Gold and Fool's Gold - How to Field Test to Tell the Difference

Here are the reliable, quick and easy field test methods one can use on the spot to recognize fools gold and real gold.

Side note. After one has gotten what they came here for, do check out the federal USGS gold resource at the end of the article. All sorts of worthy information is there. Maybe this page should have been titled: Summer Time Gold Rush.

Crystal form of fool's gold.

Fool's Gold

Chemically known as iron pyrite or iron sulfide, the chemical symbol or formula being FeS2; representing the chemical composition of iron and sulfur. Determining the difference between an iron-sulfur rock and the metal gold is straightforward.

List of Physical Observations and Tests on How to Discern Gold versus Fool's Gold

  • Both are yellow, but of different tones. Gold is golden to silvery yellow. Pyrite is pale to medium brassy yellow.
  • Gold shaped as crystals are rare. Pyrite shaped as crystals are common.
  • Gold is soft; pyrite is not. Scratch the mineral with a knife blade. Gold is softer than pyrite and will be scratched or cut. Pyrite cannot be scratched. Beware, a mineral called chalcopyrite which looks like pyrite and can be scratched. However, its brassy, yellowish color will give it away.
  • Gold does not smell; pyrite does. Forcefully rub the specimen with a hard object. Gold has no odor. Pyrite smells like sulfur or rotten eggs.
  • Gold is malleable; pyrite is not. Strike the specimen with a steel hammer. Gold will flatten or change shape and is not known to break. Pyrite will give off sparks and generally act like any other hard rock hit with a hammer.

Iron Pyrite Crystals aka Iron sulfide Crystals, known as fool's gold.

And here is the federal USGS search query results for gold page; all sorts of interesting items and resources there as well. May your gold prospecting adventures be prosperous ones.

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