Large Alaskan Gold Nugget
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 Canada's 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 frenzy-"gold 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 trip-many 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 Alaska-a 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.
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 motherlode-or 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 frontier-far 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 rare-less 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 ounces-so 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 nugget-for instance-a one ounce gold nugget is rarer than a 5 carats diamond.
One can only imagine the delight of the prospector who might have found this rugged and exceptionally striking nugget-which has the added feature of resembling the outline of the state of California. Considered immense by Alaskan standards, this nugget figures into the top specimens found in that state. Although the largest nugget ever found in Alaska was 294.10 ozt, the vast majority of Alaskan specimens are in the range of 1 ozt. The traces of brown limonite in the crevices serve to make the appearance of this aesthetic alluvial nugget all the more memorable.
Weighing 20.6 ozt (640.9 grams) and measuring 5 x 2 ½ x ¾ in