Are they a real problem?
By Ralph Bryant
So you've decided to buy a few gold nuggets on ebay to add to your collection. There are some nice looking (and BIG) pieces offered there on almost a daily basis. Surely anything offered on ebay's national auction site must be genuine, and even if there is a problem, ebay will insure that I get my money back, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Over the past few years, there has been a rash of sellers on ebay offering "natural gold nuggets" that are anything but products of nature. Not that they aren't real "gold", most of them are. But many of those you see are simply not naturally formed nuggets, but rather man-made nuggets made by using real gold (usually lower grade alloys) to cast or form pieces that resemble nuggets formed in nature. In some cases, buyers of this material are just not getting what they are paying for, paying considerably more than the gold value of the item for what amounts to nothing more than a replica.
But how do you "test" one of these nuggets to be sure it's genuine? Acid tests, modern electronic testers, or even a more sophisticated specific gravity test will do absolutely NOTHING to tell you whether a nugget is real or man-made. At best, it will only give you an idea as to the actual gold content of the metal in the "nugget". It takes a much more complicated procedure and equipment to test the genuine status of a gold nugget, methods that are not generally available to the general public at anything close to a reasonable cost. In most cases, the personal knowledge of the collector or dealer will go farther in determining the genuine CHARACTERISTICS of a natural nugget than most so-called "scientific" testing methods. After several years of handling genuine natural gold, you just develop a certain intuition about certain things to look for..... surface texture, general shape, mass to weight, traces of the golds original matrix, wear patterns, color, and so forth.
Some gold nugget "producers" are increasingly improving in their "trade", and it's not always an easy task to spot the "fakes" from the real thing, although most well experienced nugget collectors and prospector types usually have little trouble in picking out the fakes from amongst the genuine article.
One person who has been instrumental in helping to weed out the fake nugget dealers here in the states over the last 2 or 3 years is Dave at motherlodegold.com Dave is like a cross between a badger and a snapping turtle when it comes to fake gold..... very tenacious and he just won't let go until he accomplishes what he sets out to do.... that is, saving an un-suspecting buyer (or several) from being duped into buying fake gold nuggets, something that can eventually have a great impact on the nugget collecting community as a whole.
There are many ways that these "craftsmen" apply their trade, some of the more common being lost-wax casting, dirt pours, water and sand pours, ice crystalization, and other methods, some of which, when combined with certain finishing procedures, can result in some very sophisticated (real) looking gold nuggets. Even some of the more advanced "counterfeiter's" have now learned how to replicate specimen pieces by applying the gold into fissures and around pieces of natural quartz, so you have to be extremely careful what you buy these days on eBay. You will be far better served to find yourself a few good knowledgable gold dealers who specialize in native gold nuggets and specimens, and build a good working relationship.
And even though the majority of the "fakes" offered up on ebay in recent years are very obvious counterfeits, you simply cannot rely on ebay, under their current policies, to represent you in making a claim against one of their sellers. Their organization is too big and too varied to possibly enforce all of their policies on every transaction or to catch all cases of misrepresentation moving through their auctions. It's a dog-eat-dog business in the world of online auction sales, so beware of who it is you are dealing with and the improbability of receiving any satisfaction once you have bought a bogus item.
Dave will have an article in an up-coming issue of the ICMJ magazine dealing with fake gold nugget production and sales, and should be a well circulated and recommended piece for all of you who are seriously into the collecting aspects of gold nuggets and specimens. You can also find some good additional information on "Dave's web site" about fakes and some of the lengths some manufacturers go to here in the U.S. to dupe the unknowing buyer. There are some very knowledgable collectors and prospectors here on this forum and others who will normally be glad to give an opinion on the validity of a suspect piece, although that is not always possible from just a photo. If you have any doubts, it is always better to pass up a "bargain" than to get ripped off. There will always be other (and even better) pieces to come along later on.
Hope some of this is of some help......