For about as long as people have placed a value on physical things, gold has had worth. Not just because it’s shiny but because it’s rare and it doesn’t corrode, making it reliable and consistent over the long term. It’s soft enough to mold into shapes and also dense which tricks humans into thinking a thing is of greater value as well. So people have been coveting it for ages. But all the gold mined in the world would only make a 22 meter cube if it was all put together.
Some people have lucked into gold and others have put extensive effort, both illegal and illegal, into getting more. So what does a huge gold score really look like? Here are ten of the most remarkable.
10. A 12-Year-Old Found a 17 Pound Gold Nugget and Used it As a Doorstop
Twelve-year-old Conrad Reed has been credited with starting the gold rush in America thanks to his accidental discovery in 1799. Reed had gone to the local creek to go fishing and discovered a shiny rock in the water. He pulled it out, all 17 lbs of it, and brought it home. His dad decided it would make a nice door stop. It stayed there, holding a door open, for three years.
Reed’s dad showed the rock to a local jeweler who asked if he could keep it overnight to have a look see. He refined it down to an 8 inch bar of gold worth $3,600. The crooked as a corkscrew jeweler then took advantage of Reed’s ignorance and offered him $3.50 for it, which he accepted.
On the upside, Reed soon realized what happened and started mining his land. Later they even discovered a 28 pound nugget.
9. A California Couple Found $10 Million in Coins on Their Property
Imagine taking your dog for a walk on your own property. You go along the same route you take every day, passing a spot where a rusted old can is sticking out of the ground. It’s away from the house, no place special, and you never give that can much thought. Until one day…
A couple known only as John and Mary had seen the can on their property for a long while and one day decided to just dig it up and see if they could figure out why someone put it there. They discovered 8 more coffee cans underground when they did so, And each can was filled with gold coins.
In total, 1,427 coins were unearthed with a value estimated to be about $10 million. It is the largest hoard of gold coins ever found in the US. The face value of the coins, minted in San Francisco in the mid to late 1800s, was about $28,000. The rarest of the coins all by itself was worth $1 million.
8. $500 Million in Sunken Treasure Had to Be Returned to Spain
Most people have probably indulged in the dream of finding sunken treasure at one time or another. Movies like Pirates of the Caribbean make it seem like something enticing. And it’s true that our oceans are full of gold, much of it from Spanish ships that were pillaging the new world but never made it back to Europe. At least one estimate guessed the value of the world’s sunken treasure to be around $60 billion.
The reality of sunken treasure is not nearly as glamorous as some people think. Sunken treasure isn’t free money. The treasure likely belongs to either the nation in which the ship sank or the nation from which it set sail. That’s why $500 million in treasure found in 2007 ended up back in the hands of the Spanish government.
A company called Odyssey Marine Exploration undertook a salvage mission to retrieve the huge score off the coast of Spain but found themselves in a legal battle. They hid the coins in the US and Spain sued and then won. The company appealed and lost that as well. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, who also ruled in Spain’s favor. Not only did they have to return the coins, they also had to pay $1 million for bad faith litigation.
7. An Amateur Bought His First Metal Detector and Found a Stash of Roman Coins
Some people absolutely love metal detecting. You can find one on nearly every beach in the summer, and others wander through local parks looking for discarded pocket change or lost jewelry. And every so often they make an actually stunning find.
Wesley Carrington bought a cheap metal detector from a hardware store on a whim and decided to see what he could find in the woods near his house. Twenty minutes later he dug up 55 Roman coins worth an estimated $150,000. The coins dated back 1,600 years and over a hundred more were later discovered in the same spot.
6. The Biggest Gold Nugget Ever Found was 72 kg
It’s one thing to find a lot of gold in the form of coins but what about one, single nugget? The biggest ever discovered hailed from Australia in 1869.
A pair of miners found the nugget which they named Welcome Stranger and you have to assume they were pretty excited when they pulled it out of the ground. It weighed in at 72 kilograms which is roughly 158.7 pounds. At modern prices that’s worth about $4.5 million.
When the men found it they were paid £10,000 for it which was more or less fair market value at the time.
5. A Man in New York Makes a Living Street Prospecting
The gold rush has been over for some years now and most modern gold mining is done by enormous companies. It’s rare for anyone to strike it rich on a whim but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, there’s a bit of a prospecting game still open in the most unlikely of places – the streets of major cities like New York.
Gold, heavy as it is, settles in low places. Back in the day this was why panning for gold worked in streets. But now, prospectors can do the same thing in places like Manhattan.
