Museum-quality 20-pound gold nugget, the largest ever discovered in Alaska, heads to auction

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Museum-quality 20-pound gold nugget, the largest ever discovered in Alaska, heads to auction
Alaska Centennial Nugget.

DALLAS, TX.- The unprecedented and singular Alaska Centennial Gold Nugget, the largest gold nugget ever discovered in The Last Frontier, is the centerpiece of the sale that also features rare crystallized gold, gold nuggets and gold crystals. Live in Dallas and online, Heritage Auctions’ Dec. 8 Nature & Science Signature® Auction will feature more than 300 lots of one-of-a-kind objet d’art pieces, including two single crystals of gold that were of such a significant find, astonished mineralogists studied them for years.

“A rare group of gold specimens such as this has never been featured at auction,” says Craig Kissick, Director of Nature and Science at Heritage Auctions. “A grouping of this breadth and caliber is not likely to be seen again.”

The Centennial Nugget, (estimate: $700,000-1,000,000) made headlines upon its discovery in 1998 on Swift Creek near Ruby, Alaska, a town established 110 years ago as the result of the Klondike Gold Rush in central Alaska. Its size was astonishing: The nugget, larger than a softball, weighs 294.10 troy ounces – or more than 20 pounds. It made a celebrity of the man who found it: gold miner Barry Clay, who, so the story goes, discovered the giant nugget while pushing dirt with his bulldozer along the shores of the Swift Creek Mine. Clay is said to have buried the nugget near a tree, buying time until he decided what to do with his remarkable find.

As the website Geology Page noted in 2020, Clay “finally took it to town for further study, [where] it was determined he had discovered the largest nugget ever found in Alaska, and the second-largest nugget ever found in the western hemisphere behind the Cortez nugget found in Mexico.”

The website reported it was later named the Centennial Nugget because it was discovered on the 100th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush. In the summer of 1896, more than 100,000 prospectors descended upon northwestern Canada after prospector Skookum Jim Mason and his family found gold near the Klondike River.

The consignor of the Alaska Centennial Nugget purchased the rock directly from gold miner Clay, and it has been in the same family for more than two decades. This auction marks the first public offering of the heralded, museum-quality piece.
The fact that it exists at all makes it all the more exceptional. Kissick says fewer than 50 gold nuggets weighing more than 250 ounces exist, as gold in nugget form is inherently rare; gold nuggets of massive size, even more so.

“The majority of gold mined is refined,” Kissick says. “A one-ounce gold nugget is even more rare than a five-carat diamond.”

Joining the Centennial Nugget is the largest known single crystal of gold in the world, weighing in at seven troy ounces, as well as a three-troy ounce large single crystal of gold that is extremely complex and arguably the most beautiful of the specimens in the sale.

The two Native Gold Crystals (estimates: $300,000+ and $600,000+) that will be sold individually were discovered in the 1980s in the jungles of the Roraima Shield District and the Gran Sabana, Venezuela, where gold can be found in the sediments of river bottoms between the mesas. As Miami University in Ohio noted in 2014 when writing about these specimens, “The gold is weathered from its original host rock, transported by streams or rivers and deposited with sediment.”

A rather prosaic way of explaining how something so exquisite and scarce emerges from nature.

The crystals of gold are of such significant find that they spent several years under the watchful eyes of Miami University mineralogist John Rakovan and colleagues Heinz Nakotte and Sven Vogel of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Neutron Science Center The scientists set out, in part, to prove the crystals’ authenticity, which had been a subject of some debate because of their “spectacular size and perfection,” Rakovan said in 2014.

“The structure or atomic arrangement of gold crystals of this size has never been studied before,” the mineralogist said, “and we have a unique opportunity to do so.”

Eventually, according to the university, Rakovan and his colleagues used neutron diffractometry to determine that the large crystals were, in fact, the real thing.

Also featured in the auction is crystallized gold from the famed Eagle’s Nest Mine in California, renowned for producing high-grade crystalized gold. This offering – a gorgeous, leafy example (estimate: $200,000+) that resembles a frozen geyser of gold – was once owned by legendary collector Steve Smale, the mathematician awarded the 1966 Fields Medal who spent more than 30 years on the mathematics faculty at the University of California-Berkeley.

Here, too, is another crystallized gold “leaf” (estimate: $150,000+) featuring what Kissick calls “a delicate form of visually striking crystals.” It likewise has impeccable provenance, having once belonged to legendary Mexican mineral collector Dr. Miguel Romero.

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