Auctioneer doubts Nevada County gold nugget authenticity

12:43 PM, Jun 5, 2011   |    comments
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  • Australian nugget photo taken in 1987, says Murray Cox
  • The nugget photo in the Rokewood Hotel, visible on the lower left. Courtesy: Lilliah McCulloch
    

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SACRAMENTO, CA - The auctioneer who sold a giant gold nugget billed as the largest surviving specimen from California's Gold Country admitted Sunday said he has serious doubts about the nugget's authenticity.

"I'm angry.  You can hear it in my voice,"said Fred Holabird of Holabird-Kagin Americana in Reno

Update: Landowner identified in giant gold nugget hoax

Previous story:  Australian prospector calls Nevada County nugget a fraud

Holabird sold the 98 ounce Washington Nugget at the Sacramento Convention Center on March 16 for $460,000 to an unidentified bidder represented by a Southern California precious metals broker.

"I'm going to lead the charge to get to the bottom of this," Holabird promised.

Holabird was reacting to a 1987 newspaper article and photographs provided to News10 by an Australian prospector who claimed he and a friend unearthed the giant nugget in Australia's Golden Triangle 24 years ago.

On Saturday, Holabird insisted the evidence had been faked; but in a later conversation he admitted he hadn't given the evidence his full attention because of a large family function.

News10 provided Holabird with an additional, high resolution photograph Sunday that was not among the original items sent to him the day before.

The photograph, taken by a professional photographer in 1987, shows the 98 ounce nugget discovered in a farm field near Ballarat, Victoria by Reg Wilson and Murray Cox. The picture of the nugget, called Orange Roughie, also shows smaller companion nuggets found nearby.

A copy of the photograph is on display in the Rokewood Hotel in Rokewood, Victoria.  The hotel owner, Lilliah McCulloch, confirmed the picture has been in the hotel's pub since 1987.

Holabird said he was impressed by both the newspaper article and the photograph.

"The photo you sent me is fantastic.  It matches the nugget in my catalog," Holabird said.

Holabird, 57, is a recognized expert in the field, having operated two open pit gold mines. 

Holabird had previously been convinced the nugget came from gold-bearing property near the community of Washington in Nevada County because it matched the appearance of other specimens taken nearby.

Holabird said the Nevada County landowner, who claimed to have discovered the nugget last year, signed documents attesting to its authenticity.

Holabird said the landowner, whom he refuses to identify, had been trying to sell his property in recent years.  He said they had spoken on the phone multiple times this weekend and the landowner is sticking to his story.

"There's going to be a point he has to go public, and that's today. Now is the time," Holabird insisted.

Holabird said he is assembling a team of experts to determine the true origin of the nugget. The team includes geologist Robert Cook of Auburn University in Alabama and John Watling, a forensic chemical analyst at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Despite the strong photograph evidence of fraud, Holabird insisted on pursuing a chemical analysis of the suspect nugget.

"We're going to cut out the rumors and go with science," Holabird said.

Holabird said he was still waiting to hear from Irvine-based Spectrum Group International, which represented the buyer at the March auction.

By George Warren, GWarren@news10.net 

News10/KXTV

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