How are gold nuggets formed?
Gold is formed in quartz deposits deep within the earth. When erosion takes place, exposed veins of gold break off and wash into rivers and streams. The natural movement of the water tumbles the gold against sand and rocks, forming gold nuggets. Sand and rocks dull the nuggets and a slight cleaning is needed to bring out the brilliant color. Over time, each nugget develops its own texture, shape, and character, making it unique. Other precious metals, like platinum, form nuggets in the same way.
Gold can be removed from the earth in several ways. Hard rock mines extract veins of gold from solid rock and placer mines extract gold on the surface in sand or gravel after the gold has been released from its host material and has accumulated in modern or ancient streams or glacial deposits. During the early gold rushes like the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, it was common practice for miners to flock to an area and start prospecting for the easy-to-get placer gold in rivers and creeks using panning, and later sluicing and dredging techniques. Because gold is more dense than sand, prospectors worked by swirling a combination of water and gravel and sand in their pan and allowing the lighter rocky material to spill out, leaving just the gold. It was only after the placers became exhausted would hard rock miners trace to the source of the gold and establish hard rock mines at the vein. In Alaska, most of the gold found comes from placer deposits.
How pure are gold nuggets?
Gold nuggets are rare and when they are found by miners they are typically not melted but left in their natural form, unaltered by man. The gold purity of nuggets varies by geography and the composition of the original vein. Gold nuggets range in purity between 70% to 95%, with the average nugget being 90% pure, which is 22k (for comparison, 41% pure is 10k and 58.5% pure is 14k). Nuggets are not 100% pure because they are formed by nature and usually mixed with other precious metals, like copper, silver or nickel. Each nugget is unique and will have its own color, luster, and shine determined by its composition. The richer and deeper the orange-yellow color, the higher the gold content.
How much do gold nuggets cost?
Nuggets are weighed by the troy ounce (or the pennyweight (dtw): 20 pennyweights equal one troy ounce) and not by the avoirdupois ounce, which is the common measuring system for everything except precious metals. The troy ounce is a bit heavier than the avoirdupois ounce, with one troy ounce equaling 31.10 grams and one avoirdupois ounce equaling 28.35 grams. The weights are close, but the difference becomes noticeable when trading in larger quantities. Gold nuggets are sold at a premium compared to gold traded on an exchange because of their rarity. The larger the nugget the more rare it is. In this way, gold nuggets are similar to diamonds: a one troy ounce nugget is now considered as rare as a five-carat diamond.
History of gold in Alaska
Gold has played a big role in Alaska’s history. Even before Alaska was purchased from the Russians in 1867, there was evidence of gold. As early as 1849, P.P. Doroshin, a Russian engineer, discovered gold in the gravels of the Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula and in 1861 gold was discovered on Telegraph Creek near the settlement of Wrangell. However, the Russians prohibited the search for minerals in the area as they feared a rush of foreign prospectors would flood the region, which they could barely hold claim to themselves.
The first big gold discovery following the Alaska purchase was in Juneau, named after Joseph Juneau, who was an early miner, in 1880. This discovery generated excitement for mining in the North and thousands of prospectors moved to Alaska in search of gold.
Perhaps the largest and best known gold rush in Alaska was the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. In mid-July 1897 two steamships returned to Seattle and San Francisco from the Yukon carrying more than two tons of gold. This led to a nationwide frenzy and over the course of the next two years, 100,000 miners and opportunists flocked to Skagway and Dyea, Alaska on their way to Dawson City, Canada in hopes of striking it rich. Unfortunately, most of the claims were staked by the people who had been in the region when the strike was made, and many new prospectors returned disappointed.
Today, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Nome are responsible for most of Alaska’s gold production. Additionally, most current placer gold mines in the United States are in Alaska.
Alaskan businesses that sell authentic, quality gold nuggets:
(1) Lynch & Kennedy - Skagway
(2) Back Alley Rock Shop - Skagway
(3) Mt. Juneau Trading Post - Juneau