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Gold

Despite the rise of modern precious metals such as platinum, gold has always been the treasure most associated with romance, adventure and pirates. Whether it be gold coins, bars of bullion or simply gold jewelry that you can buy online, nothing surpasses gold. So let's take a closer look at the treasured metal with which the streets of London were once said to be paved.

What Is Gold?

Pure gold is a chemical element, symbol Au. In its pure form it is surprisingly soft which is why most of the jewelry you buy is not made from pure, solid gold - that would be too easily damaged. Instead almost all the jewelry you buy will be made from a gold alloy, usually containing silver and copper.

The purity of this alloy is measured in karats.In some countries an official hallmark is applied to items made from gold to attest to their purity.

Because its softness, the traditional way of testing for the purity of a gold coin was to bite into it. Unfortunately counterfeit gold was sometimes made from painted lead in order to make sure it could pass this test. Since lead is poisonous, biting into it could prove dangerous for the tester.

Uses

Gold has always been valuable because of its beauty and scarcity. It has long been a symbol of wealth and power, often found in the tombs of rulers such as Tutankhamen, the "boy king" of ancient Egypt famous for his golden mask. Alchemists sought the philosopher's stone which was believed to turn base metal into gold (although this is likely to have been intended as much metaphorically as literally).

Stories of gold fuelled the gold rushes with many prospectors panning the rivers.

Stores of gold have often been used as a way of assessing the wealth of nations and until late in the 20th century the gold standard was used by many countries to value their currency. Although the international gold standard is no longer used, many countries still keep gold reserves, usually in the form of bullion.

In the US, much of the reserve is stored in the Fort Knox bullion depository. There is a persistent but unproven conspiracy theory that much if not all of the gold alleged to be in Fort Knox is not actually there.

Legend & Lore

Gold appears in numerous myths and legends. Probably the most famous is that of King Midas. In Greek mythology Midas was offered a reward by Dionysus for looking after the old Silenus. The greedy king asked that everything he touched turned to gold. At first he considered this power - the Midas touch - a blessing, but it soon became a curse when he found that he could neither eat nor drink. The final straw came when he touched his daughter and turned her into a golden statue.

Midas threw himself at the mercy of Dionysus who agreed to remove the "gift" if Midas bathed in the river Pactolus. This he did, his power washed away and turned the sands of the river into powdered gold.