Thursday, August 25, 2011

Notre Dame: Is there real gold on those helmets?

If there is anything that tends to be a consensus in college sports, it's that folks love Notre Dame's helmets.  There are several reasons why.
1)  Less is more
2)  Deep rooted tradition - they've worn the same look since the late '50s
3)  The helmets pay homage to the iconic dome that is atop the school's main building
4)  The gold thing

For those that aren't an Irish fan or were dozing through the helmet painting scene in "Rudy", the Irish have a long-standing tradition of repainting each player's helmet before each game.  In the old days each player only had one helmet, so the entire process took place the night before the game.  That really never allowed enough time for the paint to cure before contact, not to mention the time intensive process of dismantling, masking, sanding, painting and reassembling.  The crew charged with maintaining the tradition are the Student Managers (all 85 of them).  If anyone has welcomed the concept of the practice helmet it's this crew.  With a second set of helmets on hand, the crew can now begin work on the helmets at the beginning of the week instead of the end.  This is especially handy for home games where 105 players suit out versus the 70 players that normally travel to away games.

So, what about the gold?  Legend has it that the Student Managers paint the helmets with gold dust.  Really?  Doesn't that seem a little much?  Well, in this case the legend is fact, not fiction.  And not just any gold dust.  They actually paint the helmets with a lacquer that contains gold particles reclaimed from the iconic dome we spoke of earlier.  It turns out that the dome is gilded with 24K gold leaf - a process that was first completed in 1886.  Gold leaf is incredibly thin and is prone to wear over time from weather, bird droppings, etc.  As a result, the dome is periodically scraped and regilded.  This regilding has taken place ten times over the years with the most recent application coming in 2005.  That year "Notre Dame Magazine" did a very insightful and detailed piece about the regilding process.  In that piece, one of the workers talks about the folly of this gold dust just kind of blowing away as he's scraping and his gloves being covered with precious metal.  This article never mentions anything about trying to save the dust.  However, there are reliable sources out there such as Ivan Maisel at who have documented this story.  In a Maisel article from 2006, he interviews a Student Manager named Matt McQueary who confirms the 24K gold from the dome as the source and then adds, "We store it in a 5-gallon bucket...We store it in the stadium. We keep it hidden away. We take a vat of regular gloss and mix in the gold dust. We use four level spoonfuls of gold dust."  EXCUSE ME?  Did he say a five-gallon bucket of gold?  

Now,we've got some pretty nerdy guys around here and this five-gallon bucket of gold got us thinking.  What's the street value of what's going on here?
Let's say the bucket was full:
5 US gallons = 0.668 cubic feet
24K gold has a density of 1204 pounds per cubic foot
There are 14.5833333 troy ounces per pound
That's 11728.97 ounces of gold
Based on August 22, 2011 spot price of $1898.49 per ounce, that would put the value of the bucket at $22,267,325.87.
That number is way too big, right?  Probably.  Maybe a metallurgist can weigh in on whether gold dust has a different density than solid gold, but from what we can find density is density.  
Of course he never said they had five gallons of gold, he just said that they kept the dust they do have in a five-gallon bucket.  All right, maybe there is only one gallon being used in that five-gallon bucket, that's still ringing up as $4,453,465.17.

Let's slice this a different way.  We don't know how much gold is in the bucket, but we do know how much gold they're scooping up for each weeks paint job, "four level spoonfuls."  Once again, more assumptions are needed.  Let's imagine we're talking about the one tablespoon scoop used for putting grounds in your coffee maker.  
One tablespoon = 0.90234375 cubic inches
24K gold has a density of 10.18 troy ounces per cubic inch
That would calculate to 9.1859 troy ounces per tablespoon
Four tablespoons would equal 36.7436 troy ounces per game
Again, based on August 22, 2011 spot price of $1898.49 per ounce, that would put the value of the gold used per week at $69,757.36.
Over the course of a season that would be $837,088.29 ($906,845.64 if there were a bowl game).
That would mean the cost of a helmet would be $180 acquisition cost plus roughly $8400 worth of gold applied over the season.

Before we start a campaign to liquidate the gold and build an orphanage somewhere, let's step back and remind everyone that we don't have some Deep Throat insider.  We really don't know how much gold is buried in the catacombs of the stadium and I would not suggest anyone trying to pull an "Italian Job" to liberate the gold.  In fact, the 2005 "Notre Dame Magazine" article referenced earlier said that the 2005 regilding only cost $300,000 including labor and materials.  If that means there's roughly $150,000 worth of gold on the dome, then there can't be millions of dollars worth of gold in the bucket.  

The only person that knows for sure is that Leprachaun guarding the bucket of gold.

Be sure to check out All-American Sports Art's full line of officially licensed Notre Dame artwork.

1 comment:

  1. I just found these HGI Gold Standard Notre Dame helmets at