Gold, what can you say? Gold is gold, the standard against which all other metals are judged, the definition of value for millennia, the metal of kings. Most people see only tiny amounts of gold at a time, which makes them miss one of its most remarkable properties: It is incredibly dense. In fact, it's almost twice as dense as lead. Those gold bricks you see the bad guys riding off with in Westerns weigh something like 70 pounds each, and if real would crush the poor horses.
It's an interesting coincidence that tungsten is the same density as gold to three decimal places. So to get an idea what a whole lot of gold would feel like, you can pick up my eleven pound cylinder of tungsten, close your eyes, and pretend you're rich. Just don't run off with it, because you wouldn't get much for it at the pawn shop.
One ounce bullion bar.
I purchased several small bars of gold for spurious reasons in the early 1990s from a coin dealer near Berkeley, California. They added up to one ounce total. In April 2002 I traded them for a single one ounce bar at Specialty Stamp and Coin in Champaign, Illinois (for $25). I then had a 14K gold loop welded to the back of it by Brian Knox jewelers, Champaign, Illinois, so it could be locked down to the table with a length of stainless steel cable.
Pure gold is incredibly soft! It keeps getting bent, but I think if I put a label on it saying "please don't bend the gold" it would only make the problem worse. Source:Coin Shop in California Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:15 April, 2002 Price: $400/including loop Size: 1.5" Purity: 99.99%
If Ed didn't already have his name engraved on the Contributors tile, this would definitely have gotten him on it. I estimate it's about an ounce, but the real value is in the fact that it's a natural gold nugget, obviously very well handled. It came from Ed's grandfather who was a shoe trader in Alaska. It is a great honor to be the temporary custodian of this object, which is all anyone can be to a nugget that will outlive us all by a wide margin.
I remember once in grade school, when we lived in Australia, visiting a gold panning river. The guide let the class pass around a gold nugget not unlike this one. The only thing I remember from that trip is holding the gold. That, and the texture of the walls in the room, the scrape of the floor, the voice of the guide, the coat I was wearing, how we were sitting, everything about the instant that the gold passed through my hands. I couldn't tell you what river it was, how we got there, how old I was, nothing, just one instant of gold from a long time ago.
Maybe some day an old man or woman, now only a child, will remember the moment this nugget passed through their hands on a visit to the Periodic Table. They'll see in their mind the sand pendulum, smell again the beeswax finish, unnoticed by adults but close to the nose of a child, and feel as if yesterday the incredible weight of this tiny thing in their hands.
Gold is like that.
Analysis by x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy at the Center for Microanalysis of Materials, University of Illinois (partially supported by the U.S. Department of Energy under grant DEFG02-91-ER45439) indicates that this nugget is 88.7% gold and 10.6% silver, which makes it about 21 caret gold. That's pretty typical for native gold, I believe.
I chose this sample to represent its element in my Photographic Periodic Table Poster. The sample photograph includes text exactly as it appears in the poster, which you are encouraged to buy a copy of.
I bought this coin in the early 1990s from a coin dealer near Berkeley, California. I think it's about 90% gold, but I'm not sure. Of course it's no doubt well known by coin dealers how pure it is, and how much it's worth. I don't actually remember the price I paid, but I'm guessing around $100.
A reader, Kane Imai, has helpfully pointed me to a website which lists the value at several hundred dollars, depending on condition. So I think I did OK on this one.
And much later (2007) coin collector Joshua Holman provided this additional information about it:
The coin you have is an 1891-CC (CC stands for Carson City) $5.00 Coronet head gold piece (known as a half eagle). According to the Jan 2008 Coin Prices magazine, the coin is worth anywhere from $315 to $31,000. More details are here:CoinFacts.
Three ounce bar.
Measured strictly by monetary value, the two most expensive samples in the periodic table are this bar of gold, and the ten gram ampule of scandium. Both are worth well over a thousand dollars, and both were donated (the scandium outright, this bar on a semi-permanent loan basis).
It's very gratifying to know that people think my periodic table is a worthy home for such valuable objects. I certainly never expected to get any significant number of donated elements, let alone truly valuable ones.
In the case of this gold bar, there's another factor: Its mystique. Of course, the first thing you notice about it is the weight. It's damn heavy. It's crudely made: This is not the product of an industrial gold refining operation. From the shape and markings, it's clear the bar was made by pouring molten gold into a rectangular groove in a course material, possibly sand. The bar tapers slightly, which means the mold was not level. It ends in a round bullnose, which means the gold cooled and solidified before reaching the end of the groove. That in turn means the gold was just barely molten, as if bringing it to the melting point required a long effort and it was poured just as soon as it could be. The other end has clearly been cut with a dull sheer or chisel (the metal is bunched up, indicating that the tool used to cut it was relatively thick, and pushed the metal back as it was going through).
