The Golden Nugget CollectionA Renowned Collection of Alaskan Gold Nuggets
Perhaps one of the most famous exhibitions of gold nuggets in the United States is the collection of Arthur J. Sexauer, which has been on display at the famous Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada for the last twenty-seven years. Stephen Wynn and Mr. Sexauer agreed to display the thirty-one nuggets at the casino on October 10, 1979. They have been continuously on display there until August 2006 in a purpose-built, bullet-proof case. Tour buses stop at the casino for the distinct purpose of allowing passengers to view the nugget collection. It is impossible to know how many viewers there have been of this collection, but the estimate probably numbers in the millions.
The search for gold played a major role in shaping the history of Alaska (it was named the State Mineral in 1968). It was the discovery of gold in 1896 that really brought people to Alaska. Prospector George Carmack struck gold on the Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River in Canadas Yukon Territory just over the Alaskan border. It was the richest gold strike ever made. However, it was not until July 1897, when two steamships, The Excelsior and the S.S. Portland, arrived in San Francisco and Seattle, with a combined $1.5 million in Klondike gold that the media created a frenzygold fever spread like wildfire. The news occurred during a worldwide recession and within six months thousands of people from around the country abandoned their lives as they knew them and headed for the Klondike in search of riches. Of the approximately 100,000 gold-seekers who set off for the Yukon only about 30,000 actually completed the tripmany dying along the treacherous route. While only a few actually made a fortune, towns such as Skagway sprang up overnight to tend to the needs of the thousands of stampeders who came through town needing supplies. Then, in 1899, prospectors struck gold in Nome on the western coast of Alaska. Eight thousand miners departed the Klondike for the beaches of Alaskaa new gold fever had taken over. The pinnacle year for gold production in Alaska was 1900. The money earned from mining fell significantly after that, and the Gold Rush ended nearly as quickly as it had begun.
At the time of the gold rushes nuggets did not have any subjective value other than their intrinsic gold content. Nuggets were melted and assayed to determine their gold value so that payment could be obtained for provisions. Indeed, given all worldwide localities, almost all nuggets found prior to 1990 have been melted down. The present collection of Alaskan nuggets, all retrieved during the second half of the 20th Century from placer deposits, were selected by Mr. Sexauer for both their beauty or for their role in local Fairbanks lore.
While in many parts of the world gold is often found in quartz veins or lodes, the specimens from this region are most frequently found in alluvial placer deposits. This is a general term for material that has been washed away from its motherlodeor source by a body of running water. Through the disintegration or decomposition of the original enclosing rock, and subsequent concentration by gravity, it is deposited as sediment in the bed of the stream or on its flood plain or delta. Placer claims as they are known, are divided into twenty-acre sections and are painstakingly worked by panning, dredging and hydraulic mining. Less than two per cent of the world's mined gold is in nugget form and the appreciation for natural Alaskan gold nuggets is increased when one bears in mind the logistics and conditions encountered mining gold in this last frontierfar harsher than any place else in the world. Mining this far north is only possible 90 days per year, under adverse conditions far from civilization, typically involving freezing water. A large proportion of labor to retrieve material is for nought. Even the largest gold mining operation in Alaska, the Fort Knox Mine near Fairbanks, for instance must process nearly 33 tons of hardrock to produce an ounce of gold.
Gold nuggets are rareless than two per cent of the world's mined gold is in nugget form. As far as big nuggets are concerned, Alaska has never been known for very large ones. The largest recorded gold nugget ever found in Alaska was 294.10 ounces. The 21st largest nugget found weighed 38 ouncesso it can be seen that nuggets weighing more than a few ounces are extremely rare in Alaska. Gold nuggets, in particular, are valued as gemstones rather than gold, and their value has much more to do with their rarity and the general character of the nuggetfor instancea one ounce gold nugget is rarer than a 5 carats diamond.
Arthur J. Sexauer, 80, is a businessman and entrepreneur from Fairbanks, Alaska with a public service record which included lobbying for Alaskan statehood as well as serving as a Fairbanks city councilman. A recreational gold panning trip to the McClaren River in Alaska in 1953, where he discovered a 2.40 ounce gold nugget, fired a passion for collecting in him that led to some rather remarkable encounters. In 1975, Sexauer heard of a newly discovered 15-pound gold nugget found by brothers Arthur and Desmond Robins in Bendigo, Australia. He traveled there, bought the nugget, and prepared to leave for America. However, the media hype generated by the magnificent nugget landed him in a customs battlewhich he fortunately won. He made his way with the Robins Nugget to the touring circuit in the United States and struck up a friendship with Stephen Wynn, owner of the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, who eventually purchased the Robins Nugget from him.
