$2M in gold and gems taken from Mining Museum

jrayburn@fresnobee.comSeptember 28, 2012 

— An estimated $2 million worth of gold nuggets and other precious gems were stolen Friday afternoon from the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, a state parks spokesman said.

Several robbers threatened museum staff with weapons before stealing the gems and gold, Park Superintendent Greg Martin said.

No injuries were reported. Few details were available late Friday from local law enforcement agencies about the holdup.

Only a rough estimate of the amount stolen can be made until there is an inspection of the museum's inventory, said Roy Stearns, deputy director for communications for the state parks department.

Some of the stolen gold is fairly large, about the size of a fist in some cases, and would be difficult to sell.

The museum is home to the 201-ounce Fricot nugget, the largest intact mass of crystalline gold from the Gold Rush era. There is also a large example of benitoite, the state's official blue-purple gemstone, as well as samples of silver ore and green California jade. The museum also houses many artifacts from the gold mining era.

The collection was moved from San Francisco to Mariposa in 1983, after having been kept in the Ferry Building since 1881. The current museum was built and ready for occupancy in 1987. The state Department of Conservation handled the management of the collection and the museum until 1991, when the state Department of Parks and Recreation took over.

The museum was facing closure this summer when funding for state parks was cut dramatically. But with the discovery of $54 million in previously unaccounted for state parks funds, the closure was put on hold.

The collection at the museum is considered significant, curator Darci Moore said in a recent Sun-Star story.

"Geologists and experts in mineralogy come here to do their research," Moore said, adding that the multimillion dollar collection includes specimens from around the world.

Moore said more than 20,000 people visit every year, and despite the threat of closure because of state budget problems, the museum's 132-year-old display remains open.

Moore said she fears what will happen to the collection if the museum is closed: Will it be properly protected? Will the largest pieces be shipped to bigger museums, leaving the rest to be forgotten?

The Sun-Star contributed to this report.

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