All in all, it bears a striking resemblance to the tin bars I made by pouring molten tin into sand grooves. Whoever made the gold bar obviously spent a bit more time and care making the mold than I did, but not a whole lot more.
Analysis by x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy at the Center for Microanalysis of Materials, University of Illinois (partially supported by the U.S. Department of Energy under grant DEFG02-91-ER45439) indicates the following composition:
This is 24 caret pure gold, almost qualifying as .999 fine.
One could speculate endlessly about who, when, where, and why this bar was made. Was it a jeweler who was just consolidating scraps, with the intention of using a rolling mill to form the bar into the various bar and sheet stock he'd use to make jewelry out of? It's the right shape, but jewelry gold is never that pure (it's too soft in pure form).
Or was it a gold miner consolidating gold into easily cut bars for sale or trade? There are no stamps or assay marks, which means it was not made for resale by a foundry, large or small. But it could have been an individual miner.
Perhaps a thief or fence melted down stolen jewelry to disguise its identity. Maybe it was part of a nobleman's hoard, consolidated from taxes. There are so many possibilities, from the mundane to the exotic, that you can't help but speculate while holding it.
Sometimes it's more than a little creepy. If you look at it just right, it looks like a finger. A gold finger, thin, bony, and cruel. Other times it just looks like a working jeweler's blank, nothing sinister at all. But with gold, evil is never far away. Gold, literal or figurative, has been the focus of greed and injustice for longer than anyone can say. It may be disguised in the form of pretty jewelry that delights the eye, but melt it back down to a crude bar like this, and you reveal the truth: People lust after gold not because it is pretty, but because it is gold. Source:George (not 007) Lazenby Contributor:George (not 007) Lazenby Acquired:21 October, 2002 Price: Donated Size: 3" Purity: 99.42%
These are about a hundred tiny natural gold nuggets with a total weight of 1.0017 grams. More like flakes than nuggets really. I ordered some tiny bottles and plan to give interested kids who visit the table a real gold nugget to take home. Source:eBay seller thegoldman Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:25 October, 2002 Price: $35 Size: 0.1" Purity: >90%
Sample from the RGB Set.
The Red Green and Blue company in England sells a very nice element collection in several versions. Max Whitby, the director of the company, very kindly donated a complete set to the periodic table table.
Sample from the Everest Set.
Up until the early 1990's a company in Russia sold a periodic table collection with element samples. At some point their American distributor sold off the remaining stock to a man who is now selling them on eBay. The samples (except gases) weigh about 0.25 grams each, and the whole set comes in a very nice wooden box with a printed periodic table in the lid.
I think it's pretty remarkable that you can buy sub-micron thick films of pure gold, many other pure metals (see the Sample Group link below for the list) and countless mixtures and alloys thereof, off the street in any major city, and you've been able to do so for several thousand years. Leaf like this is so thin it has to be picked up with special Red Squirrel hair brushes (none of that Gray Squirrel crap, mind you) and when it wafts down onto an object it conforms to the shape of the surface, settling in even to details as fine as a fingerprint.
I bought this leaf from a store in New York when I was visiting there with my six-year-old daughter Addie: You can read about our visit here. Source:New York Central Art Supply Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:11 July, 2003 Price: $37/25 sheets Size: 3.5" Purity: >99% Sample Group:Metal leaf
The source of this military surplus tube reports it contains over 1/2 gram of gold (a few dollars worth). Please no jokes about gold-plated military hardware. The gold here is sintered, not plated. Solid state electronics are fantastic, but the artistry of vacuum tubes is of a more human scale, and it will be missed when, in a few more decades, tubes like this will be purely museum curiosities. Source:eBay seller heruur Contributor:eBay seller heruur Acquired:24 December, 2003 Price: Donated Size: 5" Purity: >99%
Mini element collection.
This is a nice little set from the 1960's. The enclosed price list indicates it cost a few dollars, and the enclosed mercury sample indicates it predates current environmental concerns! Here's a picture of the whole 2-box set:
This is hand-made chain mail, meant to be used in jewelry, and made by Mike Lauter who kindly donated some to my collection, including versions made of four different elements (click the Sample Group link below to see the other variations). If you need some chain mail, he'd probably make some for you. (This one is 14K gold plated, and the purity listed is for the plating, not for the sample as a whole.) Source:Mike Lauter Contributor:Mike Lauter Acquired:20 May, 2005 Price: Donated Size: 1" Purity: 58% Sample Group:Chain Mail
This sample represents a collision, a train wreck of sorts, between my two (and only two) collecting hobbies. Yes, in addition to collecting elements, I collect tacky cigarette lighters. I simply couldn't resist the flowering creativity on display at rural gas stations throughout the Midwest. Somewhere in China someone is having a great time coming up with the craziest ideas for what shape to make the next great tacky lighter in. My personal favorite is the Mad Cow lighter, which is in the shape of an obviously enraged cow. So mad that fire comes out of its nostrils. (They have a pig like that too, but it doesn't look nearly as angry.)
