News Detective: Searching for Gold

Sarah Webb, intrepid SNK reporter, searches for gold.
Have you ever held a piece of pure gold? I have.

Jim Webster of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City had a gold sample. He allowed me to hold it on the day that several other reporters and I visited the museum’s gold exhibit.

The sample was the width of a quarter and the thickness of two quarters stacked on top of each other. But what was amazing to me was how heavy it felt. Gold is incredibly dense, and this object weighed a troy ounce (more than 31 grams).

Sarah Webb holds a sample of gold weighing 1 ounce (and worth more than $600).
Sarah Webb holds a sample of gold weighing 1 ounce (and worth more than $600).
Photo by Anne Sasso.

It made me appreciate how heavy the much larger gold bars must be. If you’ve ever watched the Bugs Bunny cartoon in which he tries to lug a giant gold nugget, you should know that the animators weren’t exaggerating how heavy that gold would be.

The price of an ounce of gold varies, but it’s currently very expensive. The piece that I held in my hand is currently worth more than $600.

Has anyone every told you that you’re worth your weight in gold? Ever wonder what that means? The gold exhibit has a scale that tells you. When I stepped on the scale (photo above), I found out that my weight in solid gold would be worth $1,294,704. I can live with that.

After I left the museum, I was still thinking about gold, especially the bars that some banks keep in underground vaults. Not far away, under the streets of Manhattan, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has vaults 80 feet below ground that contain $147 billion in gold. These are the largest gold reserves in the world.

As I rode the subway home from the museum, I wondered how close the trains might come to those vaults. Even these days, when I’m riding the subway, I sometimes wonder if I might be just outside a thick wall protecting many tons of solid gold.—Sarah Webb

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