Gold is a soft, yellow element that forms a rare, nearly indestructible precious metal. It is often found in quartz veins, in the gravel of streams and mined from areas containing other ores such as copper and lead. It has been used as a store of a nation's wealth and a medium of international exchange and valued as insurance against the uncertainty of paper money.
Gold conducts electricity, is extremely resistant to corrosion and is one of the most stable of the elements; for those reasons it is critically important in electronics and other high-tech applications. It is also the most malleable metal.
It has an atomic number of 79 and an atomic weight of 196.967, and its melting point is 1,063.0°C. Gold's boiling point is 2,966.0°C and its specific gravity is 19.32 and valence 1, 3.
The world's largest trove of gold, about half a million bars, is kept in the vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky, holds the next largest amount of gold.
The United States Congress put the nation's currency on a bimetallic standard, backing it with gold and silver, in 1792. During the 1930s Depression, most nations were forced to sever their currency from gold in an attempt to stabilize their economies.
In 1944, the Bretton Woods Agreement pegged all the world's paper currencies to the U.S. dollar, which in turn was tied to gold. President Richard Nixon ended the convertibility of the dollar into gold in 1971. Today, gold prices float freely in accordance with supply and demand.
In 2010, Robert Zoellick made comments in the Financial Times that brought back the idea of a gold standard. He saw gold as a "cooperative monetary system." Zoellick saw gold being used as an "international reference point" and a viable alternative to paper currencies. 
Trading and Investing
Gold is more accessible to the average person than most physical commodities because investors can buy gold bullion from a dealer or (sometimes) from a bank. The over-the-counter markets account for the majority of global gold trading. The main centers of the OTC market for gold are London, New York, and Zurich.
There are various ways to invest in gold without owning the commodity, however, such as exchange traded funds (ETF) that replicate the movements of gold - for example, the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSE: GLD) and the iShares COMEX Gold Trust (IAU) - and NYMEX gold futures and options. Commercial producers and users of the metal use the futures contracts as a hedge against price risk.
In the U.S., gold and silver futures, and options on futures are offered at the CME Group, which now includes NYMEX and COMEX, and at NYSE Liffe U.S., the division of NYSE Euronext that offers the precious metals complex NYSE Euronext acquired from the CME Group.
Gold has been at the center of many small and large crimes. The largest gold heist in the U.K. occurred in 1983 when six men broke into a Brinks Warehouse dressed as security officers. After disabling a large amount of electronic security equipment, the men escapted with 10 tonnes of gold bullion and £100,000 worth of uncut diamonds.
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