A Gold Nugget from Alaska

You may know that I recently completed a trip from south to north across Alaska, from Seward on the Pacific Coast up to Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean. I was investigating the geology of Alaska in the company of a group of other geologists, and looking at the mineral and energy resources of the 49th state. I have been writing about my trip in Outstanding Investments and Rude Awakening , and will share some of the experiences in articles in Whiskey & Gunpowder . (Could there be a better name than “Whiskey & Gunpowder” for stories about a trip to Alaska?)


While traveling, I spent some time in Fairbanks, a lovely old town along the meandering Chena River. Fairbanks got its start in 1903, serving the gold miners who headed into the Alaska interior in search of fate, and sometimes even fortune. In more recent years, Fairbanks has developed and diversified its economic base, serving both the industrial needs of central Alaska and the tourist trade. One of our Outstanding Investments recommendations, Kinross Gold, operates the famous Fort Knox mine near Fairbanks, producing about 1,000 ounces of the yellow metal per day from disseminated ore.


I will be writing about the industrial aspects of Alaska in other articles, but I also want to mention how many tourists are now visiting the state. The public information is that several million tourists visit Alaska every year, arriving by ship, plane, and road, hailing from all over the world. This large figure does not surprise me given the many tour buses that are moving around near both the ship terminals and along some of the interior roadways. Alaska is a destination in its own right, filled with spectacular natural wonders of almost indescribable beauty. Denali National Park alone, home to Mount McKinley, which is the tallest feature in North America, receives over 400,000 visitors per year. This number strikes me as remarkable, given the remoteness of the place. (But a visit to Denali is well worth the effort, I must add.)

For Sale

Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denali, and many other tourist spots have the typical array of shops that sell souvenirs and mementos. For example, at the high end, there are some gorgeous pieces of carved stone and other artwork for sale in some shops, usually depicting the wildlife of Alaska (carved bears, birds, and fish, and the like). And some of the prices for this artwork are rather steep, as well, a steepness that is reminiscent of the north face of Mount McKinley, if you get my drift.

Much of what is for sale in the gift shops also includes the usual honky-tonk, with T-shirts, ball caps, and other clothing items bearing Alaska-themed logos and artwork. Some of this is advertised as “native craftwork,” but I think that many of these so-called “natives” probably speak Chinese as their first tongue — again, if you get my drift.

While in Fairbanks, I strolled down Second Avenue, which is the main drag in the old downtown section. For some strange reason, I just happened to find myself in front of a place called the Alaska Rare Coin Shop. Although relatively small, the shop has a nice array of gold and silver coins, and many other types of rare and collectible items of numismatic value. The store also has a large amount of shelf space devoted to old books related to Alaska. The store is a browser’s dream. It is, in all sincerity, a delightful place and worth a visit if ever you journey north and pass through Fairbanks. Afterward, you can walk next door and dine at Soapy Smith’s Restaurant, where they served me the best piece of salmon that I have ever tasted.

What to Buy?

I had been looking for some souvenirs of my trip to Alaska, but was sort of conflicted by most of the stores and the wares for sale. I do not need any $4,000 carved stone bears, nice as they are, and besides, I do not want to have to lug them home. And there are only so many T-shirts and ball caps that I, or my wife and kids and family and friends, can or will ever wear. But at the Alaska Rare Coin Shop, I was able to find some real right out-of-the-ground unaltered gold nuggets, direct from the placer deposits near Fairbanks. Now, that is my kind of souvenir.

The Gold That Caught My Eye

I made a deal with the shop owner for one particular gold nugget that caught my eye. You can see some of the crystallization within the gold, and the piece still has a small bit of quartz embedded in it. I am sure that this nugget made some miner’s day when he pulled it out of the sluice bucket. Interestingly, the storeowner told me that most people do not want to buy raw, unfinished nuggets from the placers, but are more interested in just purchasing the gold and silver coins. Well, I like high-purity coins, too. But too bad for everybody else. A gold nugget is a gold nugget. As the saying goes, “It worked for me.”

So I traded some U.S. dollars for a wonderful nugget of Alaska gold. Long term, I would rather have a nugget of gold in my safe than a carved stone bear on my mantelpiece, let alone a few more T-shirts in my chest of drawers.

Buy Gold

Is there a moral to this tale? Well, if you insist, here it is. “The dollar is doomed,” to quote the Mogambo Guru. “Buy gold.”

But if you have no plans to travel to Fairbanks and buy gold nuggets from the Alaska Rare Coin Shop, you can try another way of doing things. You can save the time and airfare it takes to travel to Anchorage and the drive to Fairbanks and just buy an insured gold-backed certificate of deposit from our friends at EverBank. Click here to discover how easy it is to protect your financial integrity by tying yourself and your savings to gold, albeit without the feel of owning a nugget of gold from the placer deposits of Alaska. For that kind of heft in your pocket, you have to travel to Fairbanks and make your own deal.

Best wishes to all, and until we meet again…

Byron W. King

June 20, 2007

The Daily Reckoning