Monday, April 2, 2012

Gold Rush Redux

Gold, mesmerizing the world with its current antic flight, has, since its prehistoric discovery, had its ups and downs. This may be its highest and headiest high because of modern communication and because world trade has interwoven nearly  all countries into a single web.

Touch a portion of that web, and the world vibrates.

The Latin name for the element rocking the world is aurum, and it is accorded a place in the official list of earth elements by the abbreviation AU.

The dictionary ascribes to it two meanings: 1. Heavy yellow, metallic, highly malleable chemical element; 2. Money, wealth.

One of the heaviest elements, gold is given the atomic number 79 and has an atomic weight of about 197. It is measured by troy ounces...12 of which make one pound. For an approximate estimate of how much a troy ounce weighs, heft 20 pennies.

A quart of gold weighs 65 lbs.

Gold is mined and  it is collected in stream beds. It ranges in size from dust-like particles to one discovered in Australia that weighed 150 lbs. The monster was appropriately named "Welcome Stranger".

Gold is found in sea water. Its quantity is so small compared with the amount of sea water that exists that no feasible way to separate it has been discovered. However, it has been estimated that if a way were devised, it could yield 10 billion tons. Considerably more than exists today.

No one is sure how much gold has been produced by man but it is believed that since 1492 to the end of 1956 the world produced approximately 1,946,000,000 oz. If you could mass it all together it would make a cube the size of a school gymnasium.

More than half the world's gold (not counting gold used in jewelry,  industry, dentistry, objets d'art - and that consumed by those who buy liqueurs and cakes decorated with gold flakes, and the gold leaf that for years identified the occupants of countless shops and offices), is in the U.S. Treasury.

Russia, along with South Africa, Canada, Australia, Ghana and the United States, is one of the top gold producing nations. Yet she owns very little. West Germany is the second largest gold possessor, then France, Switzerland, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan and Britain.

The application of gold leaf is an art with roots in antiquity. Ancient Egyptians could hammer gold into leaves so thin that it took 367,000 to make a pile an inch high.

To flatten gold, it is placed between a goldbeater's skin - a tough membrane prepared from the  intestines of cattle. Gold used for this purpose is 23 carats fine. Up until a few years ago, it was possible to buy a sheet of gift wrapping paper covered with gold and costing about 25 cents. 

Hammered, one ounce of gold can almost cover 100 square feet.

For centuries man has been monkeying around with less glamorous elements in an attempt to turn them into gold. This kind of sorcery, called alchemy, appears to have been achieved. The New York Times reports that:

 "Lead can be turned into gold. In experimental physics, it has been possible to produce minute quantities of gold through particle bombardment in a particle accelerator, or 'atom smasher,' American experts confirm.

"Price is another thing. You're talking about a cost of anywhere between $1,000 and $1 million a gram - there are 30 grams to an ounce)."

Oh, well - give them time. Look how expensive TV sets used to be.


This piece is recycled. I wrote it 32 years ago. I was reminded of it when I read a story about the current rush to revive gold panning in view of the prediction that gold is now expected by some to reach $6,000 an oz.

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