Sexauers colorful gem and mineral experiences allowed him to obtain an array of unique and varying specimensmany of which he has graciously provided for display to various institutions, including the Gemological Institute of America in California and the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. While he has had his share of adversity over the years, he fondly recounts the joy he gets from collecting: Its a high that cant be achieved any other way and is elevated to a new height when shared with others.
Description of the Collection:
A three-dimensional specimen with extensive gold veining in quartz. Having two or three crevices or hexagonal casts from where quartz had previously been intergrown and is now absent. Purchased from prospector Bill Nordeen. Found in Emma Creek, near Bettles, Alaska, in 1972. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Gross weight 2.52 ozt (78.3 grams) Measuring 1 ½ x 1 ½ x ¾ in
An interesting, very three-dimensional nugget with a distinctive hook-shaped characteristic. The patina is rich and bright on the water-worn surfaces while it is brownish red in the crevices. Purchased from prospector John Pettyjohn.
Weighing 3.015 ozt. (93.8 grams). Measuring 1 ½ x ¾ x ½ in
Another highly three-dimensional nugget. The patina is bright and there are river-tumbled smooth edges and reddish patina in the crevices. Purchased from prospector John Pettyjohn in the 1950s.
Weighing 1.88 ozt. (58.4 grams). Measuring 1 ½ x ¾ x ¼ in
Bright yellow patina with smooth water-worn edges. Purchased on December 10, 1973. Found in Long Creek, near Ruby, in west-central Alaska.
Weighing 3.73 ozt (115.9 grams) Measuring 2 ¼ x 1 x ½ in
Gold intergrown with quartz. River-tumbled with a brownish patina. Purchased on February 28, 1973. Found in Emma Creek near Bettles, Alaska, by prospector Bill Nordeen. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Gross weight 4.03 ozt. (125.3 grams). Measuring 2 ¼ x 1 ¼ x ½ in
Of near-crystallized form with a complex, three-dimensional shape and reddish patina to the crevices. Purchased from prospector John Pettyjohn in 1960s.
Weighing 1.63 ozt (50.7 grams). Measuring 1 ½ x ¾ x ½ in
Of roughly triangular outline with smoothed water-worn edges and crevices in the center with some traces of limonite. Purchased from prospector Bill Nordeen. Found in Emma Creek, near Bettles, Alaska, in 1972. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 4.57 ozt (142.0 grams) Measuring 2 x 1 ½ x 1in
A very three-dimensional nugget with deep ridges, a rich reddish patina and tiny traces of quartz in a couple of crevices. Purchased from prospector Bill Nordeen who found the nugget in Emma Creek.
Weighing 4.71 ozt. (146.4 grams) Measuring 1 ½ x 1 ¼ x 1in
A large, very three-dimensional nugget intergrown with quartz. Purchased from prospector John Pettyjohn in the 1950s.
Gross weight 6.57 ozt (204.3 grams). Measuring 2 ½ x 2 x 1 ½ in
An arrowhead-shaped nugget with deep ridges. Found in the Goodpasture River area. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 3.03 ozt. (94.2 grams). Measuring 1 ½ x 1 x ½ in
Having slightly flat dimensions with tiny traces of quartz in the crevices. Purchased from prospector John Pettyjohn in the 1960s who found it in Long Creek near Ruby, Alaska.
Weighing 1.95 ozt. (60.4 grams). Measuring 2 x 1 x ¼ in
A visually interesting nugget with bright patina having both crisp and rounded edges and some traces of quartz intergrown. Found in Goodpasture River area.
