Contemporary U.S. Specimen Gold

Webmaster’s note: some of the historic mines presented on this site are still active today and are producing stunning gold specimens that fetch thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars each. This article highlights some of the recent samples and locations from recent decades.

Article By Gary Carter

Photos courtesy of Gold Room – The Mineral Gallery and The Miner’s Lunchbox.

Author’s Note

Writing an article on gold specimens is analogous to writing about stars in the sky! Where does one begin and end? There is no way to do justice to the subject. Does size matter, does uniqueness, matrix, color, aesthetics? Do you just discuss nuggets or matrix gold specimens? Many articles and books have been written about gold.

The emphasis in this article will be on quality gold specimens found in the last 20-30 years in the western United States. I have endeavored to let those with more experience and knowledge guide me and am indebted to them for suggesting specimens they feel standout, are unusual, colorful, or particularly aesthetic.

Crystalline native leaf gold on white quartz matrix
Crystalline native leaf gold on white quartz matrix, from the Oriental mine, Alleghany Mining District, Sierra County, California. Measures 8.2 cm by 4.2 cm by 1.4 cm. Photo courtesy of Gold Room – The Mineral Gallery

Most known gold localities are no longer actively producing on a large scale or are actively mined as open pits, and the prospect of a nice nugget or matrix specimen is low. That is not to say that good size and quality nuggets are not being found, and good matrix specimens are still uncovered in old mines, now worked in the hopes of finding “pocket gold” specimens.

Gold Specimen
Gold Specimen (polyhedral casts after quartz) from the GG Prospect, Tuolumne County, California. Measures 3.7 x 2.6 x 1.2 cm. Photo courtesy of Miner’s Lunchbox.

Specimen Gold From Western States

The majority of modern producing gold fields are open pit mines where gold values as low as .005 ounces per ton can be profitable (especially at $1700 + an ounce). The big deposits at Cripple Creek-Victor, Colorado and the Carlin Trend in Nevada are perfect examples, yet they seldom produce spectacular specimens.

Native Gold perched on Quartz matrix
Native Gold perched on Quartz matrix from the Eagle’s Nest mine, Placer County, California. Measures 7 cm by 4.2 cm by 2.5 cm. Photo courtesy of Gold Room – The Mineral Gallery

The most prolific gold producer in Nevada, with 26 mines, mostly open pit, is the Carlin Trend-Gold Strike Mine, where low grade but large quantities of gold are disseminated in sedimentary rock extending through the town of Carlin for some 40 miles long and 5 miles wide. Virtually no nuggets or specimen gold come from this huge deposit.

Gold Specimen from the Round Mountain mine – Nye County, Nevada. Measures 3.9 x 2.9 x 0.7 cm. Photo courtesy of Miner’s Lunchbox.

There are exceptions but open pit operations generally are not the places where specimen gold is found, Virtually all of the gold from the open pit mines is crushed and processed using some form of the cyanide process. 

Nevada’s Round Mountain operation is an exception, having produced notable “specimen gold.” Metal detecting has paid off with nice finds this area.

Gold Specimen from the Round Mountain mine – Nye County, Nevada. Measures 6.0 x 1.6 x 0.4 cm. Photo courtesy of Miner’s Lunchbox.

At Olinghouse, another Nevada location, specimen gold is generally small and either crystalline or tight wires forming nest like structures.

Gold Specimen from the Olinghouse Mine – Washoe County, Nevada. “A classic example of brecciation followed by vein infilling of gold with quartz, calcite, and heulandite. The host volcanic has been propylitically altered with a greenish tint due to epidote and chlorite.” Measures 10.3 x 6.4 x 5.4 cm. Photo courtesy of Miner’s Lunchbox.

Elsewhere in the United States, owners in many of the old gold rush districts, especially California, have turned to specimen mining and have been rewarded by finding “pocket gold”. Examples would be the Oriental, 16-1, Eagles Nest, Artru, Colorado Quartz mine, Black Diamond and Red Ledge mines.

Fine crystallized specimen of Native Gold with Arsenopyrite rising atop matrix, from the Mockingbird Mine, Mariposa County, California. Measures 6.5 cm by 3.7 cm. Photo courtesy of Gold Room – The Mineral Gallery

Likewise in Idaho the Belshazzer and the Fort Knox Mine in Alaska are currently supplying some nuggets and matrix gold specimens.  Nuggets from Alaska are common but matrix specimens of any size are not.

An incredibly rich vein section from the Manhattan district of Nevada. “The specimen could easily be 50% gold by weight.” Measures 7.3 x 4.0 x 2.6 cm. Photo courtesy of Miner’s Lunchbox.

Quality gold specimens that have come from fairly recent finds (past 20-30 years) are most numerous as placer nuggets of thumbnail (3cm max.) size. Specimen gold with matrix are more uncommon and very few are above small cabinet size (7.5 cm). That probably bodes well for collectors as larger specimens of either type will demand a hefty price, generally more than the spot price of gold.

California gold specimen
Gold specimen from the 1992 Christmas Pocket, Crystalline-Alabama Claim, Jamestown mine, Tuolumne Co., California. Measures 4.5 cm by 3.4 cm by 3.3 cm. Photo courtesy of Gold Room – The Mineral Gallery

Gold collectors are often experienced and knowledgeable enough to know by appearance and structure where the specimen originated, especially with matrix specimens more so than nuggets. Public museums and universities often have gold collections, while the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show will generally feature nice specimens.

Private dealers selling mineral specimens are currently the best source to buy quality nuggets and matrix gold.

Gold specimen from the Round Mountain mine in Nevada
“This large matrix gold shows textbook epimorphic leaf growth along the previous rhombohedral calcite crystal planes. Second generation crystal growth sprouting off of the leaves adds texture and relief in the form of cube and octohedral gold faces.” From the Round Mountain Mine, Nye County, Nevada. Measures 8.0 x 5.7 x 4.5 cm. Photo courtesy of Miner’s Lunchbox.

The photographs that accompany this article represent just a small portion of the notable specimens coming from mines in the western states during the past 20-30 years.