Fool’s Gold vs. Gold – How to Tell Fools Gold from Real Gold?

At first glance, the term Fool’s Gold implies at least some connection to gold, but it actually only applies to the mineral called pyrite. Even though its golden color resembles this precious metal, its other characteristics are very much different.

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If you are the one who likes gold, you probably want to know the primary differences between fool’s gold vs. gold. Let’s discover whether their characteristics and values are significantly different, and is it possible to misjudge them.

Fool’s Gold

Pyrite is widely known as fool’s gold because people often mistakenly consider this widespread mineral for real gold. Many believe that this term appeared for the first time among miners and gold prospectors during the Gold Rush.

In such a case, the most likely reason for this name was that someone felt stupid after trying to sell pyrite they mistakenly considered real gold. However, it is more likely that the term was older and actually dated back to numerous expeditions to the New World organized to search for gold.

It is believed that Queen Elizabeth’s expeditions were the first ones to bring pyrite ores to Europe. Original assumptions were a deep disappointment after checking because explorers genuinely thought they found pure gold.

Pyrite

Pyrite

If you want to determine the difference between gold and fool’s gold more quickly, you should know their primary characteristics. First, pyrite is not a metal at all despite its metallic shine. The pyrite color is undoubtedly similar to gold, but it usually has a more brass-yellow shade.

The most dominant feature is its crystalline structure. You can quickly recognize this mineral since its surface is covered with:

  • Sharp edges
  • Cubes
  • Octahedrons
  • Pyritohedron, a characteristic twelve-surface crystal isometric form typical for pyrite

It is also possible to find samples with fine stripes over the surface.

Other gold-like minerals

gold-like minerals

Besides pyrite, you can recognize a few more minerals that people often mistake for gold, including:

  • Chalcopyrite
  • Biotite
  • Phlogopite mica
  • Pyrrhotite

These minerals resemble gold a bit, especially when they are weathered. They all have a yellowish color and metallic shine, but their other traits are not even close to pure gold.

The Difference between Gold and Fool’s Gold

The Difference between Gold and Fool’s Gold

It is not rare for people to assume that everything shiny with a golden color is gold. Most never heard about the term fool’s gold. Let’s see how to recognize it from the real stuff.

Color and shine

Although both gold and pyrite are yellow, gold features a striking golden-yellow shade, while pyrite’s color is more brass-yellow. Both gold and pyrite appear equally shiny at first glance, particularly when you put them under a direct light.

However, gold remains shiny under any circumstances, while pyrite loses its glow when there is not much light around.

Stripes

As I have already mentioned, pyrite often has fine parallel stripes on the surface, better known as striations. Although many kinds of stones and minerals you can find in nature have them, gold is never on that list.

On the other hand, you should never jump to conclusions when noticing stripes because gold pieces sometimes have traces of mechanical damage reminding striations. They can be a result of excavation equipment or natural causes.

Smell

Pyrite ore contains sulfur, well-known as brimstone. As you have probably known, sulfur has a distinguished and highly unpleasant smell that resembles the smell of rotten eggs.

On the other hand, precious metals like gold have no smell at all. So, you can be sure that you have a piece of fool’s gold if you notice any unusual scent.

Weight

The gold and fool’s gold weights are notably different. The best option to differentiate them is to put both pieces in water. In such a case, pyrite will float while heavier and denser gold won’t. It will always fall to the bottom of the bowl.

Shape

The most apparent difference between gold and fool’s gold is their shapes. As I have already explained, fool’s gold typically has an edgy shape with many tiny and large crystals.

When you look closely at a piece, you will see that its structure is often built of little cubes or other geometrical shapes. On the other hand, lumps of gold are always soft with more rounded edges.

Structure

Keep in mind that gold can sometimes have a crystalline structure and sharp edges when severe natural conditions significantly affect it. Such crystalline gold can be collectible, particularly when its unique look is aesthetically valued.

Keep in mind that jewelers avoid using those pieces to make jewelry. However, these lumps are beautiful and can sometimes have a higher value than the gold they are made of. So, you should be careful and get unusual pieces checked before discarding them.

Tests to Separate Gold and Fool’s Gold

The mere description of gold and pyrite features can often help you tell the difference between these two. However, even the most experienced expert sometimes needs more information to make the final conclusion.

Luckily, there are a few tests you can efficiently conduct at home or in the field. They will precisely determine if the gold you have found is real or not.

Always read the user manual before applying a particular test. Some of them are based on observing the samples without damaging gold. On the other hand, some testing methods require ruining the lump.

Therefore, it is crucial to avoid destructive tests and prevent damaging a piece of gold you suspect valuable whenever possible. Let’s take a closer look.

Destructive Tests

Fools Gold Destructive Tests

Most methods for distinguishing gold from fool’s gold are pretty uncomplicated, and you can quickly use them at home.

Streak test

When you scratch a piece of pure gold against a black streak plate, it will leave a yellow streak. On the other hand, brassy yellow pyrite will always make the greenish-black to the brownish-black line over a white plate’s surface.

Rub test

When you slightly rub gold over white unglazed porcelain, it will leave a yellow streak on it. On the other hand, pyrite will make the greenish to the black line when rubbing it over the same surface.

Hardness

You should know that gold is a soft material with a value of 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. Pyrite has almost three times higher hardness value than gold or 6 to 6.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. The best option for this test is to use a sharp piece of copper since its value on the same scale is 3. Copper will slightly scratch gold while it can’t mark harder pyrite.

Ductility

As a soft metal, gold can effortlessly bend or dent. If you bite it or put some pressure on its surface with a needle or pointy piece of wood, you will notice a tiny dent left behind. When trying to do it with fool’s gold, it will either crumble or remain intact.

Sectility

Believe it or not, you can cut gold into pieces with a sharp knife or scissors since it is a sectile metal. Pyrite doesn’t share this property, so you can’t cut it under any circumstances.

Non-destructive Methods

Tarnishing

Fools Gold Tarnishing

Tarnishing is the first indicator that the specimen you have found is not gold. Most fool’s gold ores found in nature are shineless because their surface is covered with a thin dark layer. Unlike pyrite, gold neither rusts nor loses color, so it is always shiny and can’t tarnish.

Specific gravity

Determining specific gravity requires a particular gravity measuring device, but you probably don’t have it as most people. If you want to test the sample this way, you will need to ask an expert for help.

This test is based on the fact that the specific gravity of gold is about 19.3, while this value for pyrite is only about 5, which is significantly lower. This method includes determining the specific gravity by measuring the sample’s weight in the water and air and calculating those two weights ratio.

Remember that you will rarely find pure elements in nature, so it is possible to see samples containing both gold and pyrite. In such a case, this test is practically irreplaceable, and most geologists use it for testing ores like this, as well.

Fool’s Gold Use

Even though most people consider fool’s gold worthless, it is not entirely useless. It is impossible to process pyrite into jewelry because it can’t be shaped like gold, but some samples are beautiful because of their unique crystalline shape.

Women have often enjoyed embedding these lovely gemstones into pendants or wearing them as roughly shaped beads. In fact, such jewelry was trendy in the 19th century. It seems that this beautiful mineral can find its place in the new fashion industry, as well.

Summary

With a look that is similar to gold, pyrite is widely known as fool’s gold. It deserved its nickname because many people who have found it believed they had found gold.

Unfortunately, pyrite is worth practically nothing, so you should see a way to distinguish it from gold by using some simple tests before making a conclusion.

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