Fool’s Gold vs. Real Gold

In the world of precious metals, few things are as intriguing and potentially confusing as the difference between real gold and fool’s gold. Fool’s gold, or pyrite, is a mineral that has deceived many gold seekers due to its similar appearance to the precious metal. This article will explore the distinctions between fool’s and real gold, helping you identify the genuine article and avoid costly mistakes.

What is Fool’s Gold?

Fool’s gold, scientifically known as iron pyrite, is a mineral of iron sulfide. It has a metallic luster and a brassy yellow color, which can sometimes be mistaken for gold. The name “fool’s gold” comes from its deceptive appearance and ability to trick inexperienced gold prospectors into thinking they have found valuable gold deposits.

While fool’s gold may look like real gold at first glance, several differences between the two can be discerned through careful examination and testing. In the following sections, we will discuss these differences and provide tips on distinguishing between fool’s and real gold.

Visual Differences

Several visual differences can help you distinguish between fool’s and real gold. Here are some key aspects to consider:


Although fool’s and real gold have a yellowish hue, their colors are not identical. Fool’s gold is brassy yellow, while real gold is more of a bright, rich yellow. In addition, real gold maintains its color even when exposed to direct sunlight, while fool’s gold may appear slightly greenish in sunlight.


A mineral’s luster is how it reflects light from its surface. Real gold has a bright, metallic luster, while fool’s gold has a more subdued, metallic luster. In some cases, fool’s gold may even be slightly dull or tarnished.


Real gold is typically found in irregular, rounded shapes or as small flakes, while fool’s gold is often found in angular, crystalline formations. If you observe a specimen with well-defined, sharp edges or flat surfaces, it is more likely to be fool’s gold than real gold.


The streak of a mineral is the color of its powdered form, typically observed by rubbing the specimen across a piece of unglazed porcelain. Real gold will leave a yellow streak, while fool’s gold will leave a greenish-black or brownish-black streak.

What Does Fool’s Gold Look Like?

Fool’s gold can be found in various forms and environments, including massive or granular habits, cubic or pyritohedral crystals, and inclusions in other minerals. Here are some common characteristics of fool’s gold:

Crystal structure: 

Fool’s gold often forms well-defined, cubic, or pyritohedral (12-faced) crystals. In some cases, it may also develop as striated cubes or octahedrons.


Unlike real gold, which has no cleavage, fool’s gold exhibits distinct cleavage planes, where the mineral breaks along smooth, flat surfaces.


Fool’s gold has a Mohs hardness of 6-6.5, making it considerably harder than real gold, which has a Mohs hardness of 2.5-3. This means that fool’s gold can scratch glass or a steel knife, while real gold cannot.


Fool’s gold is less dense than real gold, with a specific gravity of 4.9-5.2, compared to real gold’s specific gravity of 19.3. This difference in density can be observed by comparing the weight of a piece of fool’s gold to an equally-sized piece of real gold; the real gold will feel significantly heavier.


When struck or scratched, fool’s gold may release a faint sulfur smell, whereas real gold has no odor.

Test Differences

There are several tests you can perform to help determine if a specimen is fool’s gold or real gold:

Hardness test: 

As mentioned earlier, real gold is softer than fool’s gold. You can perform a simple scratch test by using a steel knife or a copper penny to scratch the specimen. If it scratches easily, it is more likely to be real gold.

Acid test: 

Real gold is resistant to most acids, while fool’s gold will react with certain acids, such as hydrochloric or nitric acid. Place a small acid drop on the specimen, and observe any reaction. If the specimen fizzes or dissolves, it is likely fool’s gold.

Magnet test: 

Real gold is not magnetic, while fool’s gold may exhibit weak magnetic properties due to its iron content. Hold a magnet close to the specimen and see if it is attracted to the magnet. If it is, it’s likely fool’s gold.

Specific gravity test: 

You can measure the specific gravity of a specimen by weighing it in air and then submerging it in water. The difference between these two measurements will give you the specimen’s specific gravity. If the specific gravity matches that of real gold (19.3), it is more likely to be genuine.

Separating Fool’s Gold from Gold

If you have a mixture of fool’s gold and real gold, there are several methods you can use to separate the two:

  1. Panning: The difference in density between fool’s gold and real gold can be exploited using a gold pan. Add water to the pan and gently swirl the material, allowing the heavier real gold to settle at the bottom while the lighter fool’s gold is washed away.
  2. Sluicing: Using a sluice box, water is passed over a series of riffles, which trap the heavier real gold while allowing the lighter fool’s gold to be washed away.
  3. Gravity separation: Equipment such as a centrifugal concentrator or a shaking table can be used to separate fool’s gold from real gold based on their differences in density.
  4. Flotation: A flotation process can separate minerals based on their differing surface properties. In this process, chemicals selectively attach to either the fool’s gold or the real gold particles, allowing them to float to the surface and be collected separately.


Distinguishing between fool’s and real gold can be challenging, particularly for inexperienced prospectors. However, you can accurately identify and separate these two minerals by understanding the visual differences, testing methods, and separation techniques. With this knowledge, you can confidently pursue your gold prospecting endeavors, knowing you can discern between fool’s gold and real gold.

Whether you are new to gold investing or have been a collector for years, it is essential to research and work with a reputable dealer. American Bullion is a trusted resource for those looking to invest in gold IRAs, offering a wide selection of gold coins from around the world and expert guidance on which coins are right for you.

So why wait? Invest in gold coins today and start building a brighter financial future.