Perhaps no other market in the world has the universal
appeal of the gold market. For centuries, gold has been coveted
for its unique blend of rarity, beauty, and near
indestructibility. Nations have embraced gold as a store of
wealth and a medium of international exchange; individuals have
sought to possess gold as insurance against the day-to-day
uncertainties of paper money.
Commercial concentrations of gold are found in widely
distributed areas: in association with ores of copper and lead,
in quartz veins, in the gravel of stream beds, and with pyrites
(iron sulfide). Seawater contains astonishing quantities of
gold, but its recovery is not economical.
The greatest early surge in gold refining followed the
first voyage of Columbus. From 1492 to 1600, Central and South
America and the Caribbean islands contributed significant
quantities of gold to world commerce. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador,
Panama, and Hispaniola contributed 61% of the world's newfound
gold during the 17th century. In the 18th century, they supplied
Following the California gold discovery of 1848, North
America became the world's major gold supplier; from 1850 to
1875, more gold was discovered than in the previous 350 years.
By 1890, the gold fields of Alaska and the Yukon were the
principal sources of supply and, shortly afterwards, discoveries
in the African Transvaal indicated deposits that exceeded even
these. Today, the principal gold producing countries include
South Africa, the United States, Australia, Canada, China,
Indonesia, and Russia.
The United States first assigned a formal monetary role
for gold in 1792, when Congress put the nation's currency on a
bimetallic standard, backing it with gold and silver.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, most nations were
forced to sever their currency from gold in an attempt to
stabilize their economies.
Gold formally reentered the world's monetary system in
1944, when the Bretton Woods agreement fixed all the world's
paper currencies in relation to the U.S. dollar which in turn
was tied to gold. The agreement was in force until 1971, when
President Nixon effectively cancelled it by ending the
convertibility of the dollar into gold.
Today, gold prices float freely in accordance with supply and
demand as any other commodity, responding quickly to political
and economic events.
Gold is a vital industrial commodity. It is an excellent
conductor of electricity, is extremely resistant to corrosion,
and is one of the most chemically stable of the elements, making
it critically important in electronics and other high-tech
Individuals can purchase gold to hedge their dollar
currency risk. Furthermore, gold has traditionally had a role in
investment strategies in investors investment portfolios.
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