If there was ever such a thing as a Gold Rush logo, it would have to be the iconic crossed pick and shovel with a gold pan. Even though the pan is integral to the story, not all pans were alike. One on display at the Angels Camp Museum is a very large shallow wooden bowl. This is the indigenous wash bowl of the Americas. Called a Betea by the Spanish, it is pure native tech.
In the earliest days of the Gold Rush, Beteas were in common use and are noted in many contemporary accounts. Most were used by Spanish-speaking miners but not always. Even today, native artisanal miners in Central and South America depend on the Betea of their ancestors.
In the same display case as the Betea, another pan seems rather ordinary but a closer look reveals that it is composed of two different metals. The main body of the pan is iron but the lower half of the inside is copper.
This rare artifact is an Amalgamating Pan and is very similar to a version that was patented in 1861 as Brock’s Improved Mining Pan. Improvement in this case meant smearing the copper with mercury before use. Mercury has a high affinity for gold, acting almost like a magnet. With this trick pan, you were less likely to lose the fine flour gold over the side while panning since it would stick to the mercury and form, you guessed it, amalgam.
So just when you thought a pan was a pan, along come two historical varieties each with a story to tell.
Chuck Schneider is the coordinator of the Angels Camp Museum, 753 S. Main St., Angels Camp.