Gold nuggets from the Golden Nugget go up for auction

Bonhams & Butterfields auction house will offer what it calls “one of the most famous and recognizable collection of gold nuggets in the United States.”

Dubbed the “Golden Nugget Collection” for the legendary Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., where it has been on display for nearly 30 years, the collection is also known as that of Alaskan businessman and entrepreneur Arthur J. Sexauer.

The auction house’s Natural History sale will be held Dec. 3 in Los Angeles. The pre-sale estimate for the collection, which will be sold as a single lot, is available upon request.

Hotel impresario Stephen Wynn convinced Sexauer to display the 32 nuggets at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in October of 1979. The collection has been continuously on view to the public inside a high security bullet-proof case until it was removed in August.

According to Bonhams & Butterfields specialists, less than two percent of the world’s mined gold is found in nugget form. Because of their rarity and characteristics, gold nuggets are valued as gemstones rather than gold. The collection of Alaskan nuggets displayed at the casino were retrieved during the second half of the 20th Century and were selected by Sexauer for their beauty and for their role in local Fairbanks lore. 

Highlights and recognizable pieces from the “Golden Nugget Collection” include: Specimens purchased from noted prospectors John Pettyjohn and Bill Nordeen; specimens from Fairbanks bar owner Deke Brown; the “Eagle’s Head” nugget weighing 12.07 ounces; a fifteen-nugget watch chain, one of the largest in existence (accompanied by a nuggeted railroad switch key); the “sweet potato” nugget; and the largest nugget in the collection, the “Parrot head,” weighing 21.61 ounces.

At the heart of the collection is the “Worry Stone”. An elongated nugget purchased in 1974 from Jimmy Lee, a popular Fairbanks restaurateur. Lee carried his “worry stone” in his change pocket for more than 20 years. Originally 8.27 ounces—he reportedly wore off nearly two ounces of the nugget. A beloved Fairbanks character and friend, as Lee was dying of throat cancer, he kept his 15-year promise to give Sexauer first chance to buy the nugget.

Additional works from the Natural History sale include the Levi Smith Mineral Collection – the most significant institutional de-accession of a mineral collection to be offered at public auction for many decades, according to the auction house.

The collection features azur-malachite specimens from the Copper Queen Mine in Bisbee and Morenci, Arizona. It was donated to the Warren County, Pennsylvania School District by Levi Smith, who made his fortune in the oil business.