Friday, August 11, 2006

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Largest single mass of gold ever found in Colorado

BRECKENRIDGE - On July 23, 1887, two miners working a lease on the Gold Flake vein on Farncomb Hill, at the head of the renowned French Gulch placer-mining district near here, struck the mother of all lodes - a pocket of gold nuggets the likes of which had never been seen before in Colorado.

In just four hours, miners Tom Groves and Harry Lytton removed more than 243 troy ounces, or 20 pounds, of gold from this pocket, including a single nugget weighing 160 troy ounces. After breaking off two sections, leaving a piece weighing a little more than 136 troy ounces, the jubilant partners headed to town with their find, which Groves carried wrapped in a blanket and cradled in his arms like a baby - Tom’s Baby.

The name stuck, and Tom’s Baby soon became known as the state’s largest gold nugget. Technically, though, this natural wonder wasn’t a nugget at all. A nugget is defined as worn, alluvial (deposited by running water) gold mined from a placer. Tom’s Baby was, instead, a large mass of crystallized lode gold - still the largest ever known to have been mined in Colorado.

Like Edwin Carter’s wildlife specimens, Tom’s Baby also landed, in 1900, in what is now the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where it was displayed as the centerpiece of mining magnate John F. Campion’s private collection of gold from his Breckenridge-area mines. But after several years, the specimen vanished - not only from its display but also from the museum’s inventory. Within decades, most people had forgotten both the spectacular find and the fact that Tom’s Baby had apparently been "kidnapped."

Then in 1972, two large gold pieces weighing 78 and 24 troy ounces were discovered in a Denver bank vault. When fitted together, they formed a specimen that perfectly matched a 1900 photograph of Tom’s Baby (minus 34 troy ounces that somehow became separated from the specimen and had long been considered distinct pieces in the Campion collection).

It seems that museum personnel had accidentally broken Tom’s Baby while cleaning it. The two pieces were subsequently placed in the bank vault for safekeeping - and incredibly, that’s where they stayed for the next half-century. Fortunately, the 102-troy-ounce Tom’s Baby has since been reassembled and today, Colorado’s finest specimen of lode gold is again on display at the Denver museum.

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