Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • The Discovery of Gold in California

    by James Nottage, Eiteljorg chief curatorial officer | Mar 22, 2015
    My eye was caught by something shining in the bottom of the ditch. . . . I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. The piece was about half the size and shape of a pea. Then I saw another.

     —John W. Marshall on the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, January 24, 1848

    The first discovery of gold in Mexican California, which took place near Los Angeles in 1842, was a minor finding that attracted little attention. At that time the attitude of “Manifest Destiny,” which promoted the idea that the young nation must expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was embraced by many Americans. This belief became the justification for a controversial war with Mexico beginning in 1846. Texas was annexed that year, battles were waged through the fall of 1847, and on February 2, 1848, the United States took control of much of the Southwest, including California. At almost exactly the same time, gold was discovered in Northern California.

    James Marshall was building a sawmill to cut lumber for construction on John Sutter’s buildings in the Sacramento valley. Sutter had a land grant from the Mexican government, and he employed many local Natives and veterans of the Mormon Battalion as laborers on the site. About January 24, 1848, bits of gold were first found in the millrace. At first the discovery was a distraction from other work. Soon it dominated hurried conversations and reports in area newspapers. By March, the rush was on.
    John Sutter portrait
    General John A. Sutter, 1851
    Stephen William Shaw
    Oil on canvas
    Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; BANC PIC 19xx.017—FR

     Gillespie drawings

     The Discoverer of California Gold, [John Marshall] Coloma, Dec 20th 1851
    Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, Dec. 1849
    Charles Gillespie
    Pencil on paper
    Loan courtesy of Richard M. Rogers

    Gold Mining in California, 1871
    Currier & Ives
    Hand-colored lithograph
    Loan courtesy of Greg and Petra Martin

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  • Appraisal Day Next Saturday | Find out if you've got valuable heirlooms or a hunk of junk

    by Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art | Mar 16, 2015

    Wes Cowan
    Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan's Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in Historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow.

    On Saturday, Mar. 28,  from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Eiteljorg will host Appraisal Day, featuring Wes Cowan, star of the PBS television series History Detectives and featured appraiser on PBS. Cowan, aided by other experts from Cowan’s Auctions Inc., in Cincinnati, will teach museum guests how to spot treasures and will provide on-site appraisals of items, including Native American objects, Western artifacts, coins, jewelry, timepieces, paintings, photographs, documents and decorative arts.

    To register, call or email Erinn Wold at 317.275.1310 or email Erinn at to reserve your space.

    Cost: Museum Members: $15 for the first item and $10 for each additional item (up to three items total).

    General Public: $20 for the first item and $10 each additional item (up to three items total).

    Price includes one adult admission to the museum. Each additional person must pay admission to the museum.

    For anyone wondering whether the “junk” gathering dust in the attic or sitting at the neighborhood garage sale is valuable or merely a curiosity, Cowan offers the following hints:

    1. Paintings: Check authenticity - There is nothing worse than spending hard earned graydonappraisalfairmoney on a beautiful painting by a favorite artist only to find out it is a fraud. Fakes have become more prevalent in the world of antiques, duping everyone from dealers to collectors to institutions. When dealing with a major artist, it is always important to check for a comprehensive publication of the artist’s extant works.  If any useful information is revealed, make copies and keep these with the piece. They are vitally important and directly affect the value of a painting. The easiest way to determine whether a signature is authentic is by placing the painting under a black light or a powerful UV light. This process also helps to determine the amount of prior restoration to a painting. Later overpaint by a conservator or a false signature will fluoresce a dark purplish black under UV light rays.  These can be removed if a painting were cleaned, because they are sometimes applied over a varnish.

