Placer’s gold collection safe and secure at Auburn museum

Siskiyou County continues search for part of $3 million collection filched by burglars last week
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - While Siskiyou County has put out a $15,000 reward for its stolen gold, Placer County’s own sizeable collection is safe and secure in a vault at an Auburn museum. The Placer County Museum at the historic courthouse in Old Town Auburn has been home to the gold collection for 15 years. In the 1990s, it was valued at $343,000 – much higher than the value of its 192 troy ounces of gold because of the rarity and size of some of its specimens. At the time, gold was selling for $331 an ounce. Today, the market price is more than $1,700 an ounce. Placer County Museums Administrator Melanie Barton said Tuesday that the county and its partners in gold security – a private security firm and the nearby Auburn Police Department – have taken notice of the Yreka burglary. “We’re re-evaluating security all the time,” Barton said. “But I’m comfortable as you can be with the security we have.” The estimate of the loss in the Siskiyou County theft was initially reported at $3 million but the county treasurer and auditor-controller were taking an inventory this week to determine the exact amount. Two suspects, both wearing masks, were seen on surveillance images as they broke into the Siskiyou County courthouse and smashed a lobby display case to get at the gold. The theft took place early Wednesday and the display case alarm reportedly didn’t go off. Barton said that the Placer County gold is also guarded by alarms and cameras. During the day, a bailiff is stationed at the door of the Placer County Courthouse. While the gold is displayed for public viewing, it is tucked away in a vault behind unbreakable glass. The last appraisal of the gold took place in the 1990s. Barton said an appraisal today wouldn’t take into account the value it has as a county treasure. “The value is in its history,” Barton said. “It’s a unique collection representative of gold found locally. People take pride in the collection and enjoy it. A lot of people come to the museum just to see the gold collection.” The gold collection includes specimens of quartz gold, smooth placer nuggets and rare crystalline formations. The five largest pieces were purchased by the county in 1921 for $3,506, while the rest of the collection was acquired over the next 40 years. Former Placer County Treasurer-Tax Collector Earl Corin would break out the collection from his office vault to show wide-eyed schoolchildren on tours a close-up view of real Placer County gold. But security has become tighter in recent years as gold has become more valuable. When the collection was moved from the treasurer’s office, then on Fulweiler Avenue, to the museum in 1997, not even his successor – current Treasurer Jenine Windeshausen – was told of the exact time the armored car would drive up to collect it. Larry Coltrin, a Chicago-area resident, viewed the collection Tuesday with a certain degree of awe. “There is nothing but rocks and mud where I live,” Coltrin said. “This is where it all started and that’s what makes it so interesting.” John Benbow of Auburn said he particularly likes the gold in the collection that is still attached to the quartz that you can see in formations throughout the area. “This is a real county treasure,” Benbow said. “And the fact that someone stole another county’s treasure makes it more important for us to remember to treasure it.”