Prospecting for gold in the streets of NYC

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NEW YORK--This may look like enough gold to make up just about anybody's nest egg, but it's actually a very, very small portion of the entire deposit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The largest collection of gold on Earth, the New York Fed's accumulation belongs to 37 countries, including the United States. The U.S., in fact, owns just a fraction, and the Fed itself is only the custodian of the precious metal. All told, the deposits are worth about $255 billion, at market value. On Road Trip 2010, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited the U.S. Bureau of Engraving & Printing in Washington, D.C., and saw how the new, next-generation $100 bills are made. He then visited the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, the largest mint in the world, and saw the design process and the production of our coins. When he reached New York, Terdiman discovered the Fed's gold deposits, and thought a trilogy of stories about visceral and physical representations of money would be a perfect thing to include in the Road Trip package. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to arrange a visit to see the gold, but the Fed did provide information (PDF file) and imagery of the deposits which, as the largest on Earth, are naturally larger than that of the famous collection at Fort Knox in Kentucky. Click here to read the related story on the New York Fed's gold vault, and click here to check out the entire Road Trip 2010 package.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York

NEW YORK - Many people have come to New York over the years in search of fortune. It is not true that the streets are paved with gold, but the sidewalks might be.

Sometimes, in tough times, people think up the craziest ideas for making money. Take, for example, 43-year-old, unemployed jewelry setter Raffi Steppanian. As CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports, when it comes to unusual business plans, Steppanian takes the gold - literally.

Steppanian said he's a "prospector looking for placer deposits."

A "placer deposit" is anywhere gold tends to settle - like the cracks and crevices of a mountain stream. But this isn't where Steppanian's looking. Last month, he started looking for gold in the cracks and crevices of 47th Street - in Midtown Manhattan.

Steppanian is thoroughly convinced there's gold in them there expansion joints. "It's been in there for years, it's embedded in there," he said.

He's mining 47th Street specifically because this is New York's Diamond District. Steppanian said jewelry manufacturing, especially in the old days, produced a lot of little gold flakes and he said some of those had to end up on the worker's feet - which he assumes then got transferred to the sidewalk and eventually washed into these cracks.

To some of his former colleagues and coworkers it's a ridiculous theory - and a pathetic sight - seeing Steppanian on his hands and knees.

"Ultimately, in the end we all have to endure a little humility in order to achieve success," he said.

So far he has collected more than 35 pounds of sidewalk gunk and is just now starting to sift through it all in his garage. It'll take weeks to know exactly what he's got here. But I can already tell you this. His theory pans out.

So far, Steppanian says he's collected about $800 worth. Even more astounding, it turns out these sidewalks are paved with more than just gold: there are diamonds by the dozen, rubies and sapphires. It's mostly small stuff - probably dropped by dealers and customers. Nothing's worth more than about $60. But it adds up. And it's a living.

"I'm independent, and I'm doing this on my own," Steppanian said. "And the reward is phenomenal."

There may never be a more phenomenal discovery until someday, when somebody does the next logical thing and mines Steppanian's garage.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.