Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • 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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