Albert Burrage and His Rare Golds

By Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Gold, E. Barajas, From the collection of: Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University
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A.C. Burrage in his collections roomMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Albert C. Burrage

Albert C. Burrage graduated from Harvard in 1883 with an A.B. degree and worked as a lawyer for a number of years. In 1898, his interest turned to copper mining explorations. He played a major role in the copper industry for nearly twenty years, amassing a significant fortune. Outside of work, his passions included collection minerals and exotic flowers.

A. Burrage Letter to J. Wolfe (1918) by A. BurrageMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Burrage's Letters to Harvard

Burrage’s interest in minerals prompted his re-connection to Harvard, but this time to the Earth science department.  He wrote to Professor J. Wolfe, then curator of the museum, about his recent interest in collecting crystalline gold. The letter goes on offering a prize of one hundred dollars a year to a student to do high-caliber studies of crystalline gold using his personal collection.  The letter carried on asking many questions such as would any real good be accomplished? Is the amount suggested sufficient to offset one or more bright students a year? He also shows a strong interest in the EPS curriculum and number of students.

Gold by B. DeCampMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Burrage's Remarkable Donation

Burrage’s relationship with the museum grew, and his mineral collection was bequeathed to the museum. Among the mineral donated was the impressive George de la Bouglise gold collection and a significant Bisbee, Arizona azurite and malachite collection. This fine specimen of crystallized gold was Bouglise #368, purchased by Burrage and bequeathed to the MGMH.

Gold, E. Barajas, From the collection of: Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University
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Gold by E. BarajasMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The Science of Gold

In geological terms, gold is found in parts per million in the earth crust. It is estimated that there is 5mg of gold per every ton of earth’s crust. At this concentration, it would take on average 2,000 tons of rock to make even the most modest wedding ring. However, under certain geological conditions, hydrothermal fluids are able to leach the rock and concentrate the gold particles that finally crystallized into an ore deposit.

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Gold by E. BarajasMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Rare Gold Specimens

Gold nuggets are rare, gold crystals are rare and gold wires the rarest with only few known globally. Burrage was particularly fond of crystallized gold, and his collection includes many fine examples of nuggets, crystalline gold and gold wires.

Gold, E. Barajas, From the collection of: Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University
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Burrage Collection DeliveryMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The Bequest

Some 35 years after the initial letter, on a typical Bostonian winter day, the Burrage collection made its way to the Museum. Among the more than 1500 hundred fine mineral specimens that he bequested, one was particularly precious.

Gold Wire (The Gold Horn) by E. BarajasMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The MGMH's Treasure

As the largest gold wire in the world, the Gold Horn is a true treasure of the MGMH.

The Great Divide (1893)Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The MGMH's Treasure

This priceless specimen is described in the Great Divide, a newspaper from 1893, as a gold piece found during 1887, the peak of the gold rush, in the Ground Hog Mine in Colorado. 

The Great Divide Inner Page (1893)Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The MGMH's Treasure

The specimen was described as weighing 8.5 ounces and its estimated value is $160.  The rarity and value of this specimen was recognized from the beginning in the fact that it was not melted down, but preserved for its scientific and historical importance.

Gold by E. BarajasMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The Mineralogical and Geological Museum at Harvard University has one of the largest, most valuable collections of crystallized gold in the world. These rare and beautiful pieces continue to be the most treasured specimens of the collection.

Credits: Story

Thanks goes to Ben DeCamp, Eva Barajas and Kevin Czaja for the images; to Raquel Alonso-Perez and Theresa Smith for the text; and the Alfred Burrage for his enduring generosity.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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