Gross weight 1.31 ozt. (40.8 grams). Measuring 1 ¼ x 1 x ½ in
Crystallized gold within a matrix of pure white quartz. Purchased from Mrs. Miscovich in Flat, Alaska. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Gross weight 1.385 ozt (43.1 grams). Measuring 2 x 1 ¼ x ½ in
Nugget 14: The Worry Stone
Smooth to the touch and a pleasure to hold it is understandable why this nugget was a prized possession of popular Fairbanks restaurateur Jimmy Lee. He carried this worry stone in his change pocket for over 20 years. Originally a 8.27 ozt. nuggetLee wore off nearly two ouncesas well as several pants pockets! Known to everyone in town, Lees Restaurant was first located on 2nd Street in Fairbanks in basement of the Mecca Bar before moving to the basement behind First National Bank and finally to 7th and Lacy Streets. A heavy drinker and superb chef, Lee was a beloved Alaskan character and friend. As he lay dying of throat cancer in Port Angeles, Washington, Lee kept a 15-year promise to sell Sexauer the nugget, which he successfully purchased in September of 1974.
Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 6.43 ozt (199.9 grams). Measuring 2 ¼ x 1 ¼ x ½ in
A fantastic, complex nugget of highly sculptural form, with water-worn edges and a single natural pierced hole to the center. Purchased from propector Bill Nordeen in 1968. Found in Emma Creek, near Bettles, approximately 180 air miles and 250 road miles northwest of Fairbanks. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 8.11 ozt (252.2 grams). Measuring 2 ¾ x 2 ½ x ½ in
Capable of standing on its own this small but pretty nugget has both smooth river-tumbled areas as well as rough surfaces. The patina is bright yellow. Purchased from prospector John Pettyjohn in 1960s.
Weighing 1.30 ozt (40.5 grams) Measuring 1 x 1 x ½ in
Of triangular outline with some quartz visible on both sides. Purchased from prospector Al Linter on June 23, 1972 who found it in the American Creek. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 3.48 ozt (108.3 grams). Measuring 2 x 1 ½ x ½ in
A remarkable nugget due to its distinct bullet shape, but with a flare. Brighter patina on one side and more dull on the reverse. Very heavy for size-weight ratio due to its purity. Purchased in 1971-72. Found in Jack Wade Creek. Previous owner Lonnie Hall was Noble Street in Fairbanks automobile dealer who was a heavy gambler and drinker.
Weighing 7.74 ozt (240.6 grams) Measuring 2 ¼ x 1 ½ x ¾ in
Very smooth and water-worn on one side, while the reverse is very textured. Bright shiny patina. Purchased from Fairbanks bar owner Deke Brown on March 16, 1972. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 4.16 ozt (129.4 grams. Measuring 2 ¼ x 1 ¼ x ½ in
Of squarish outline having two distinct thicknesses. Having bright color and some quartz intergrown at the top. Found in American Creek. Purchased on June 23, 1972. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Gross weight 10.73 ozt (333.7 grams) Measuring 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ x 1in
Sweet potato shaped and very three-dimensional, this robust looking nugget of large mass has deep angular crevices. The patina is rich and bright with river-tumbled rounded edges. Found in American Creek located in the Katmai National Park Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 16.96 ozt. (527.6 grams). Measuring 3 x 2 x 1in
Nugget 22: The Parrothead
The largest nugget in the collection and another memorable one. The patina is a rich deep golden color with some limonite seen in the crevices and with water-worn edges. The central large deep crevice has a roughly hexagonal shape and is evidence of a former quartz crystal once intergrown with the gold, but now dissolved. Found in American Creek. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 21.59 ozt (671.4 grams) Measuring 4 x 2 x 1 ¼ in
An interesting nugget with a complex outline and somewhat anthropomorphic form. Water-worn and smoothed at the high spots, with bright patina and reddish-brown in the crevices. Purchased from The Nugget Shop in Fairbanks, Alaska on May 21, 1973. The nugget was found in the Goodpasture River area. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 1.47 ozt. (45.5 grams). Measuring 1 ¾ x ¾ x ½ in
An unusual shaped nugget having extensive gold veining in milky quartz. Purchased from The Nugget Shop in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Gross weight 1.55 ozt. (48.1 grams). Measuring 1 ½ x 1 ¼ x ¾ in
Nugget 25: The Eagles Head
A remarkable nugget weighing over a troy poundand probably the most recognizable nugget in the collection. Its shape is reminiscent of an eagles head with its open beak. Zoomorphic nuggets are always popular with collectors. The beak probably housed a crystal of quartz at one point, the hexagonal outline of a crystal is still apparent although it has long dissolved. Purchased from Lon Kinda, owner of the Cottage Bar in Fairbanks. Kinda was a heavy drinker and a Fairbanks character. Sexauer waited 10 to 15 years before Kinda agreed to sell. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum. The nugget is featured on the cover of Lesson 37 Booklet of the GIAs Gem Identification Course (1993) and also on page 7 of the same booklet.
