A nearly 100-ounce gold nugget, claimed to have been found in the
area of a former California Gold Rush mining camp, may actually have
been found in Australia.
The nugget was sold for $460,000 in Sacramento, Calif., at a March
15 auction by Fred Holabird of Holabird-Kagin Americana. The nugget
was purchased for a client by Spectrum Group International in Irvine, Calif.
On June 4, Australian prospector Murray Cox of Geelong, Victoria,
Australia, claimed in an interview broadcast on the Sacramento ABC
television affiliate News10, that he and a friend, Reg Wilson,
unearthed the nugget in 1987 in a farm field near Ballarat, north of Melbourne.
Cox said Wilson sold the nugget in 1989 to an Arizona gold dealer
by the name of “Rattlesnake” John for $50,000 Australian. Cox
contacted the television station after seeing a story about the nugget
in an Australian mining magazine.
Cox provided the television station with a clipping from a 1987
article featuring a photograph of Cox and Wilson holding the nugget
after unearthing it.
In the article, which was published in the Melbourne Sun
newspaper, Cox and Wilson said they named the nugget the “Orange
Roughie” because of its fish-like shape.
Holabird, a gold mining geologist in Reno, Nev., authenticated the
nugget that weighs 98-troy-ounces.
Holabird said the California property owner, whom he did not
identify but who was identified in the News10 broadcast as James S.
Grill, consigned the nugget to the auction.
The property owner claimed he found the nugget in 2010 while metal
detecting on his property in Nevada County near Washington, Calif.,
thus its nickname the “Washington nugget.”
Holabird said the claim the nugget was found in California was
“very credible based on geology and historical record.”
“For 150 years Mother Nature has told us these nuggets are from
California. But sometimes Mother Nature does funny things. [It seems]
she decided ‘I can do it [place nuggets with similar characteristics]
in two places’,” Holabird said. “For years we thought California
redwoods were unique to the west, but they’ve found redwoods in China.
Natural science is not an exact science. We will continue to learn.”
To clear up the dispute, Holabird has proposed scientific testing
of the nugget to “separate the innuendos, egos, and rumors from the
piece and let science do the talking.”
To that end Holabird has proposed to the current owner of the
nugget that gold experts Dr. Robert Cook, retired head of the geology
department of Auburn University in Alabama, and Dr. John Watling, a
forensic and chemical analyst at the University of Western Australia
in Perth, do the scientific testing needed to determine the true
origin of the nugget.
“A true, independent test would involve the best scientists in
gold fingerprinting/authentication,” Holabird said. “Further, as part
of a true, independent testing program, it would be best if we found
an independent person or organization to step forward to fund this
small project in the name of science.”
Holabird estimated the cost of the testing at $15,000. As for as
when or if the testing will begin, he said “all parties have been
contacted and the resolution is in the hands of others.”
Holabird said the gold fingerprinting technology is part of the
“evolving science that we have all been doing over the years. This is
what the tests would contribute to answering.”
Gregg Millar, owner of Mineral Enterprises in Nevada City, Calif.,
said studying the gold from the nugget and the rocks from the areas of
the claimed discovery would identify the origin of the nugget because
the rocks from the correct area would have the same chemistry as the gold.
The nugget was on display at the February 2011 Long Beach Coin,
Stamp & Collectibles Expo and the American Numismatic Association
National Money Show in Sacramento, Calif., in March.
The sale of the nugget attracted the attention of local and
national radio, television and print media.
The giant nugget was one of three nuggets found in the same area
“within just a small space,” Holabird wrote in the Holabird-Kagin
Americana lot listing.
According to the auction lot description, the nugget was
considered to be possibly “the sole remaining authenticated large gold
nugget of 100 troy ounce caliber” from the original California Gold
The nugget was said to be found using a metal detector and came
from an unmined area known as the “blue lead” or bottommost layer of
the Tertiary gold channels in California, according to the auction lot description.
“While 100 [ounce] nuggets are known from Australia and Mexico, I
couldn’t think of a single specimen still in existence from
California,” Holabird said in the lot listing. “Or at least any that I
had seen or known of in museums, including the Smithsonian and the
Mariposa Gold Museum.” ■