Why do we value gold? What makes it a commodity? Let’s take a brief journey through time to find out why!

 

Along with copper, gold was one of the first metals to be discovered by man approximately 6000 year ago. Gold differs in its characteristics from other metals. It is the most malleable of all metals. It never corrodes nor tarnishes and smelting is much easier compared to copper for example. It quickly became popular among ancient civilizations. There are gold artifacts and ornaments that were found that dates back to the Copper Age (pre-Bronze Age).

2nd-1st century BC bust of Alexander the Great

Ever since history can tell us gold has been valuable and often synonymous with gods, kings and power. It has been prominent in ancient Egypt as it was prized by pharaohs and priests. Gold was used as a sign of wealth as both the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks used it as currency. Gold and silver coins were issued during the reign of King Croesus, who was the ruler of Lydia (present day Turkey). Till this day King Croesus is known for his wealth and treasures (ever heard of the expression “as rich as Croesus?”). Gold played a major role in the Inca Empire (possibly the largest empire in the world circa the early 1500s; now present day Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile). Gold and silver served the Inca for many purposes such as ornaments for their temples and worn as jewelry among the elite. Many objects were made of solid gold. The Inca referred to gold as “tears of the sun”.

Portrait of Nicholas Flamel, 15th century

Portrait of Nicholas Flamel, 15th century

 

Fast-forward to the pre-renaissance era in Europe. You might have heard of Nicholas Flamel as a background character from the book/movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone. However, unlike most of the characters in J.K Rowling’s saga, Nicholas Flamel was not fictional. He was actually a French scribe in the 15th century that developed a reputation as an alchemist. He was believed by many to have successfully created the Philosopher’s stone (a substance capable of turning base metals into gold) also known as the elixir of life, a potion which is fabled to grant immortality if consumed!

You might remember (okay, maybe not) the gold rushes of the late 1800s. Prospectors came from all over the world to the San Francisco area (known as forty-niners) in search of getting rich quick. The city’s population surged from about 1000 to 25000 from 1848 to 1849. The city’s NFL team is named after them. There were also major gold rushes that occurred during this time in the Yukon Territory, North Carolina and Australia.

 

Today gold is used for many things due to its characteristics. Gold is used for jewelry, dentistry, electronics, microchips and aerospace among other things. Gold value has recently been on the rise in the stock market as an investment. We can merely speculate what the future holds for gold, but it’s safe to say gold is here to stay!