Gold nuggets are pieces of native gold which occur naturally. Water and erosion concentrate the accumulation of nuggets which are collected by the methods of placer or lode mining. Nuggets are also frequently found in leftover layers where veins or lodes that contain gold have decayed. Nuggets can also be found today in the tailing piles of former mining operations, in particular the tailings of old dredging operations.
Nuggets of composition are never totally pure, or 24K. The bulk of nuggets are pure around 20-22 K or 83-92 per cent. The “fineness” of nuggets is noted for their pureness. As an example “865 perfect” means the nugget will be 865 gold parts per thousand. The common impurities present in gold nuggets include copper and silver.
Can you imagine a 2,332 ounce nugget of solid gold? Considered the largest gold nugget ever found, the Welcome Stranger Nugget was discovered buried just inches below the surface in Moliagul, Victoria, Australia on February 5th, 1869. Unbelievable!
The Holtermann Nugget found at Hill End, New South Wales, Australia in 1872, at 290 kg. was huge, and indeed remains the largest single mass of gold ever discovered, but it can’t really be called a “nugget” in my book. We could go into hard rock vs placer, but the essence is that a gold nugget has left the lode at some point and is no longer in the host rock. The Holtermann was what the Aussies call “reef gold” after the quartz reefs sought after by the hard rock miners.
Found near Wedderburn, Australia in October 1980, the magnificent Hand of Faith gold nugget was found using a metal detector. This incredible treasure was discovered in a vertical position, laying just six inches below the surface. The Hand of Faith nugget weighs a massive 875 troy ounces (61 pounds, 11 ounces). Kevin Hiller and his family were prospecting behind their modest trailer home when they made this incredible discovery. It is impossible to imagine their excitement and joy; what an amazing find! The Hand of Faith is presently on display at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
Nuggets are generally considered parts that broke off from the original gold mine and were taken to a new location through water or erosion. The Holtermann Nugget, by applying this description, the greatest mass of gold ever discovered, is not really a nugget. The Holtermann Nugget, discovered in October 1872, is “reef gold,” rather than a diamond nugget. Nonetheless, an amazing find was the Holtermann Nugget, discovered at Hill End, New South Wales, Australia. Reef gold, usually quartz, occurs as a “vein” included in rock. This nugget was a quartz reef. The gold was retrieved by scraping the rock around the vein in one giant piece which weighed 286 kilograms (about 630 pounds). The true weight of this gold mass is unknown as several pieces are believed to have been broken away in the excavation and mining process.
Throughout history several magnificent nuggets have been discovered:
Three large nuggets were found in Montana near the famed Alder Gulch, the most substantial weighing in at 42 pounds. Discovered by Thomas Ramon and Joseph Lefebre in January 1902, the nugget was the size of a man’s fist and very small, with impurities of only 5 per cent.
Early prospectors didn’t find all the gold in Montana. A gold nugget weighing about 2 pounds (27.5 ounces) is the largest gold nugget found in Montana during the last 80 years. The Highland Centennial Gold Nugget was recovered in September 1989 by the Stratton family while working a placer claim in the Highland Mountains south of Butte. The nugget is currently on display at the Mineral Museum at the University of Montana in Butte, Montana.
Alaska is famous for the gold discovered there including the Centennial Nugget found near Ruby, Alaska, on Swift Creek. This treasure discovery is reportedly the largest nugget ever discovered in Alaska and weights 294.1 troy ounces. About the height of a softball, Barry Clay found this formidable nugget in 1998. It has been donated, and is now in a private collection.
Another Alaskan nugget of note was found on Anvil Creek near Nome, Alaska on September 29th, 1901, the Anvil Nugget weighed 108 troy ounces.
California and gold go hand-in-hand. The largest nugget ever discovered in California was located in 1854 at Carson Hill above the Stanislaus River. The nugget weighed 195 pounds.