From Teeth to Toilets, This Dazzling Exhibit of Gold Artifacts Has the Midas Touch

December 22, 2015

By Jennifer Nalewicki, Smithsonian Magazine

Everything Sidney Mobell touches seems to turn to gold. The acclaimed octogenarian artist and jewelry maker has made a name for himself by transforming everyday objects into golden masterpieces. Now, in an exhibition titled “Worth Its Weight: Gold from the Ground Up” at the Museum of American Finance, visitors can see highlights from his dazzling and quirky collection, including a 14-karat gold mousetrap baited with a diamond cheese wedge, a solid gold Monopoly board, a diamond, ruby and sapphire-encrusted Nokia cell phone and a jewel-studded, golden toilet seat fit for King Midas. Together with artifacts, artworks and gold-based technologies, they tell the story of gold, its lasting allure and its continued importance to society.

Sarah Poole, the New York City-based museum’s curator and collections manager, borrowed pieces from more than 40 public and private collections around the world. In addition to Mobell’s works, 19 of which are on loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the exhibit showcases one-of-a-kind jewelry from the Tiffany & Co. archives, gold bars recovered from a 19th-century shipwreck, and rare currency, including the first known gold coin dated to between 564 and 550 B.C.

“[Gold] is usually the first thing people think of when it comes to luxury,” Kristin Aguilera, the museum’s deputy director, tells Smithsonian.com. Adds her colleague, curator and collections manager Sarah Poole, “It’s nice to have all of the luxury items on display, but I also wanted to tell the story behind how gold is discovered and formed into objects.” That’s why prospecting tools like a weathered metal pan and pickaxe dating back to the 1849 California Gold Rush are featured, as well as molds used to form gold into different shapes.

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