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July-August 2017

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The Occurrence and Characteristics of Gold Nuggets and Masses

THE COMMON IMAGE OF A GOLD NUGGET is that of a rounded piece of gold just plucked from a pan or a sluice box. Implied in that image is some limiting minimum size and a history of transport, usually by water, from its source, the in-place occurrence. Unfortunately, this is not consistent with even the most generic definitions of gold nugget found in most general reference works and dictionaries. For example, one of the most common definitions is simply “a piece of naturally occurring gold.” As any collector knows, that could be just about any gold specimen with little or no matrix seen in a museum, private collection, or dealer's stock. The definition does not place any sort of size restriction on the piece, give any limitation of physical appearance, define provenance, or consider the impact of at least some matrix. Because of this vagueness, one could fairly ask if a piece of pristine gold, taken from a weathered vein and showing crystals, crystalline plates, and/or wires, should be considered a nugget if it exceeds a certain minimum size or weight. With respect to modern usage, clearly it should not; yet, unfortunately, even some more refined definitions put forward during the past century and a half would consider this sort of specimen to be a gold nugget. The growth of gold collecting as a hobby and as an investment strategy requires that more precise descriptions be given to specimens offered for sale, described in the technical literature, or entered into collection catalogues. This article is a consequence of that need. 


Dr. Robert B. Cook, an executive editor of Rock & Minerals, is a professor emeritus in the Department of Geosciences at Auburn University.

Dr. Carl A. Francis, an executive editor of Rocks & Minerals, is curator at the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum.

Mark Mauthner, a consulting editor of Rock & Minerals, is a freelance photographer and has had a lifelong interest in gold.

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