Rare, precious and alluring, gold has been a treasure and a symbol of wealth throughout history.
Gold was probably first smelted as long ago as 3600BC. It seems to have happened first in ancient Egypt. Goldsmiths used blowpipes made from fire-resistant clay to get a furnace to the heat needed to melt out the gold from ore.
A thousand years later, in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), fabulous gold jewellery is in use. A burial headdress of lapis and carnelian beads with delicate gold pendants shaped like the leaves of the willow tree has been discovered. And famously, the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun brought to light the extraordinary gold funeral mask – a triumph of gold craftsmanship last seen by its creator around 3,000 years ago until Howard Carter uncovered it in the 1920’s.
The development of the earliest coinage was simultaneous in China and Asia Minor. It seems that gold currency was first created by the legendary King Croesus in Lydia. His improved gold refining techniques allowed him to mint the world’s first standardised currency. With a uniform gold content, ‘Croesids’ as the coins became known, could be traded with confidence.
And here in England, the world’s first hallmarking system was established at Goldsmith’s Hall in London around the year 1300. The London Assay Office is still in the same place, 700 years later, doing the same job of guaranteeing the purity of gold.
One of the greatest events in the history of gold took place in 1848. John Marshall discovered gold flakes when he was building a sawmill near Sacramento, California. In the rush that followed, around 40,000 diggers flocked from all over the world to try their luck. 40 years later there was another gold rush in South Africa when Australian miner George Harrison found gold ore near Johannesburg. South Africa went on to become the source of around 40 per cent of the world’s gold.