An iron nail in Californian quartz

In 1851, Hiram de Witt (1810-?), of Springfield (Massachusetts, USA) dropped a piece of auriferous quartz about the size of a fist that he had collected in California, breaking it. He found a slightly corroded 50 mm (2 inch) cut iron nail inside it. According to The Times of 24 December 1851, “it was entirely straight and had a perfect head”.

All the accounts derive ultimately from a newspaper report in The Illinois Springfield Republican. As with so many of these nineteenth-century newspaper reports, there are grave doubts about their reliability. These short accounts of curiosities were a staple of Victorian reporting and were designed to amuse and puzzle in the same way as twentieth-century stories that Elvis Presley was still alive years after his reported death in 1977.

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