Trouble in the Golden Rooster Room

Out near Reno, Nevada, you’ll find John Ascuaga's Nugget Hotel. It’s a ritzy place, and the décor proves it. All the dining and conference halls at the Nugget each have their own theme, insignia, and menu to make them unique and memorable. However, when the nugget tried to open the Golden Rooster Room with its usual fanfare in 1958, it hit a little snag.

The hotel management had decided that to help the Golden Rooster Room stand out, they would commission a solid gold rooster statue to be the centerpiece of the room. After getting permission from the San Francisco Mint, they hired Newman's Silver Shop of Reno and Shreve's of San Francisco to fashion the statue – based on a model by sculptor Frank Polk.

The result was a fantastically detailed 18k gold statue. The value and beauty of the statue attracted hundreds of visitors and the Golden Rooster Room built up a reputation as one of Nevada’s great tourist attractions. However, the U.S. Treasury Department soon caught wind of the rooster, and cried foul.

The Treasury Department claimed that the hotel was in violation of the Gold Reserve Act which makes it unlawful for a private individual to have more than 50 ounces of gold in possession. The law was widespread news at the time, so how could the hotel knowingly violate the law? Well, there is a provision in the law that states such a gold possession would be legal if it were in the form of and object of art. The Nugget believed the rooster was art. The Treasury Department did not.

After two years of litigation (during most of which the rooster in question was under confiscation by the U.S. government), the courts agreed that the golden rooster was indeed, a piece of art. It was returned to the Nugget Hotel where it crows over the Golden Rooster Room to this day.

More Atocha Treasure Discovered

In some earlier blog posts, we talked about the origins and partial recovery of the Atocha shipwreck. The Atocha was a Spanish cargo ship that made stops at several ports in the Americas during the 17th century. During one fateful tour, it loaded up with an incredible amount of gold, silver, and other treasure collected from Spanish colonies. It was on its way back to Spain when it was sunk by a hurricane near the Dry Tortugas off the Florida coast. The Atocha’s cargo was so vast and valuable that it’s destruction was acutely felt in the Spanish economy, which was depending on it’s safe arrival.

Hundreds of years later, Mel Fisher earned his fame as one of the greatest treasure hunters by finding and recovering more than 40 tons of gold and silver treasures from the Atocha shipwreck. This was, however, but a portion of the Atocha’s cargo. The really valuable treasure (including religious artifacts) was kept in the ship’s stern castle, which broke off and was swept away by the hurricane. To this day, treasure hunters still search for the Atocha’s stern castle, hoping to make it big. Sometimes (but rarely), clues are found. One of which was a four-foot long gold chain.

The chain was discovered by divers working with none other than Mel Fisher. The chain is made of 55 gold links shaped like cotter pins. Attached to the chain is a two-inch long gold cross with Latin inscriptions. This religious artifact, worth more than $250,000, almost certainly came from the Atocha’s stern castle. Perhaps treasure hunters will find the entire haul sooner, rather than later.

World’s Largest Gold Hoard

Gold has been very popular in the country of India and continues to be to this day. However, the world gained a whole insight on India’s gold when the government took inventory at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. It was found to contain at least $26 billion (yes, billion) in gold and silver artifacts.

The treasure at the temple wasn’t “lost” in a traditional sense. As a matter of fact, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is widely known for its beautifully intricate sculptures. Its six underground vaults, however, were not visited often. Priests did open four of the vaults for certain occasions, but others less frequently – with one having been sealed for nearly 140 years.

The temple has been around for hundreds of years. It was built by the Travencore royal family during the 16th century, but is controlled by a trust run by the Royal family, presently. Questioning the security of the temple’s assets, the Supreme Court of India ordered that the vaults be opened and inventoried. Naturally, the sheer amount of treasure inside came as a great surprise. Thousands of gold coins, massive golden idols, sacks of diamonds, and more incredible treasures have been catalogued. Currently, the treasures are being valued by the market price of their precious metal or gem content alone. If official’s were to factor in craftsmanship and historical significance, the treasure of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple could exceed $1 trillion.

How did it all get there? Archaeologists believe the treasures to be hundreds of year’s worth of temple offerings and donations. The temple is situated near what was once a popular trade route, so it’s likely that many prominent merchants and royalty made many tributes over time. It all eventually added up to be one of the biggest gold hoards in the entire world.