The Perth Mint

The Perth Mint wasn’t on my “to do list” but after hearing a description of it from a retired Australian man I decided to give it a visit.  He said that it was a “right fascinating” place to visit and described how they poured a gold bar right in front of your eyes and how they had gold nuggets the size of pizzas.  It did sound interesting and I decided to give it a visit. All tours are guided and they corral the visitors together and kept us under watchful eye.  At any one time there is between $10 to $20 million (Australian dollars, about $11 to $22 million US) inside the mint’s vaults.  Our tour guide explained that during the West Australian gold rush there wasn’t enough money to pay out all of the gold strikes and the Royal Bank in England was petitioned and permission was given to make gold sovereigns here.  And with this charter Perth was granted the right to make money for the crown using the locally discovered gold and begin minting gold sovereigns in 1899. The two guys who have their statue in front of the mint were the first to discover a big claim in WA.  They went camping to find gold and woke up one morning to find that they were camped right on top of one of the world’s biggest gold deposits.  Eventually, the world’s largest gold nuggets would be found in Western Australia’s gold fields.

The tour guide took us to a mock camp setup that was typical of a gold prospector’s camp in Western Australia at the height of the gold rush.  He rolled out a wheelbarrow that had 3 huge gold nuggets inside; these were casts taken from the 3 largest gold nuggets ever discovered – all found in Western Australia.  Unfortunately, the nuggets weren’t considered for anything other than their gold content and they were cut into smaller pieces or else melted down into bullion.  The largest nugget was about 2’ (.75 meter) long.

The largest gold nugget in existence today was found by a man who was using a metal detector to “pass the time,” he thought the detector to be broken and passed up the gold nugget.  When he later thought that the detector was working correctly he returned and began digging for the nugget and found a huge piece of gold that was and still is the largest.  He put the nugget up for auction and it was purchased for $1 million dollars even though it only had a gold content of $400,000.  The nugget was purchased by the Las Vegas casino Golden Nugget and is on display there.  The second largest nugget that still exists is located in the Perth Mint and is on display:

The tour worked its way to the old smelting room where bars of gold used to be cast.  Bars are now made in more advanced smelting pots that use electric heat but this old gas fired stove is still used to make bars for tourist groups.  A technician came in and poured the liquid gold into a cast and we watched as the gold cooled and solidified.  This same bar of gold has been re-melted and cast some 50,000 times for tourist shows and has lost very little of its gold content.  What little gold that has been lost is due to (actual) gold “fumes” and the occasional drip or splatter.  Recently, technicians scraped the ceiling of the pour room and recovered $20,000 worth of gold from the ceiling alone.  In the photo below you can see the pour room just before the technician entered; the glow on the right side is from the molten gold inside the hot kiln.

Photo taking is prohibited inside the mint but I wanted to capture some images to share with you, and to that end I broke the rules a bit.  I waited until I had finished my tour; I reasoned that the worst they could do was kick me out if I was caught taking photos so I had better finish my tour in case.  I snapped off some photos of the gold nuggets, some bullion and the pour room.

I also caught a photo of this 14 pound gold nugget that is on display in the Mint’s retail sales shop.  As big as this nugget is, the mint had many specimens like it.  If you ever get to Perth, I highly recommend a visit to the mint, I really enjoyed it and I think that you will too :-)


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