Flash in the Pan: 8 Shiny Moments in the History of Gold

fine gold ingots and nuggets on a wet golden background

Gold’s historic timeline reads like a soap opera – Discovery! Theft! Murder! Hidden treasure! It’s a long story, with many a hero and villain, but we’ve extracted eight short but shiny moments to peak your curiosity.


1500 B.C. – Walk Like An Egyptian

AEP79 Image: Source: University of Chicago


After cultivating an incredible stock of gold in the region of Nubia in 1500 B.C., Egypt became a very wealthy nation. From then on, gold became the recognized form of payment for goods in the national trade. The precious metal would later develop into squares, then coins, to symbolize currency for various nations.


1511 A.D. – “Get gold, humanely if you can, but all hazards, get gold.”

ferdinand Image: Ferdinand & Isabella, Gold 20 excelentes, 1469-1504, Source: National Museum of American History


This legendary statement of purpose, written by King Ferdinand of Spain in 1511 and addressed to explorers of the New World, would become the Spanish monarchy’s motto in the following centuries. Launching a fevered search for gold, the King’s powerful words systematically changed trade and commerce in Spain, propelling it as a leading power in Europe. Sadly, such pursuits for gold had tragic consequences for South American cultures, such as the Incan and Aztec items. Their temples were looted, their civilizations were destroyed, and much of the gold that bore their unique art and designs was melted into Spanish coins.


1848-1850 A.D. – California, Here We Come!

California_Clipper_500 Source:Wikipedia


The discovery of golden nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in 1848 spurred the Gold Rush, arguably one of the most significant events in American history. This particular gold rush brought scores of settlers to western wilderness, including thousands of hopeful, prospective gold miners, whose large population earned them the name “the 49ers”. By the end of 1849, the non-native population of California was estimated at 100,000(as compared with 20,000 at the end of 1848 and around 800 in March of 1848). San Francisco became an epicenter of business and commerce and in 1850, California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state, largely due to this surge of population and economy. Fun fact: The San Francisco 49ers NFL team is named after the term coined for the gold miners.


1869 A.D. – A “Welcome” Sight

William_Parker,_Unearthing_the_Welcome_Stranger_Nugget,_H13298_original Image: Unearthing the Welcome Stranger Nugget, Source: State Library of Victoria


In 1869, Cornish prospectors John Deason and Richard Oates discovered one of the largest gold nuggets to date in Australia. Called “The Welcome Stranger” (because… well, what a welcoming sight it must have been!), the nugget measures 12″ x 24″ of over 2,300 ounces of pure gold. Deason and Oates found the golden treasure just two inches below ground surface!


1896 A.D. – Quite the Catch

Chilkoot-Trail3-candy-waugaman-688 Image: Stampeders, loaded with gear, wait in line starting up Chilkoot Pass. Source: KLGO Collections, Candy Waugaman Collection


While fishing in Klondike, Alaska in 1896, two gold prospectors discovered the precious metal and sparked the last great gold rush of the nineteenth century. The rush lasted for three years, inspiring films such as The Gold Rush by Charlie Chaplin and arguably Jack London’s most famous novels: White Fang and Call of the Wild.


1904-1912 A.D. – Go for the Gold

olympic_medals_summer_442 Image: Olympic Gold Medal, Saint Louis, 1904, Source: BBC


The Olympic gold medal is said to symbolize the golden age of mythology when humans living in peace with the gods. From 1904 to 1912, the Olympic Games awarded its first gold medals comprised of 100% pure gold (additional gold medals were retroactively given the the champions of the 1896 games). But, as one can only imagine, this got pretty pricey. Gold is also one of the softest metals – you can actually bite pure gold and leave teeth marks – so, more and more silver was added to the composition. Today’s Olympic “gold” medals are mostly comprised of silver (525 grams) with only 6 grams of gold.


1965 A.D. – Out of This World

235794main_GPN-2006-000025_full Image: First American spacewalk during the Gemini 4 mission on June 3, 1965. Source: NASA


Did you know that when Col. Edward White made his first spacewalk in 1965, he wore a gold-coated visor? The metal’s properties helped protect his eyes from the intense sunlight and such visors are still standard safety gear for astronauts.


2002 A.D. – The Double Eagle

N07817_Aucionlist Image: Detail of 1933 Double Eagle, Source: Sotheby’s


In 2002, Sotheby’s New York sold the world’s most expensive gold coin for $7.59 millon. Called the “Double Eagle”, this coin was produced in 1933 as a $20 gold coin. The gold coin never circulated, but rumor has it that approximately 10 are in the hands of some very lucky collectors. An additional 10 coins are stored at Fort Knox.