In 2011, Raffi Stepanian was collecting dirt and refuse from the sidewalks in New York’s diamond district under the assumption that jewelers would have had flakes of gold on their shoes and walked outside again and again over the years. He sifted through pounds of dirt scraped from between sidewalk stones and salvaged $800 worth of gold, plus fragments of diamonds and other stones.
Three years later, Stepanian claimed he could make $500 to $900 a week with what he was digging up.
4. A Treasure Hunter in 1987 Found $1 Billion on a Sunken Ship
The allure of gold can be powerful, and we all know that money can have a corrupting influence. The bigger the payday, the bigger the potential moral failings that may come with it.
In 1987 a treasure hunter named Tommy Thompson made the find of a lifetime. A shipwreck worth a cool $1 billion, at least according to Thompson. We don’t really know since Thompson raided the wreck of the SS Central America and hid the gold he took from it. It’s believed he salvaged at least three tons. He sold at least $50 million in the year 2000.
A judge held him in contempt of court in 2015 for refusing to say where the rest of the gold was hidden and to this day he remains behind bars.
The SS Central America sank in 1857 off the coast of South Carolina. Thousands of pounds of gold was on board and we know Thompson took a lot despite not having authority to do so. An ingot from the wreck was sold at auction in 2022 for $2 million.
At least 500 coins minted from the gold he stole are missing but Thompson has refused to speak. He said in the past that the coins, worth $2.5 million, were sent to a trust in Belize. He was also on the lam for a few years before authorities found him in a Florida hotel in 2015. He had $420,000 in $100 bills on him.
Prior to all of this, Thompson raised tens of millions from investors to lead the expedition to salvage the gold, at least $55 million in fact. But no one ever saw a return and his crew didn’t even get paid. Even when he was auctioning off much of the $100 million to $400 million worth of gold that he’d recovered. It’s up in the air whether anyone will discover what happened to it all if Thompson refuses to talk.
3. A Turkey Fertilizer Company Found $6 Billion in Gold
In 2020, a Turkish fertilizer company stumbled upon a gold reserve estimated at 99 tons. With an estimated value of $6 billion, the company had to form partnerships in order to set up a mining company to extract it hoping to retain about $3 billion in profit for themselves.
This was part of a gold boom that hit Turkey around 2020. After the economy hit a slump, gold mining was privatized, and the country went from producing just 1.4 tons in 2001 to 38 tons in 2019. The goal for 2020 was over 40 tons because of 33 new deposits discovered in the previous 15 years. The plan is to be producing 100 tons per year by 2025.
2. A 4-Year-Old Found a Gold Pendant Worth Millions
The average four-year-old is not making a lot of money if for no other reason than they tend to have just barely mastered balance and speech at that age and things are tough enough already. But there are exceptions to every rule and one such exception was James Hyatt.
While out in a field with his dad, James was using a metal detector and stumbled upon something. His dad helped him dig down about 6 or 8 inches until they discovered something made of gold. That find turned out to be a 500-year-old gold reliquary pendant carved with the names of the Magi and an image of Jesus. The value was later estimated to be about £2.5 million.
The family ended up going another route with the historical object and got paid just £70,000 that was provided through grants from the British Museum, where it’s now on display.
1. A Genuine Faberge Egg Was Bought for Just $13,000 at a Flea Market
In terms of practicality, gold does not score big points. In the modern world, it’s used in some electronics because it’s a great conductor but historically people had no useful purpose for it. It’s really heavy but also soft so you can’t build much out of it. Instead, it became decorative. It was symbolic of the value it held, like wealth personified. Art, jewelry and other extravagances could be made of gold, even if they had little to no practical value. That led to things like $33 million golden eggs.
The rulers of Russia had a thing for priceless egg decorations back in the day, with many expensive Faberge eggs being created for the Imperial family around the turn of the last century. During the Russian Revolution, many of these eggs went missing.
One such egg vanished in 1922 and didn’t turn up again until it sold at a US auction in 1964 for $2,450. The egg had no history or paperwork so it was just a golden egg and that seemed a reasonable price.
Fast forward to the early 2000s and the egg is on sale at a Midwestern flea market for the seemingly random price of $13,302. Not so random though – that was the raw value of the gold and jewels in the egg by weight. Meaning it was being sold as scrap. But the man who bought it had an inclination that it was something more and he eventually Googled it.
There are only 50 real Faberge eggs in the world so it’s unlikely anyone would have guessed it was legit. But it was. It sold at auction in 2014 for what was believed to be $33 million.