Electrum

Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, containing between about 50% and 80% gold. It has a pale yellow colour, which becomes paler with increasing silver content. Electrum was widely used by the ancient Greeks to make jewellery and coins, and remains an important source of both gold and silver.

This sample is from the Engineer mine on the east side of Tagish Lake, about 30 km west of Atlin in northern BC.

Today, Atlin is a small community of around 400 people. But at its peak during the Atlin Gold Rush, the population was as high as 10,000. An offshoot of the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, the Atlin Gold Rush started in 1898 when prospectors on their way to the Yukon ventured east from Skagway instead of continuing northwards on the Chilkoot Trail. They first found gold at Pine Creek, just south of present-day Atlin, and prospectors soon rushed in. A small townsite soon sprang up, initially named “Discovery”, and by the end of 1899 had attracted over 5,000 people. A few years later, the town moved a few kilometers north to its present location and remained a hub for local mining activities for several decades. Although the original Atlin Gold Rush has passed, gold exploration continues in the area to this day.

Most of the mining around Atlin was gold placer mining. However, mines like the Engineer mine were discovered in the surrounding mountains where gold veins are the source for the nuggets that eventually make their way to placer deposits downstream. Silver was also mined from veins in the area.

The land around the Engineer mine was first staked in 1899 after railway engineer C.A.Anderson received a tip-off from Swedish prospectors about a yellow metal on the shores of Tagish Lake. Anderson discovered visible gold in quartz-calcite veins and staked the first claims in July of that year. He later returned with another railway engineer, Henry C.Diers, and together they staked the rest of the claims that became known as the Engineer claims.

The two engineers began working their claims and started a small mill, but never finished it. By 1906, they had run out of funds and the claims lapsed. Soon after, they were restaked by Edwin Brown, who then sold them to Captain James Alexander. By some accounts, Brown was forced to sell the claims against his will, and cursed Alexander and all others who tried to profit from the claims.

Alexander added more land to the claims and began promoting their richness to attract investors and potential buyers. In 1918, a group of investors came to tour the mine. On their return voyage from Skagway to Vancouver on October 26, the steam ship carrying Alexander, his wife and the investors ran aground in the Lynn Canal in a storm. There were no survivors from the ship.

A legal dispute followed, and no further work was done until 1923, when a group from New York bought the property and resumed mining. The mine changed hands several times and went in and out of production until its final closure in 1952.

Production records are incomplete, but from 1910 to 1952, 16,700 tonnes of ore were mined, producing 611,000 grams of gold at grades as high as 37 grams per tonne. Most of the ore at the Engineer mine came from underground mining of the Engineer and Double Decker veins, which are less than two metres wide, as well as several small surface workings. Exploration work continues in the area to this day, but no ore has been mined at the Engineer mine since then.

Specimen Information

Store: Pacific Museum of the Earth, University of British Columbia

Collection: UBC Collection

Accession #: 6862

Primary Mineral: Electrum

Secondary Mineral: Quartz

Site Locality: –

Location: Atlin, British Columbia

Special Features: n/a

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