Gold Rush Mystery: War Over $460,000 Gold Nugget's Origin

PHOTO: This Gold Rush era nugget that was sold for $460,000.
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A gold nugget that sold at auction for $460,000 in March may, it turns out, actually be from Australia -- not California's gold country.

Fred Holabird, the auctioneer who sold the 98-ounce nugget in March to an unidentified buyer, had been convinced the nugget was from California's Gold Rush era.

But two propectors from Australia, Murray Cox and Reg Wilson, who saw a photo of the nugget in a news report, say it shows an uncanny resemblance to the gold they found in a farm field in Victoria, Australia, in 1987.

"Instantly I knew it was the nugget that Reg and I discovered at Rokewood," Murray Cox told the ABC affiliate in Sacramento, KXTV.

A photo of the Australians' nugget from a newspaper article in 1987 shows their nugget has a similar shape to the auctioned one - and shares the same weight.

Cox said that he would "just like to set the record straight" because "there are people being defrauded here in my opinion."

Cox told KXTV that he sold the nugget to an American gold dealer in 1989.

This gold nugget was significant not just because the price of gold has been on the rise this year, passing $1,500 an ounce. Holabird also touted the giant nugget as a historical treasure, allegedly originating from California's gold country which hosted the famous Gold Rush in the mid-1800s.

Holabird said the landowner in Nevada County, Calif., who provided the nugget, is sticking to his story that it came from his property in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

But the auctioneer is assembling a team of experts to investigate the Australians' claims. Holabird, who had been in the mining industry for over 25 years, owns Holabird-Kagin Americana, an auction business based in Reno, Nev.

"We're going to pursue this full tilt using the best science available," Holabird said.

He told KXTV that he is waiting to hear back from the Spectrum Numismatics International, the Irvine, Calif.-based company that represented the buyer.

A spokesperson for Spectrum Numismatics had no comment.

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