This lighter is almost impossible to light without burning yourself, but practicality has never been a primary concern in this genre. Source: Casey's Gas Station Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:1 February, 2006 Text Updated:29 January, 2009 Price: $7 Size: 2.5" Purity: 0%
Scrap for recycling.
Only a small fraction of the paper and cardboard in the world gets recycled. Some recycling operators don't even want it because it can be more expensive to handle than it's worth.
A larger fraction of aluminum gets recycled, because it's more expensive, and easier to reprocess into new things. But still you see a lot of aluminum cans going in the garbage.
Not so with gold. It's so expensive, and so easy to recycle, that virtually none of it goes to waste. If you die with it in your teeth, chances are you won't go to your grave with it. Old circuit boards with gold-plated contacts are sold for real money to people who strip and recycle the gold.
And of course jewelers never, ever, throw away anything! The smallest scraps are carefully collected and either reused to repair another piece, or sent off to refiners who separate out any alloying elements (typically silver, copper, or platinum) and return the pure gold to circulation. I don't know the exact figure, probably no one does, but I would wager that a very large fraction of the total amount of gold that has ever been mined in the history of the world is still in circulation today, sitting in a bank vault, hanging on a drug dealer's neck, or waiting patiently in a jeweler's workshop for its time to come into the light again.
I traded a fraction of a kilogram bar of indium for this pile of gold: It was probably about an even trade, considering the sky high price of indium at the time. Source:Ian Brown Contributor:Ian Brown Acquired:11 April, 2006 Text Updated:17 June, 2006 Price: Donated Size: 1.5" Purity: 90%
Dave Hamric sells element samples under the name Metallium. He's developed a line of coins struck out of various common and uncommon metals: They are quite lovely, and very reasonably priced, considering the difficulty of creating some of them.
This is the only coin in the series with a ribbed edge, which comes about because, unlike the others that are stamped from blanks punched out of sheets, this one is stamped over the top of some other gold coin (in the rotation video you can actually make out faint traces of the date from the old coin, invisible to the naked eye). I guess it was just cheaper and easier this way: No wasted gold.
Here is the back side of this coin (click either picture to see it larger):
Click the Sample Group link below to see many other coins made of various elements, or click the link to his website above if you want to buy one like this. Source:Dave Hamric Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:1 December, 2006 Text Updated:14 January, 2007 Price: $100 Size: 0.75" Purity: >99% Sample Group:Coins
Gold leaf in oil.
This little bottle was sold for a few dollars in the Chicago Field Museum's gift shop, advertised as real gold. This might seem far fetched, until you realize that it's gold leaf, which is incredibly thin: There is no more than a few milligrams of gold in here despite the full appearance. Source:Nick Mann Contributor:Nick Mann Acquired:10 March, 2007 Text Updated:12 March, 2007 Price: Donated Size: 1" Purity: >99%
Gold-plated Griffith Observatory coin.
I really like the Griffith Observatory even though it's not an observatory (it's in Los Angeles, you understand). It's actually a science museum, and it has the distinction of having sold more of my photographic periodic table posters than any other museum (thousands and thousands of them). I visited them once and asked the store manager if they had been doing something unusual to use up so many of them, he said no, people just keep buying bunches of them. If you don't live in Los Angeles (and let's be realistic, who would want to?) you can buy one direct from me. Source:Griffith Observatory Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:27 October, 2007 Text Updated:28 October, 2007 Price: $30 Size: 1" Purity: <1%
Vapor deposited crystal.
This is a small but jewel-like crystal of purest gold. It was created more or less for fun by Ivan Timokhin, using chemical vapor transport. Gold is placed in a sealed ampule with small amount of chlorine. One end of the ampule is heated up to 300C, the other end up to 500C. At the 300C end gold reacts with chlorine to form AuCl3, which travels over to the 500C end where it decomposes back into gold and chlorine. The net effect is to move gold from the cool to the hot end and deposit it slowing into crystal shapes like this. Isn't it wonderful that stuff like this actually works? Source:Ivan Timokhin Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:27 October, 2007 Text Updated:29 January, 2009 Price: $30 Size: 0.2" Purity: >99.99%
These are cheap mall earrings I picked up while my daughter was getting her ears pierced. Thin platings of gold give you a lot of pretty for a little money. Source: Mall store Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:8 March, 2008 Text Updated:8 March, 2008 Price: $7 Size: 2" Purity: <0.1%
Gold plating electrode.
