Balmertown near Red Lake. David K. Joyce Minerals is the agent for specimens of this predominantly sheet gold (fig. 26), some of which is associated with berthierite and stibnite. These specimens are similar to those found occasionally in the adjacent Campbell mine, few of which have been made available to collectors. For a brief period during the early 1990s good specimens of gold associated with bornite and chalcopyrite in white calcite and quartz were available from the Aquarius mine at Nighthawk Lake; bright hackly gold in white massive quartz was sold from the Hoyle Pond mine; and gold in quartz was recovered and sold from outcrops found during prospecting between South Porcupine and Timmins. Retailers in both Timmins and Kirkland Lake handled interesting bookend-type slabs of gold-veined, green mariposite-like mica-bearing ore from the Kirkland Lake district and nearby Sigma mine in Louvicourt Township, Quebec. Other Canadian localities for which gold specimens were available on a limited basis include a mine near Eskay Creek in northwestern British Columbia (with fine-grained molybdenite).


Nova Scotia boasts a modest gold specimen heritage (Mossman 1982). In the early 1990s coarse gold, much of which was associated with crystalline arsenopyrite in white and gray quartz, was recovered from old dump material. Some of this material had been hauled off and used to surface nearby gravel roads and was recovered by collectors using metal detectors.

One small lot of attractive gold in vuggy quartz from an undisclosed location in Newfoundland was available from Tyson’s Minerals in 1999. The gold exhibited a variety of forms and was, in part, finely crystallized.


Australia has been an important historical source of specimen gold (Birch 1987). A wide array of locality gold is typically available in dealers’ stocks (figs. 27-30). In 1996 excellent specimens of dark yellow gold associated with a wide variety of sulfide minerals and hosted in greasy, dark gray to black quartz were available from Cue, Western Australia. Approximately one hundred of the attractive and reasonably priced specimens were dispersed by a single wholesaler and made available through Coogan Gold and Greg Millar’s Mineral Enterprises. Good, though not particularly attractive, specimens containing small masses of gold associated with coloradoite and calaverite are periodically available from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, primarily through rare-mineral dealers. Attractive, medium yellow gold in white quartz, reportedly from the famous Hill End district, New South Wales, was available at the 1997 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. The gold was said to have been found during the development of a historical park at one of the old mine sites. Attractive gold in white quartz from Tarnagulla, Victoria, was marketed by Tony Fraser of Victoria at about this time.


The commercial recovery of both specimen and jewelry-rock gold from a mine in the historic Gympie Gold field, Queensland, has furnished a consistent supply of good specimens containing medium yellow, coarse gold in white quartz to the collector market for the past five years. Specimens range from thumbnails to large cabinet in size, with moderate to dense gold coverage. The gold is marketed primarily through Gympie Gold, which exhibits each February at Tucson.

Attractive miniature to small cabinet-sized specimens containing abundant pale yellow, coarse leaf gold in white calcite were available from Ausrox at the 2002 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. The reported locality was the Bronzewing mine, Leonora, Western Australia. Other productive localities, according to dealer labels, are the Minzies mine and Meekathara in Western Australia and various mines in central Victoria’s golden triangle, including those in the Bendigo and Ballarat areas. Particularly fine gold and gold in quartz matrix specimens have been available recently from localities near Rheola, Marybrough, and Dunolly, Victoria.

Other Lode Gold Sources

Reasonably priced miniature and small cabinet-sized specimens containing crystalline and ribbon gold in moderate to thick coverages, partially etched from quartz matrix, were available in 2001 and 2002 through Manfred Schwartz and Udo Behner from the classic Rosia Montana (Verespatak), Romania, locality (Bancroft 1984; Lieber 1982) (fig. 31). A small lot of relatively good golds in gray and white quartz (fig. 32) were available from Brusson, Aosta, Italy, in 1998. For a brief period in the late 1980s a small supply of fine, delicately crystallized, dendritic gold specimens from Hope’s Nose, Torquay, Devon, England (Harrison and Fuller 1987), were available from several sources, including Ian Bruce of Crystal Classics. The locality is now guarded and permanently closed to collecting. There has been a consistent trickle of modest specimens containing small amounts of wire gold in chrysocolla from the Inca de Oro mine north of Copiapo, Chile. The famous Morro Velho gold mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, has been a sporadic source of interesting specimens exhibiting individual, sharply formed, small cuboctahedral crystals. These and attractive gold leaves from the same locality have been available through the major Brazilian dealers, although not in recent years. Interesting, small specimens containing relatively sparse gold associated with tellurobismuthite and tsumoite from the Bjorkdal deposit in northern Sweden were available from Coogan Gold throughout the 1990s. Rich matrix specimens containing abundant gold associated with sulfides from Bomlo, Hordaland, Norway, were available from several dealers in recent years. In 2001 and 2002 gold wires composed of elongated aggregates of sharply developed, tiny crystals from Carolita, Huancay, Peru, were available from the Miner’s Lunchbox. Small specimens containing chunky, medium yellow masses of gold in white quartz associated with stibnite and stibiconite and attributed to Usnyera, Yakutia, Russia, were available in the late 1990s from KARP, the Czech dealership. One small lot of flattened gold masses in quartz from the famous locality at Berezovsk, Yekaterinburg Oblast, Russia (fig. 33), was available at several gem and mineral shows in 2000. Bright yellow masses of gold in slightly iron-stained gray quartz were available briefly from the Shumva mine and Mount Darwin area, Zimbabwe.



No good mineral collection can be without at least one gold specimen. Dealer specimen acquisition is often complexly convoluted and is typically through a series of confidential sources. Some specimen stocks are constantly replenished by ongoing prospecting activities. Sources will change with time; however, the number of primary dealers through which gold specimens are dispersed to other dealers and collectors is quite small and likely to remain so. Localities will come and go, as will the interesting personalities involved with the gold collector market. Prices will fluctuate and, for low-end matrix specimens and most placer gold, will be keyed to the prevailing spot price of gold. Unlike many other desirable species, good gold specimens will always be available. The challenge will remain, at all levels of collecting sophistication, to get the best you can for the smallest outlay. Finally, unlike most species, almost every gold specimen has a story to tell. One only has to listen.

The gold specimens illustrated in this article were in the indicated collections or dealers’ stocks when photographed. Some of the photographs were taken up to ten years ago, and the disposition of the specimens may not be today as indicated in the figure captions. It is accepted practice to keep significant gold specimens banked and available only for appointment showings. None of those illustrated are retained in the homes, offices, or places of business of the owners.


The manuscript for this article was significantly enhanced through conversations with Ed Coogan, Tony Fraser, Theo Manos, Brian Lees, and Wayne Leicht and the careful reviews of Ed Raines of Ward, Colorado, and Wayne Leicht of Kristalle, Laguna Beach, California.


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Department of Geology and Geography

Auburn University

Auburn, Alabama 36849-5305

Dr. Robert B. Cook, an executive editor of Rocks & Minerals, is a professor of geology and head of the Department of Geology and Geography at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

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