By Mark Gillespie
Mankind's attitude to gold is bizarre. Chemically, it is uninteresting - it barely reacts with any other element. Yet, of all the 118 elements in the periodic table, gold is the one we humans have always tended to choose to use as currency. Why?
Why not osmium or chromium, or helium, say - or maybe seaborgium?
That's where I meet Andrea Sella, a professor of chemistry at University College London, beside an exquisite breastplate of pure beaten gold.
He pulls out a copy of the periodic table.
"Some elements are pretty easy to dismiss," he tells me, gesturing to the right-hand side of the table.
"Here you've got the noble gases and the halogens. A gas is never going to be much good as a currency. It isn't really going to be practical to carry around little phials of gas is it?
"And then there's the fact that they are colorless. How on earth would you know what it is?"
The two liquid elements (at everyday temperature and pressure) - mercury and bromine - would be impractical too. Both are also poisonous - not a good quality in something you plan to use as money. Similarly, we can cross out arsenic and several others.
Sella now turns his attention to the left-hand side of the table.
"We can rule out most of the elements here as well," he says confidently.
"The alkaline metals and earths are just too reactive. Many people will remember from school dropping sodium or potassium into a dish of water. It fizzes around and goes pop - an explosive currency just isn't a good idea."
A similar argument applies to another whole class of elements, the radioactive ones: you don't want your cash to give you cancer.
Out go thorium, uranium and plutonium, along with a whole bestiary of synthetically-created elements - rutherfordium, seaborgium, ununpentium, and einsteinium - which only ever exist momentarily as part of a lab experiment, before radioactively decomposing.
Then there's the group called "rare earths", most of which are actually less rare than gold.
Unfortunately, they are chemically hard to distinguish from each other, so you would never know what you had in your pocket.
This leaves us with the middle area of the periodic table, the "transition" and "post-transition" metals.
This group of 49 elements includes some familiar names - iron, aluminum, copper, lead, silver.
But examine them in detail and you realize almost all have serious drawbacks.
We've got some very tough and durable elements on the left-hand side - titanium and zirconium, for example.
The problem is they are very hard to smelt. You need to get your furnace up into the region of 1,000C before you can begin to extract these metals from their ores. That kind of specialist equipment wasn't available to ancient man.
Aluminum is also hard to extract, and it's just too flimsy for coinage. Most of the others in the group aren't stable - they corrode if exposed to water or oxidize in the air.
Take iron. In theory it looks quite a good prospect for currency. It is attractive and polishes up to a lovely sheen. The problem is rust: unless you keep it completely dry it is liable to corrode away.
"A self-debasing currency is clearly not a good idea," says Sella.
We can rule out lead and copper on the same basis. Both are liable to corrosion. Societies have made both into money but the currencies did not last, literally.
So, what's left?
Of the 118 elements we are now down to just eight contenders: platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium and ruthenium, along with the old familiars, gold and silver.
These are known as the noble metals, "noble" because they stand apart, barely reacting with the other elements.
They are also all pretty rare, another important criterion for a currency.
Even if iron didn't rust, it wouldn't make a good basis for money because there's just too much of it around. You would end up having to carry some very big coins about.
With all the noble metals except silver and gold, you have the opposite problem. They are so rare that you would have to cast some very tiny coins, which you might easily lose.
They are also very hard to extract. The melting point of platinum is 1,768C.
That leaves just two elements - silver and gold.
Both are scarce but not impossibly rare. Both also have a relatively low melting point, and are therefore easy to turn into coins, ingots or jewelry.
Silver tarnishes - it reacts with minute amounts of Sulphur in the air. That's why we place particular value on gold.
It turns out then, that the reason gold is precious is precisely that it is so chemically uninteresting.
Gold's relative inertness means you can create an elaborate golden jaguar and be confident that 1,000 years later it can be found in a museum display case in central London, still in pristine condition.
So what does this process of elemental elimination tell us about what makes a good currency?
First off, it doesn't have to have any intrinsic value. A currency only has value because we, as a society, decide that it does.
As we've seen, it also needs to be stable, portable and non-toxic. And it needs to be fairly rare - you might be surprised just how little gold there is in the world.
If you were to collect together every earring, every gold sovereign, the tiny traces gold in every computer chip, every pre-Columbian statuette, and every wedding ring and melt it down, it's guesstimated that you'd be left with just one 20-metre cube, or thereabouts.
But scarcity and stability aren't the whole story. Gold has one other quality that makes it the stand-out contender for currency in the periodic table. Gold is... golden.
All the other metals in the periodic table are silvery-colored except for copper - and as we've already seen, copper corrodes, turning green when exposed to moist air. That makes gold very distinctive.
"That's the other secret of gold's success as a currency," says Sella. "Gold is unbelievably beautiful."
Newmont bought Goldcorp. Ok. They are big and we are not so ??
They have to divest properties.
NOW is the time to invest in Gold and Silver mining stocks ( also physical gold and silver) if you can afford it!
I have subscribed to various stock analysts news letters over the last 18 years, and have found that Michael Oliver 's Newsletter
is the most accurate I have come across so far.
He is saying NOW is the time! His technical analysis and momentum indicators are giving the green lites. He feels gold will be at $1360 by the end of January.
He also says 2019 will be an excellent year for the metals, and to expect some fast upward moves in price. A lot of the stocks are still near their price lows for the year.
You want to buy low and sell high. With the gold and silver markets very small in size , when the big money starts to pour in, we will see explosive upwards moves in the prices.
When gold hit close to $2000 an oz about 10 years ago, a lot of mining shares were 4x higher in price than they are today. I came across Mike Oliver 's commentary at King World News . com
He currently has 2 podcasts there you can listen to, to get it straight from the horses mouth! Don't depend on a redneck ( me) for your investing advice. LOL.
I wish you all the best in 2019! Detecting and investing.
Here is an article that argues that peak gold has been seen from mining.
When you look at the coinworld pages you will see lots of other interesting gold articles if you like to read such things.
This is pretty interesting, don't know how well it would work out but seems cool
Scientists invent method to extract gold from liquid waste
I once saw a documentary about people in India scavenging for gold in sewers and gutters outside of jewellery manufacturers as it was being lost in small pieces by being stuck to clothes and shoes of workers.
I have a few hundred old computer CPU's, motherboards and PCI/AGP/PCI-Ex cards, all of which are covered in gold contacts. I wish I could get it off them 🙂