What is Fool's Gold?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Properly known as pyrite, fool’s gold is a common mineral that has a color very similar to that of gold. To the untrained eye, pyrite has a sheen and hue that can easily be mistaken for the much more valuable metal. Because the mineral does bear such a striking resemblance to gold, it has been used to fool many people, hence the nickname of fool’s gold.

Stack of gold bars.
Stack of gold bars.

To the consternation of many miners, pyrite can often be found in locations where gold is also present. This made it much easier to mistakenly identify the mineral as real gold in settings where inexperienced miners were attempting to build their fortunes during a gold rush, such as the well-known rush in California around the middle of the 19th century.

Over the years, the concept of fool’s gold has taken on a life of its own. References to the mineral appear in literature, musical compositions and even in marketing and advertising campaigns. In most cases, fool’s gold is identified as something that appears to be one thing, but is in fact another. This has led to creatively applying the term to situations such as a love that proved to be false, imitation products that were inferior to the originals, and virtually any situation that proved to not be what it originally appeared to be. The images conjured up by referring to fool’s gold continue to provide inspiration for songwriters and producers of other creative works.

While not considered as desirable as white gold or yellow gold, pyrite is far from being a useless mineral. Fool’s gold is essential to the production of sulfur dioxide. This one application makes the mineral important to the production of all sorts of paper and paper products ranging from cardboard boxes to writing paper. The mineral is also necessary in the production of sulfuric acid, a compound used in many industries to produce a wide range of goods.

Before the advent of the vacuum tube, fool’s gold was used as a detector in various designs for radio receivers. Pyrite is still used today among enthusiasts who enjoy working with crystal radio sets. Owing to the compounds produced from fool’s gold, the mineral continues to be mined for use in many manufacturing settings. While pyrite has never approached the price of gold, it has proven to be a substance that is worth the cost of mining and does make the production of many of the goods and products consumers use each day more cost-efficient.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Though fool's gold is not valuable like real gold, it makes a neat addition to a rock collection.

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