Only in Colorado: Tom’s Baby

After mysteriously disappearing for decades, Colorado’s largest chunk of gold was rediscovered—but it was several pounds lighter.

March 17 2017, 9:00 AM

After disappearing for decades, Tom's Baby, the largest gold nugget ever found in Colorado, was rediscovered and placed on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

In 1887, two lucky prospectors working in the Gold Flake Mine on Farncomb Hill near Breckenridge made a discovery beyond their wildest dreams—a 13.5-pound chunk of solid, glistening gold. After one of the miners, Tom Groves, reportedly swaddled it in a blanket to carry it safely back to town, the nugget quickly became known as “Tom’s Baby.”

Upon their arrival in Breckenridge, Groves and his partner, Harry Lytton, triumphantly paraded the “baby” around town before taking it to an assayer’s office to be cleaned and weighed. Soon thereafter, the mine’s owner, who had just paid the miners their share, handed Tom’s Baby to a train conductor for transport to Denver. That, according to a Summit Daily article, was the last time the glistening nugget was seen until 1972, when it was rediscovered in a bank vault owned by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science—but was inexplicably two pounds lighter. Since 1974, Tom’s Baby has been a sparkling centerpiece of the museum’s Coors Mineral Hall.

That story, it turns out, may be more legend than truth. The museum’s records indicate the nugget was on display there until 1930, according to an article in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science journal Annals. “It’s fun Colorado lore,” says James Hagadorn, the Tim and Kathryn Ryan Curator of Geology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who interviewed Jack Murphy, the lucky museum curator who opened the bank vault. Regardless of the exact timing, Hagadorn says that Tom’s Baby was truly forgotten—a feat that is surprisingly common in museums, he says. During one or both World Wars, for example, many institutions pulled their materials from displays to safeguard them in case the country was invaded. Between personnel changes and off-site storage, it’s easy to lose track of things, explains Hagadorn.

According to museum records, Tom’s Baby originally weighed about 11 pounds but was reduced to 9.3 pounds after a couple of pieces broke off during its initial cleaning—a weight still large enough qualify as Colorado’s largest singular gold sample. This difference may account for the nugget’s purported weight loss. Despite its fitter physique, Tom’s Baby is still an impressive sight, with delicate crystals adorning its luminous surface.

Regardless of where the truth may lie, the legend of Tom’s Baby remains a compelling tale of good fortune—and fate. If you’re hoping Lady Luck will similarly smile on you, be sure to visit the bronze statue of Groves in Breckenridge’s Prospector Park, where rubbing the nugget is said to bring visitors good luck.

Visit: Located at 2001 Colorado Boulevard, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is open 9am-5pm daily. All-day admission costs $16.95 for adults and $11.95 for ages 3-18.