Gold Hunt: Revisiting The Past, Finding Stellar Origins Reporter Alice Furlaud found a letter from her husband, dated two years before he died. The letter revealed their humble assets, including a list of gold coins stored in a Swiss bank. Furlaud took the trip and rediscovered her past life along the way.
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Gold Hunt: Revisiting The Past, Finding Stellar Origins

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Gold Hunt: Revisiting The Past, Finding Stellar Origins

Gold Hunt: Revisiting The Past, Finding Stellar Origins

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Reporter Alice Furlaud received an unexpected bounty recently. It began with a letter she found from her late husband Max, dated 1997 - two years before he died.

ALICE FURLAUD: The letter describes all our assets. There weren't many - only our house and, to my amazement, a list of gold coins. Max was a wonderful writer who won lots of awards for his documentary films, but not much money. And yet it seems there was this safety deposit box in Gstaad, Switzerland, full of Krugerrands - whatever they were - and New Sovereigns - whatever they were. I decided to take a chance, and I set out for Switzerland on what might be just a wild gold chase.

(Soundbite of bells ringing)

FURLAUD: It was Sunday when I arrived in Gstaad, so I took the lovely little train through the mountains to the un-touristy village five station stops away from Gstaad, where once Max and I lived for part of every year for about 12 years.

Looking across the railroad tracks, across the valley and up on the mountain, which we always thought of as the wrong side, because it got freezing cold in November - the shadows came, and you couldn't stay there. And when we lived there - I'm looking at the chalet, beginning to weep a little - it had no plumbing and the barn belonged to a wonderful young family. And we lived among a herd of cows, their cows - they all had names. And the bells, my goodness -when they were under our window, it was like a Hindu temple.

(Soundbite of bells ringing)

FURLAUD: The next day I went to Credit Suisse. The safety deposit box was there, and it did have gold coins in it, exactly as Max had listed them.

(Soundbite of coins clanging)

FURLAUD: Wow, there go the Krugerrands and there go the Sovereigns.

Now back home on Cape Cod, I brought a sample of each coin to show Tom Carney, a well-known expert who deals in coins. I like Tom a lot, partly because he has four elderly rescued cats.

The Krugerrand is a heavy gold coin, slightly larger than a silver dollar. But it's not pure gold, Tom told me.

Mr. TOM CARNEY (Coin Expert): They put some other elements in it to keep it so that it's hard.

FURLAUD: And whose picture is that on it? It looks a little like Peter Sellers. And who is he?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARNEY: Peter Sellers. Well, that we'd have to look up and we have the books to look that up, if we need to do any of that kind of stuff.

FURLAUD: We looked it up in one of Tom's telephone-book-sized coin dictionaries. The bearded man on the Krugerrand is Paul Kruger, the Boer president of the Republic of South Africa. And on the other side is an antelope-ish animal, the South African springbok. Oh dear, was Max contributing to apartheid when he bought those coins? But it seems that everybody does it.

Mr. CARNEY: There's three coins that are internationally traded: the Krugerrand, the Canadian Maple Leaf, and the American Gold Eagle. There are several others: the Chinese Panda, Australian Nugget.

FURLAUD: Now, this is much smaller.

Mr. CARNEY: That is an English Sovereign and they are also a blend.

FURLAUD: Well, the Sovereigns aren't pure gold but they have a lovely picture of the young Queen Elizabeth on one side and Saint George on horseback, killing a poor defenseless dragon, on the other side.

Mr. CARNEY: That's a standard that's been used since all the way back in the 1700s.

FURLAUD: I think I remember when Max bought those gold coins. It was 1973. We were briefly homeless except for that Swiss chalet without plumbing or heat, and we were spending the winter in London, cat-sitting and house-sitting. We both worked in a little needlepoint factory for a while. And I remember all our friends were saying this was the time to buy gold.

But why is gold such a very special metal? It's even got sex appeal - and I don't just mean women called gold-diggers. Remember Danae, the lady in the Greek myth who was seduced by Zeus? He disguised himself as a shower of gold.

I asked Tom Carney what gives gold its magic.

Mr. CARNEY: Well, first of all, gold is the last element made in a supernova, which is the explosion of a star. Our sun cannot even produce gold. Basically, a sun has to be at least 30 times the size of our sun when it explodes in a supernova. It has to be a massive star.

(Soundbite of coins clanging)

FURLAUD: Max would have loved Tom's astronomical description of gold. The sad thing about my Swiss gold rush is that Max wasn't there to enjoy it with me. We'd both have laughed with delight at the increase in value of the coins Max had bought for so little. Max certainly wouldn't have minded that they weren't worth a fortune.

Look at King Midas, he'd have said. He got his wish that everything he touched would be turned to gold, forgetting that this would include his food. Every morsel turned to gold before he could swallow it.

And on that note, we'd have gone out to dine where I did, at our favorite restaurant in Gstaad - the Posthotel Rossli.

(Soundbite of restaurant chatter)

FURLAUD: For NPR News, Im Alice Furlaud, feeling nouveau riche on Cape Cod.

(Soundbite of coins clattering)

LYDEN: I have to warn the animal charities - to which Im sure Allie plans to contribute - that her gold rush was a very modest one. The coins look really nice though(ph).

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