This electrode could be used in one of two ways in electroplating operations. Because it's gold, a highly corrosion resistant noble metal, it could be used to deliver current without being dissolved or corroded. But a more common use would be to run the current in a way that causes the gold to dissolve slowly into solution, turning into gold ions, which are then deposited as gold metal on the object you want to plate. If you want to plate things with gold that gold obviously has to come from somewhere, and an electrode like this is one place to get the gold from. Source:FDJ On Time Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:14 June, 2008 Text Updated:14 June, 2008 Price: $48 Size: 1" Purity: >99%
Gold paint container.
This is the wooden container in which the previous sample came. It's at least as pretty as the gold paint itself, think of the work that went into making what today would be just a cardboard box. Source:eBay seller bowsong Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:8 February, 2009 Text Updated:8 February, 2009 Price: $45 Size: 5" Purity: 0%
Healey Gold salt dish.
This is a pretty little gold-colored ceramic dish created with a process that uses uranium salts combined with gold to produce an unusually lustrous finish. It's completely non-radioactive, so whatever was done with uranium does not involve the uranium remaining in the finished product. Source:eBay seller muni-divas Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:11 March, 2009 Text Updated:13 March, 2009 Price: $15 Size: 2" Purity: <1%
Bling is defined as inexpensive but flashy-looking jewelry worn by drug dealers. It is generally gold plated. Bling has to be flashy to look impressive, and it has to be inexpensive because drug dealers don't make much money, and many of them are forced to live with their parents because they can't afford an apartment of their own. I got this massive (over one inch diameter) necklace at the local mall. Source: Mall Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:24 March, 2009 Text Updated:24 March, 2009 Price: $100 Size: 18" Purity: <1%
Gold-plated wire-wrap IC socket.
This is a socket used to hold a 14-pin DIP integrated circuit package. The long pins are gold-plated to provide a good, non-tarnishing electrical contact with wires wrapped around them. This type of socked is used to build prototypes of new circuit designs. Instead of soldering the socket to a printed circuit board, a special tool is used to wrap the end of a jumper wire many times around the pin. Fancy versions of the tool feed, strip, and cut wire the as you use them, allowing you to go from one pin to another quickly, wrapping bare wire around each pin. Less fancy versions (like the kind I used long ago), require you to cut the wire to length, strip about an inch of insulation off it, then stick the wire into the tool. This takes longer, but not nearly as long as making a custom circuit board for a design that might not even work. Source:eBay seller rbcybertech Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:24 March, 2009 Text Updated:24 March, 2009 Price: $2 Size: 1" Purity: <1%
Purple gold is a strange thing indeed. It is composed of gold and aluminum, but it's not an alloy. It is instead a compound of definite proportions. Known as an intermetallic compound, the bond between gold and aluminum atoms is weakly ionic. Source:Max Whitby of RGB Contributor:Max Whitby of RGB Acquired:24 March, 2009 Text Updated:24 March, 2009 Price: Donated Size: 0.25" Purity: 90%
Cheap mall jewelry.
Cheap gold plated jewelry from some store in the mall. The wonder of gold is that no matter how cheap, no matter how thin the plating, it's still gold, and gold is beautiful. Source: Mall Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:28 March, 2009 Text Updated:29 March, 2009 Price: $8 Size: 3" Purity: <1%
Gold-plated fuse box.
People accuse the military of wasting money on gold-plated toilet seats, but that's nothing compared to what audiophile nuts with a limited understanding of how electricity works will spend on gold-plated audio cables, connectors, and, it seems, even gold-plated fuse boxes. It is pretty, though, and the fuses (also gold-plated) have a clever feature: A build-in light that turns on when the fuse blows out. How clever! Source:Radio Shack Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:28 March, 2009 Text Updated:29 March, 2009 Price: $25 Size: 4" Purity: <1%
Gold-surfaced mirror, probably for reflecting infrared light. Not sure why it's so thick, but maybe to dissipate heat and remain flat even while a lot of power is being reflected off it. That's just a guess though. Source:eBay seller rare-chips-4-u Contributor:Theodore Gray Acquired:17 April, 2009 Text Updated:17 April, 2009 Price: $20 Size: 2" Purity: 99%
Gold on Quartz.
Description from the source:
Gold (Au cub.), Roata Mine, Maramures, Romania. Very small masses on Quartz and Fe-oxides. 2,5x2x2 cm; 10 g. Source:Simone Citon Contributor:John Gray Acquired:30 September, 2008 Text Updated:1 October, 2008 Price: Trade Size: 1" Composition:Au