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New Gold Rush: Party Like It's 1849
Robert Roy Britt – Thu Mar 26, 10:47 am ET

New Gold RushWith gold prices topping $900 an ounce and jobs still disappearing, a new gold rush is on.

It's taking place in California again, where unemployed people are heading for the hills to prospect for gold. It's also happening on TV and online, where sometimes dubious ads promise rich rewards if you'll just hock your jewelry. And it's even creeping into a new kind of cocktail party that could only start in the Golden State.

And just like last time, the new gold rush can come with a mix of disappointment and, well, rush. The adrenaline kind, as one miner says.

"Some days you sit here and make two cents. Some days you make a couple of hundred dollars," said John Gurney, who like his crusty predecessors came from the East to find gold by digging around in California river beds.

"I had one good day and made about $10,000," Gurney told the KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.

What they're after

The mineral gold is dense but highly flexible. It is virtually indestructible and extremely rare. All of the gold ever mined can fit into a cube with 72-foot sides, says Stuart Simmons, a researcher from University of Auckland, New Zealand who has studied how gold forms.

Today, Fort Knox holds 8-foot-tall stacks of gold bars worth some $130 billion, enough to bail out at least one large American corporation.

The original 49ers came California starting in 1848 when James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, now a ghost town. Soon 300,000 people flocked to the state. San Francisco became a boomtown and California gained statehood in 1850. Some early prospectors hit the mother lode, but most - especially those who came in the dwindling days of the phenomenon through about 1855 - spent as much or more on equipment as they ever extracted in precious metal.

Gold mining today, for the most part, is a big-business affair as the pickings are no longer easy. To extract enough gold flecks from a typical mine to make a single wedding band requires digging up at least 20 tons of rock.

Meanwhile, geologists figure 80 percent of California's gold remains to be found, KNBC-TV reported.

Dig Deep

The trick today is to dig deep. Where nuggets were once found in river beds, panners today report having to dig as much as 30 feet lower than the old timers did to strike it rich.

The real winner, as in the old days: A company that makes the equipment you'd need. Keene Engineering of Chatsworth, Calif., makes everything from plastic pans for riverbed sifting to large commercial gold mining rigs. Business has doubled, the owners report.

Others are simply digging into the jewelry drawer. Online pawnbroker Cash For Gold USA (you've seen the TV ads) says the company has grown "1,000 percent" in the past year, helped in part by the recession and plummeting TV ad prices, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor. Who is selling their stash? "In the last two months we've seen an extraordinary amount of jewelry that typically is owned by the upper middle class," said Michael Gusky, CEO of GoldFellow, which also buys gold over the Internet.

Pawning jewelry is no longer necessarily a low-class affair conducted in a dusty shop in the bad part of town. GoldFellow's Web ad reads: "Want a new plasma HDTV? Sell us your gold today."

And the price of gold has inspired another phenomenon you might expect in California: gold parties. According to a report on the "CBS Evening News" this week, some Long Beach party-goers come not to get snockered but to get cash for their gold. Rings, necklaces and other jewelry is bought up by party organizers who recycle it so others can pay their bills.

What is Fool's Gold?
Pyrite may be shiny and brass-colored, but any miner will tell you, it is not as good as gold.

The inferior mineral nicknamed fool’s gold only mimics gold in looks. Pyrite is more common, harder, and more brittle than gold. When crushed into powder, it looks greenish-black, whereas real gold powder is yellow.

Pyrite contains sulfur and iron. During World War II it was mined to produce sulfuric acid, an industrial chemical. Today, it is used in car batteries, appliances, jewelry, and machinery.

Although fool’s gold can be a disappointing find, it is often discovered near sources of copper and gold. A miner who stops digging once they have a piece of pyrite in hand is the real fool.

What's Behind the Record Price of Gold?
The price of gold continues to hit record highs, with futures trading at $1,000 an ounce this morning. Gold crossed the $900 level in January.

The recent rise comes against a backdrop of widespread concern over the U.S. economy, which according to the Associated Press pushed the euro to a new record and the yen to 12-year highs against the U.S. dollar today, while gold and oil prices also surged.

But the precious metal has been highly valued for thousands of years.

The latest high prices for gold are part of an upward trend that began in April 2001. Analysts explain the bull market in gold by pointing to a slowing economy and the metal's increasing scarcity in the ground.

