The Noblest of the Noble Metals

R.W. Nicholson

Gold is the “noblest” of the noble metals; gold, platinum, palladium, and rhodium. The term noble metal is used because of these metals inertness, or reluctance to enter into chemical reactions. The atomic symbol for gold is Au, its atomic number is 79 and its atomic weight is 196.967.  Gold melts at a temperature of 1063° C or 1945.4 degrees F. Gold has a specific gravity of 19.3, which means that it is 19.3 times heavier than water.  Water weighs 8.35 lbs per gallon and 2.2 lbs per liter. As gold is 19.3 times heavier than water, a liter of gold would weigh 42.46 lbs and a gallon of gold would weigh 161.16 lbs. Gold's hardness is between 2.5 and 3 on the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness. Friedrich Mohs (1773-1839) was a mineralogist who devised this ascending scale, from the softest (talc - 01) to the hardest (diamond – 10).  Gold is traditionally weighed using the Troy measuring system. The term is believed to be named after a weight used at the annual fair held at Troyes, France during the Middle Ages. One grain of gold weights 0.0648 grams. There is 24 grains in 1 pennyweight (DWT). One pennyweight (DWT) weights1.5552 grams and there are 20 DWT to the ounce. There are 31.1035 grams to one troy ounce as compared to the standard ounce, the unit of weight in the U.S. Customary System, which is 28.35 grams. There are 12 troy ounces to one troy pound as compared to 16 ounces in the standard weight. One troy pound contains 5760 grains or 373.24 grams of gold.

Egyptians kings of the fourth to sixth dynasties (c. 2700 - 2270 B.C.) were the first to issues small quantities of gold coins. The first large-scale, private issuance of pure gold coins was under King Croesus (560-546 B.C.), the ruler of ancient Lydia, modern-day western Turkey. Stamped with his royal emblem of the facing heads of a lion and a bull, these first known coins eventually became the standard of exchange for worldwide trade and commerce.  The United Kingdom which included Canada, adopted a gold standard after the Napoleonic wars in the early part of the 19th century. United States adopted the gold standard de facto in 1879 and formally adopted the gold standard by legislation in 1900. By 1914, the gold standard had been accepted by a the majority of the countries around the world. From 1880 to 1914, the "mint parity" between the U.S. dollar and sterling was approximately $4.87, based on a U.S. official gold price of $20.67 per ounce and a U.K. official gold price of £ 4.24 per ounce.  In 1971 President Richard Nixon ended US dollar convertibility to gold and the central role of gold in world currency systems ended.

The proportion of gold in jewelry is measured on the carat (or karat) scale. The word carat comes from the carob seed, which was originally used to balance scales in Oriental bazaars. Pure gold is 1.000 Fine or 24 karat whereas Commercial Gold is .999 Fine. 18 Karat contains 75% gold, 14 Karat is 58% gold and 10 Karat 42% gold.

The most commonly used alloys for jewelry in Canada and the United States is 10 and 14 carat. In most of Europe it is 14 and 18 carat with 9 carat being more popular in the UK. Portugal has a unique designation of 19.2 carats. In the Middle East, India and South East Asia, jewelry is traditionally 22 carat In China, Hong Kong and some other parts of Asia it is 24 carat.  The worlds largest single mass of gold was found at Hill End, New South Wales, Australia, in October of 1872 by Mr. Bernhard Otto Holtermann and is known as the "The Beyers and Holtermann Specimen".  Although referred to as a nugget this gold is technically classified as a matrix. It weighed 286 kilograms and measured roughly 150cm by 66cm.  The largest gold nugget ever found was the "Welcome Stranger", found at Moliagul, Victoria, Australia in 1869 by John Deason and Richard Oates. The nugget weighed over 2,520 troy ounces.  The largest nugget ever found and recorded in British Columbia was taken from Spruce Creek in the Atlin District in 1899. The nugget was valued, at that time, at over $1,600.00. The recorded weight of the nugget was 85 oz. 5 grams.  The following historical gold prices were taken from Timothy Green’s Historical Gold Price Table and are listed in U.S. Dollars. The prices from 1995 to 2008 are the yearly accumulated averages from

The following table lists the largest nuggets found and recorded in B.C., from 1858 to 1970. The weight of the nuggets is listed in ounces and does not include gram weight.  This list should not be considered complete as it only lists nuggets that are on record as having been found.  It is fairly common knowledge that during the initial stages of B.C.'s mining history many large nuggets were never recorded and simply taken out of the country. The first B.C. Ministry of Mines Report was published in 1874, 16 years after gold was first discovered on the Fraser River at Hills Bar near Yale, B.C.

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