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Making your own gold: Who needs colliding neutron stars?

So, if you wanted to, how would you make gold? Well, according to scientists, you need two neutron stars. Then, get them to collide.

Neutron stars, relates the story of the discovery of the origin of gold, as told in USA Today (Oct. 16), are the smallest, densest stars. The collision of two is known as a kilonova. After the explosion, some of the debris coalesces into heavy elements, including gold, platinum and uranium.

Of course, who needs neutron stars when, in the 1800s, the method of making gold had already been discovered? According to the Morning Republican (Aug. 28, 1872) of Little Rock, Ark. (in a story datelined to the Aug. 11 San Francisco Chronicle), there had been an amazing discovery of “a chemical process, which, when applied to base metals, transmutes them into gold—pure, shining, veritable gold.”

The paper, noting that the news was too important to be withheld from the public, told that three months ago, “a plain-looking man, of American birth, presented himself at one of our leading banks and solicited an interview with the manager.” He then took from his valise a “mass of dingy metal, looking half like copper and half like brass.”

A prominent assayer was called in, who took it away with him, and the next day reported that it was nearly pure gold.

The stranger asked the bank to send it to the Mint for coinage. “It was there again submitted to the tests usual, and the next day its value was retuned in double eagles—something more than eight thousand dollars—and it was placed to the credit of the stranger.”

The stranger returned again, a week later, with a much larger piece of this same metal. He was asked where he got it from to which “The answer was very brief, yet in it were involved the most momentous consequences to commerce, to the vast system of labor and capital employed in the mining enterprises of the state, to the precious metal basis of trade in every land, and to the maintenance of government.”

Astonishingly, he said he made it himself, adding, “I can make it by the ton,” which he promptly offered to do.

“I will make you the depository of my gold,” he told the banker. “You may control its issue, and we will together share the power it brings, but the process must remain forever in my own heart.”

After that, he kept returning with more and more of his homemade gold.

“Some of it has been converted into coin and put circulation,” reported the newspaper. “Many of our readers who believe they are handling the product of our gold mines, now daily receive and pay out this substance, created from base metals by one of our most unobtrusive citizens.”

The Morning Republican’s version of the story left out an important disclaimer at the end of the Chronicle’s telling. It read, “The above extraordinary story is told upon the authority of a gentleman who is a stranger to the editor of the Chronicle… We simply give the startling recital, leaving our readers to form their own estimate of its credibility.”

Happy collecting.

 

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.

 

More Collecting Resources

• If you enjoy reading about what inspires coin designs, you’ll want to check out Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths about U.S. Coins.

• Is that coin in your hand the real deal or a clever fake? Discover the difference with U.S. Coins Close Up, a one-of-a-kind visual guide to every U.S. coin type.

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