Minerals for Fools
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Book: 
Our Fascinating Earth

Minerals for Fools

One of the first minerals that students of earth science learn to recognize is the iron and sulfur mineral known as pyrite (FeS2). A rather common mineral, it occurs all over the world and is often referred to as "fool's gold" because superficially it resembles the precious yellow metal.

The origin of its nickname has been traced to the California gold rush days. Most of the forty—niners, who included many wanderers, criminals, and misfits, had very little knowledge of the occurrence and appearance of gold in the field. Therefore it was not unusual for a prospector to come upon a ledge of pyrite and think he had struck it rich. These inexperienced unfortunates would rush into town to file claims and buy drinks for everybody. When the assays were returned, the fool—with—the—gold would be informed that his ore was common iron pyrite, worth about $1 a ton. Many townspeople took advantage of the free drinks even though they knew the pyrite was gold only for fools.

Another metal with a somewhat similar nickname was discovered in Colombia almost 500 years ago. It was considered quite worthless, and people looked on the metal as "unripe gold," referring to the mineral as "fools silver." With this attitude firmly established, the miners simply threw it onto the nearest scrap heap, where they expected it to ripen into gold. Some of these "scrap heaps" grew to considerable size.

Today nobody makes unkind remarks about platinum. In recent years the mining town of Quibdo in the Choc