     DSC_91072. Furniture: Condition is important: Original upholstery and construction elements add value to a piece. Original finish on a piece may be a different story. In general, collectors prize early hand-made pieces that retain their original finish.  Surprising as it may seem, a piece of grungy, age-darkened and stained piece might fetch astronomically more than its clean, refinished cousin of the same age.  Why?  Because nearly every piece of furniture made before the mid 19th century has been refinished at one point in its history, making those few that haven’t exceptionally rare.  But few collectors worry about the finish on furniture made during the machine age because some many more pieces were manufactured. So, should you refinish Grandma’s oak kitchen table made in 1910?  You bet.  Stripping away that grunge and grime will expose the beautiful grain and color of the wood, and provide a fine, clean eating surface, and won’t affect its value.

    JackLewisJoeMoran 3. Know what’s hot…: Just for example, collectors, for years, have placed a premium on things associated with the country’s westward expansion. Big money is spent on the era’s books and other printed materials, photographs, firearms and other weapons and cowboy and Indian artifacts.

    4. …But learn about what you are interested in collecting: Go to the library, search the Internet, read, and visit exhibits at museums.  The educated buyer is the smartest buyer.

    Call or email Erinn Wold at 317.275.1310 or email Erinn at to reserve your space.

    Considerations when making your reservation:
    - Appraisals are focused upon Jewelry, Timepieces and Coins; American Indian art; Western and American paintings; Sculpture; Furniture and Decorative arts; and historical Americana and Western artifacts. (no pop culture items) 
    - Appraisal items and bags will not be allowed in the museum galleries. 
    - Please do not leave appraisal objects unattended. 
    - No refunds will be given for appraisals. 
    - Pre-registrants are guaranteed an appraisal time. 
    - Appraisals for walk-ins will be available on a first come, first serve basis time permitting. 
    - Observations of appraisals will be allowed in accordance with space capacity of the Clowes Ballroom. 
    - The Eiteljorg Museum and Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., are not responsible for loss or damage to items brought for appraisal. 
    - For insurance purposes, the Eiteljorg Staff cannot handle, store or be responsible for appraisal items.


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  • Where Is Gold Found?

    by James Nottage, Eiteljorg chief curatorial officer | Mar 16, 2015

    Letter sheet_image01
    Miners Weighing Their Gold,
    ca. 1855
    Image courtesy of Richard Rogers

    Gold has been found throughout the world and in nearly every state, including Indiana. In the 1960s, submicroscopic gold began to be processed from ground where it was essentially invisible. Modern technology makes it possible to extract such minute quantities. Historically, gold has been found and processed from different settings and in different forms. Gold can be in the form of timeworn nuggets, grains like sand, in crystal forms, and embedded in quartz and other minerals.

    The yellow markers on the map below indicate significant gold strikes in the United States dating back to 1828.

    Gold_ map of North America

    Map of North America, 1849
    Charles Smith
    Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division; G3300 1849 .S6 TIL

    A Few Terms 

    Alluvial deposits consist of clay, silt, sand, gravel, gold, or other mineral or unconsolidated material deposited gradually over time by flowing water. 

    A bar is a bank of sand, gravel, or other material at the mouth of a river, or similar gold-bearing material in the slack portion of a stream. Individual bars sometimes bear colorful names such as Rich Bar or Indian Bar.  

    Gold placers are areas of sand or gravel containing gold nuggets and/or coarse, medium, fine, very fine, and the almost powdery flour gold. Placer mining is done by washing dirt from the deposit to separate the heavier gold from the other materials. 

    High grade refers to especially rich ore or to selectively mining the best ore in a deposit.  

    A lode is a mineral deposit (gold) in solid rock. 

    A matrix is the rock that contains the lode (minerals or ore).

    Veins are fissures, faults, or cracks in a rock filled with minerals that have traveled upward from some deep source in the earth.




  • What Is Gold?

    by James Nottage, Eiteljorg chief curatorial officer | Mar 16, 2015


    Selling Off [Gold], 1849
    Augusto Ferran (Artist), Luis Marquier (Lithographer)
    Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; BANC PIC 1963.002:0885--B

    Gold is an element represented by the atomic symbol designation Au. This yellow-colored metal is very heavy—15 to 19.3 times heavier than an equal volume of water. Gold is malleable and can be cut with a knife. It will not dissolve in nitric, hydrochloric, or sulfuric acid.

