Whopper gold nugget turns out to be a whopper of a hoax | TheUnion.com

Whopper gold nugget turns out to be a whopper of a hoax

In April 2010, a Washington, Calif., man claimed to find a whopper of a gold nugget.

It turned out to be a whopper of a hoax.

The nearly 9-pound “Washington Nugget” didn’t come from California’s Mother Lode at all, said representatives at the Reno-based auction firm that handled the nugget’s sale in March. It’s actually the same nugget as one pulled from southeastern Australian soil in 1987, said Don Kagin of the Holabird-Kagin Americana auction house in Reno.

“Based on documentation we’ve seen, the nugget came from Australia,” Kagin said.

A man who has alternatively represented himself as Jim Sanders, Saunders, or Grill, claimed to find the nugget in April 2010 at his home near the Town of Washington, east of Nevada City. He also attempted to have his property assessed for sale, touting the find of the nugget as a sure sign it was stocked with gold.

The nugget was brought to Holabird-Kagin, which auctioned it in March for more than $400,000 to an unidentified bidder.

Shortly thereafter, a Victoria, Australia, man named Murray Cox saw the nugget in a trade magazine and instantly recognized it as the one he and partner Reg Wilson dug up in 1987, he said.

“There’s no mistaking something like that,” he said. “We knew immediately when we saw the nugget in a trade magazine. We didn’t have to do close photographic comparisons.”

Late this spring, Cox began contacting media organizations in California, alerting them of the potential fraud. In early June, Fred Holabird of Holabird-Kagin agreed to inspect the nugget after Cox’s claims were publicized.

Holabird had previously been convinced the nugget came from the California Mother Lode, he said.

“All I can say is that until now, and throughout history, a nugget like that was consistent with what you would find in the Mother Lode, and particularly the Blue Lead Mine,” Holabird said. “Sometimes Mother Nature plays tricks on us.”

Holabird-Kagin refunded the original buyer’s money and took back the nugget, Kagin said. They’ve since sold it to an undisclosed buyer for an undisclosed price, he added. None of the involved parties plans on asking for criminal charges to be filed, Kagin said.

The Union was unable to contact Sanders for this story. Holabird has not been in contact with Sanders after the hoax was uncovered, he said.

“I don’t expect to be speaking to him again in my lifetime,” he said.

How the nugget came to be in Sanders’ possession is a mystery, though. Holabird would not say whether he knew how the nugget got from Cox and Wilson to Sanders.

Cox last knew of the whereabouts of the nugget in 1990, when he sold it to a man who called himself Rattlesnake John from Quartzsite, Ariz., he said. Rattlesnake John would frequently take nuggets from Cox on consignment and sell them in the U.S.

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail kmagin@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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