“Gold is inversely correlated to the dollar,” said George Milling-Stanley, an analyst for the World Gold Council, an organization funded by gold mining companies. “Gold is a safe haven in times of political as well as economic turmoil.”

Trouble is, this extremely rare commodity is getting harder to find.

Miners don’t happen upon rich veins of gold today like they used to. Big mining companies nowadays hope to find mere flecks. Although gold is mined in more than 60 countries, it is estimated only 167,600 tons of gold have ever been mined. In comparison, 999 million tons of iron are extracted annually.

Hard-to-reach pots of gold have become harder and harder to find, and not many new gold mines have come into production in recent years. With the absence of big new discoveries, demand for gold continues to grow, as does its price.

Still, with inflation taken into account, the price is nowhere near as high as it seems.

Golden elements

Most of the gold collected today becomes jewelry. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 84 percent of the gold produced in 2006 was used for jewelry and the arts.

Gold’s chemical symbol Au comes from the Latin word aurum, which means shining dawn. Combining gold with an alloy element such as nickel or palladium turns gold white.

Beyond its charm, gold’s unusual properties have put it to good use.

Pure gold is relatively soft, with the same hardness of a copper penny (try finding a penny made of real copper, however). It is the most malleable and ductile of metals. Only copper and silver are better at transferring heat and electricity than gold. In addition, gold is extremely resistant to corrosion. Only a solution of cyanide can dissolve the hearty metal.

Gold’s properties have made it an essential industrial metal in technologies such as computers, communications equipment, spacecraft, and jet aircraft engines.

The visors of astronauts’ helmets are coated in a thin layer of gold that reduces glare and keeps them cool.

Gold Standard

Artisans of ancient civilizations used the precious metal to decorate tombs, jewelry, figurines, and beads.

The oldest known objects worked from gold were discovered at a burial site in Bulgaria and were made by members of the ancient Thracian civilization in 4400 B.C.

Since then many societies worldwide have used gold for jewelry and as money. Its monetary value shone so brightly that it was a factor in driving Europeans to explore the New World.

During the 1800s, the United States and many other countries relied on a system of money, called the gold standard, which fixed U.S. currency to the price of gold and silver.

The system was rocked when the SS Central America and its three tons of treasure sunk off the coast of South Carolina in 1857. The loss led to the economic depression that lasted until the Civil War.

In 1900 the Gold Standard Act officially set a golden value for the dollar, but the act did not live long. In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlawed private ownership of gold, except for jewelry.

The Bretton Woods system of 1946 (which established rules for financial relations among the world's major industrial states) allowed foreign governments to sell gold to the United States treasury for $35 an ounce. But in 1971, President Richard Nixon ended the system, and officially ended the gold standard. Since then world currencies have not been formally linked to gold.

In the money

The latest price surge is not the first driven by economics and politics.

During World War I, a shortage of manpower closed many gold mines. Mines were brought back into production during the Depression. In 1934, the price of gold was raised from $20.67 to $35 an ounce, and production increased to more than 4 million ounces annually.

Although the $1,000-an-ounce mark does have an unfamiliar and ominous ring to it, the World Gold Council’s analyst Milling-Stanley points out that the benchmark is deceiving.

The previous all-time high of $850 in 1980 was the result of “a slew of special circumstances,” Milling-Stanley told LiveScience, such as inflation, 40 years of pent up investing and the perception that Jimmy Carter was a weak president.

After 28 years of inflation and a weak dollar, it will take a big push in the markets to surpass the 80s high in real terms. Gold would have to hit $2,200 an ounce in today’s dollars to match

What is a Gold Karat?
Most gold jewelry isn’t made of pure gold. The amount of gold in a necklace or ring is measured on the karat scale. Pure gold is 24 karats. Bars of gold kept in Fort Knox and elsewhere around the world are considered to be 99.95 percent pure, 24-karat gold. As metals are added to gold during jewelry making, the gold becomes less fine and the number of karats drops. For example, 12 karat gold contains 50 percent gold and 50 percent alloys by weight. The word karat comes from the carob seed. In ancient Asian bazaars, the seeds were used to balance scales that measured the weight of gold.

Yahoo News

New Gold Rush: Party Like It's 1849

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