Weighing 12.06 ozt. (375.1 grams). Measuring 2 ¼ x 2 x 1in
Nugget 26 :
A palm-sized flat nugget. Water-smoothed but with rugged crevices. Purchased from prospector Bill Nordeen. The nugget was found in Emma Creek. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 4.42 ozt (137.4 grams). Measuring 2 ½ x 2 x ¼ in
A delicate nugget with some rough edges and slight evidence of quartz. Purchased from The Nugget Shop.
Gross weight 0.62 ozt (19.4 grams) Measuring 1 x 1 x ½ in
Nugget 28 :
Of crescent-shaped outline, with water-worn edges and a bright patina. The gold nugget was purchased on February 28, 1973 from prospector William H. Nordeen who found it in Emma Creek near Wiseman, Alaska. Bill Nordeen is officially listed in the directory of Alaskan Companies and Prospectors, 1983 as an active prospector in Alaska possessing a mining license, according to the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys published by the Alaska Dept of Natural Resources. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 2.58 ozt. (80.2 grams). Measuring 2 x 1 x ¼ in
Of roughly triangular outline with a slightly flattened form; the patina is rich and there is a granular surface texture. Purchased from prospector Al Linter on August 13, 1972. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 6.56 ozt. (204.3 grams). Measuring 2 x 2 x ¾ in
Rough surface texture and a rugged character define this small, three-dimensional nugget. There is some quartz and a hint of limonite intergrown. Purchased from Bill Hoytts jewelry store in Fairbanks in 1973.
Weighing 2.24 ozt (69.5 grams). Measuring 1 ½ x 1 ¼ x ¾ in
Rich gold veining intergrown with quartz. Purchased from Warbutons Jewelry in Anchorage, Alaska, in October 1972.
Gross weight 3.31 ozt (103.0 grams) Measuring 1 ½ x 1 x ¾ in
Item 32: Fifteen-Nugget Watch Chain and a Gentlemans Open-faced Pocket Watch
Believed to be the largest watch chain in existence, it includes a rare railroad switch key with applied gold nugget decoration. Prospector Oscar Enstrom reportedly found the nuggets at American Creek near Manley Hot Springs, Alaska. The chain was hand-fabricated for Colonel Johnson, manager of federally owned Alaska railroad in 1900s. Barrel-chested, Johnson wore the chain enough to put a shine on the reverse sides of several nuggets. He hurriedly left for South America after rumors of embezzlement surfaced. The chain later recovered from a Vancouver, B.C. vault after his death in South America. Exhibited at the C. J. Berry Gold Room, University of Alaska Museum.
Weighing 13.81 ozt. (429.5 grams). Length 18in; together with an open-faced pocket watch, by Elgin, with white enamel dial and black Roman numerals in a circular gold-plated case. Purchased from a jeweler in Fairbanks. (2)
Note: Prior to their display at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, about twenty-five of the specimens were displayed in the C. J. Berry Gold Room at the University of Alaska Museum from 1973 to 1977. Included in this lot are copies of letters from the Director of the University of Alaska Museum, Mr. L.J. Rowinski, dated June 1974, stating This is a request to renew our loan of your gold collection for another year. It continues to be a major drawing card in the Museum and we are grateful for the opportunity to have it on exhibit. The C.J. Berry Gold Room is a favorite with visitors and the gold is an important part of it.
The lot is also accompanied by a copy of a letter of agreement from Steve A. Wynn, President, dated October 1979, regarding the collection, as well as the Golden Nuggets legal counsel regarding the insurance arrangements.
Also included is a copy of the page from the Gemological Institute of Americas home study course, Assignment 37, page 7, featuring a photograph of Nugget Thirteen (the Eagles Head Nugget) and stating Gold nuggets are hot collectors itemsespecially if they have an interesting form like the eagles head shown here. Nugget Thirteen had been on display at the Gemological Institute for a period of time.
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