Gold fever has struck at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which is to open an exhibit Friday on the precious mineral. "Gold! Natural Treasure, Cultural Obsession" will continue through Aug. 7.
More than 1,000 glittering items will be shown in eight sections covering, among other aspects, the history, culture and geology of gold.
The exhibit comprises what is thought to be the largest and most comprehensive collection of gold mineral specimens, bullion and other objects ever assembled, said Joel A. Bartsch, the museum's president.
Among the rarest items, said museum spokeswoman Erin Blatzer, is a 1933 Double Eagle coin on loan from the Smithsonian. Nearly all the $20 U.S. gold coins minted in 1933 were melted down the next year after legislation ended circulation and private possession of U.S. gold coins except for rare and unusual ones valued by collectors.
The 1933 Double Eagle is considered to be among the world's most valuable coins; one sold in 2002 at auction for more than $7 million.
Also on display will be 6th century BC coins from ancient Lydia (now Turkey); items recovered from the U.S. mail steamship Central America, which sank in 1857 off the Carolinas' coast carrying treasure from the California Gold Rush; and the "Dragon," a natural piece of crystalline gold shaped like the mythical beast that was found in Mariposa County's Colorado Quartz Mine.
The dragon, more than 9 inches tall, is "certainly among the top 10 mineral specimens in the world," said Mark Mauthner, the museum's associate curator of gems and minerals.
More than 280 gold bars from a collection at Australia's Perth Mint will be shown in the U.S. for the first time, Mauthner said. Visitors also will be able to walk through a room, 8 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet, that is lined with a thin layer of gold.
Among the more whimsical items will be one of Elvis Presley's gold records and his gold-plated telephone.
Want to get your hands on 400 ounces of gold? A special case will let you reach inside and try to lift a bar of that weight. There will also be an area dubbed "Eureka!" with hands-on exhibits that let children pan for gold, hunt for treasure with a metal detector and more.
Mauthner declined to say how much the exhibition is insured for.
An evening lecture series accompanying the exhibit is planned for Tuesday with a presentation by Robert Evans, curator of the sunken Central America ship.
Exhibition tickets cost $12 for adults, $8 for seniors age 62 and older and $6 for children ages 3 to 11. The price includes admission to the museum's other galleries and to a large-format film, "Gold Fever," at the Wortham IMAX Theatre. For tickets: (713) 639-4629, http://www.hmns.org .
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