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Gold Ring

See the Question and Comments below the picture, transcription, and original letter.

Composite image of two views of a gold ring lacking a stone, and the cover of Hill's The Last Spike.

Image processing Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper.

Summary of the accompanying letter: "So David [Hewes, a cousin of my wife Mary C. Hewes] had [the spike of California gold] drawn out [of the tie], and later made into rings with a sample of California Quartz in each - He gave many to R.R. officers and of course had all the passes he wanted from Cal. to Boston and return with relatives and friends.
He gave me one of the rings and I will send it to you by mail in the morning - As you have cast in your lot with the [railroad] profession, I think it quite appropriate that you have the ring. I hope it will afford you as much pleasure in receiving as I do in presenting it to you."

Ring Letter

Ring Letter

Pages 4 and 1
Ring Letter

Pages 2 and 3
Ring Letter

Courtesy of the Owner.


The owner of the above ring and letter writes (9/2003):

What do you think a ring from David Hewes golden nugget "spike"would be worth? ...

I hope you can help me because I have been to quite a few dealers and nobody knows what to think of this.  I have a letter explaining that a man who was married to a Mary Hewes decided to give my great uncle William as a present.  He gave my great uncle this present on account of he had been promoted 4 times in the last 10 months while working for the Northern Pacific Railroad.   The gift he gave him was a railroad ring that was made by her cousin.    The ring was made from gold that was taken from the gold spike at the completion of the transcontinental railway.  My Great Aunt gave the ring to me on account of I work for the BNSF and she wanted a railroader to have it.  In his letter he explains that the rings (some went to company officers) were made of the gold with a stone of California quartz.  My ring does not have the stone. ...   There is no inscription on the ring.  ... I have no idea what something like this is worth. ...

I also have a transcript of the letter from a family linage of my mothers side, Charles Garrison Peabody. ... I also noticed for the first time an embossment on the upper left of the first page by the date. The first image is pages 1 + 4 on account of the lines run across the paper the long way instead of like the notebooks I have. The second image is pages 2 + 3 ...

William Lawrence Peabody Jr. was my great uncle. This letter was to him. The person writing the letter was married to Mary C. Hewes, the cousin of David Hewes. I don't know if she was married to a Peabody or if it was someone else. I have had the ring and letter for quite some time but didn't realize what I had until I asked a friend on a golf outing if he knew someone who could put a value on it. My friend said that person offered $15,000 sight unseen. I thought I should research this. ... I just acquired the copy of my genealogy of the Peabody family from my mother. ... It is about 100 pages in length. I haven't had a chance to go through it yet to see if any Peabody's were married to Mary Hewes. If it wasn't a Peabody she was married to I suppose I will have to find out who she was married to in 1903, or who lived at that address in Washington D.C. in 1903.


Bruce C. Cooper comments:

> Even after reading this letter I am not yet convinced that this ring is authentic. ...

See: the Sale of The "Last Spike Ring" presented by David Hewes to his wife [Picture of that Hewes ring] by Witherells Art & Antiques from the American West and the National Park Service page, The Last Spike.

Also see the commentary on Ambrose's description of the golden spike.

Don Snoddy comments:

> I have always been under the impression that there were only 4 rings made from the last spike slug.  One for Grant, one for Seward, one for Ames and one for Stanford.  They had insets of Moss Agate and Gold Quartz. and were finely engraved.  The image you show has none of those features. 
The writer suggest that the gold spike was removed and made into many rings.  The known gold spike is at Stanford, so I suspect he's a bit mistaken.  There was rumor that there was a 4th spike, which has never surfaced nor been accounted for since 1869.  Maybe that's why.  Hewes had the 4th spike made into all the souvenirs.

G.J. "Chris" Graves comments:

> At the California State Railroad Museum there is walking cane, made of wood, and highly polished, with a brass plaque that gives the cane to Theodore Judah, from Charles Lincoln Wilson, President of the SVRR. It has a specimen of gold on the knob end, the gold is carried in the original quartz.


The ring itself does not have the inscription nor seem to fit the description of the four known Hewes rings made from the golden last spike's sprue. See a photograph of a Hewes ring. However, two miniature golden spike watch fobs both thought to have been made from the last spike's sprue do not seem to be identical, so perhaps there is no reason to assume that all the rings made by Hewes were identical either.

The above letter is incorrect when it says that ... "the spike of California gold" was "drawn out ... of the tie ... and later made into rings" – that is not possible because the last spike still exists and is in the Stanford University Museum collection. That does not, of course, preclude gold from the sprue (if there was enough) or from another gold spike whose fate is unknown from having been used (for example, the Hewes receipt shows two gold spikes having been made).

We wonder if each smelted batch of gold typically is sufficiently well mixed, and has sufficient variation in elemental or isotopic impurities to allow scientific comparison of gold from the last spike with gold from a ring to determine if they were from the same batch. Perhaps such a comparative analysis of the gold's impurities could be made using mass spectrometry, x-ray fluorescence, or neutron activation analysis, but even if technically feasible, this would be costly, and obtaining access to the last spike for such testing would likely be problematic. We also do not know if there are any isotopic ratios that can be used to date when gold was smelted. Absence of strontium-90 contamination can be used to confirm that a sample of steel was produced before the middle of the 20th century, i.e., before atmospheric explosions of nuclear weapons occurred, but we do not know if this examination for nuclear fission products can be reliably performed on samples of gold. Having expert examination of the letter to verify its 1903 date and obtaining verification of the genealogical information are some other things that could be done in an effort to obtain a bit more information that might contribute to an evaluation of the provenance of the ring. Perhaps an expert could advise if the cost and effort of such esoteric undertakings are justified by the potential information that might be gained.


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