    The beauty of gold and the ease with which it can be fashioned into jewelry and other objects helps to give it value. It is so rare and difficult to find that the demand is greater than the supply available.

    What Is the Value of Gold?

    Between the 1790s and the early 1930s, the price of gold was set at about $20 per ounce. In 1934 it was increased to $35 per ounce. Today, the price is not regulated by the government and is currently about $1,200 per ounce.

    Gold in quartz
    Loan courtesy of The Collector’s Edge Mineral

    A Few Terms

    Assay is the testing or analyzing of ore to determine the quantity of gold in it. Chemical or other methods are used to measure the amount of valuable metal contained in a specimen.

    Bullion is an unrefined gold mixture that has been melted and cast into a bar.

    Fineness is the proportion of pure gold expressed in parts per thousand. Thus, 925 fine gold indicates that 925 parts out of 1,000, or 92.5%, is pure gold.

    Karat is a unit for measuring the fineness of gold. Pure gold is 24K. A 14-karat (14K) gold designation indicates a composition that is 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals.


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  • Intern Perspective | I'm like a Gold Rush Prospector - and you are too

    by Nicole Neuman, Eiteljorg events intern | Mar 05, 2015
    Eiteljorg gold spanish flat

    Spanish Flat, ca. 1852
    Photographer: Joseph B. Starkweather
    Image courtesy of the California State Library, California History Room
    This is just one of the historical images that will be featured in our new Gold! exhibit opening Mar. 7

    What would you do to pursue a better life? What would you be willing to give up? The life of a gold prospector was one of uncertainty and sacrifice, but also of passion and determination. The newest exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum, Gold! Riches and Ruin, tells the stories of many of these fortune seekers and their search for gold during three historic gold rushes.

    The more that I have learned about gold rushes and the people that participated in Nicole Neuman - gold events internthem, the more I can relate. I haven’t panned for any gold, but I can understand the drive these adventurers had. Truly anyone who has wanted something so bad that they have given up the comfort of stability for adventure can in some way relate. As a college student, I left home to earn a degree, all so that I could have the chance to discover my passions. My journey led me from Michigan to Indiana to Germany and back again, with many more places in between. I have grown as a result of my choices, both good and bad, met some incredible people, and I am learning what the "gold" is in my life.

    Most recently I have been interning at the Eiteljorg. I am currently helping plan the opening party for the Gold! Riches and Ruin exhibit, happening on Mar. 6. The opening party will give everyone a little taste of that desire for gold without because we will be hosting a Gold Rush right here in Indy! Everyone will have the opportunity to tour the new exhibit, and try to find “gold” with the help of some of our very own ‘49ers. All attendees are eligible to win the Lika Behar 24K/Oxidized Silver Champagne Diamond at 0.27ct and Ruby at 2.14ct Drop Necklace by participating in the gold rush. An additional $20 will buy you the chance to pan for gold and possibly win a Nanis 18KY 7-8” 2 Chain Satin Bead & Satin Bead Station Bracelet. Both items were donated by G. Thrapp Jewelers and are valued over $2,000 each.      
    Nicole Neuman - gold jewelry 1Nicole Neuman - gold jewelry necklace 2 My own project is a gold panning activity that will give interested attendees the opportunity to test their skills as prospectors. We will see who will find riches, and who will find only ruin.

    In addition to these great activities, there will also be a hearty feast of chuck wagon delights and some drinks at the watering hole. And of course no party is complete without some music - everyone will be able to enjoy some bluegrass tunes. I hope to see you there!

    The Gold! Riches and Ruin Opening Party and Gold Rush is on Mar. 6 at the Eiteljorg Museum.

    To purchase tickets for the opening party, please visit:

    For more information visit:!-riches-and-ruin

     Gold sponsors

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