Gold is a condensed way to hold your wealth.
American Gold Eagle, retails for around $1,800. A recent Federal Reserve survey says that the median US family had a net worth of $126,400 in 2007. Today, that would buy 70 gold eagles and some change. Everything you have, in two handfuls: two 4-inch-long rolls, weighing 43 ounces each.
Actually, less: the same Fed survey shows the average family net worth was down to $77,300 in 2010. That's 41 gold eagles and change; or, a handful of coins 4.63 inches long and weighing less than 50 ounces. It doesn't rust or rot, and although the value will vary, it'll never be worthless.
1911 Colt 45? You'd be lucky to walk away empty-handed.
It preserves wealth, but not necessarily for you. Three years ago in central Britain, a man with a metal detector discovered a hoard of well over a thousand intricately-worked gold items. Together they weigh some 6.3 kilos - worth a third of a million dollars in scrap value (but over $5 million because of their history and artistry). The magnificent Anglo-Saxon treasure dates from the 7th or 8th century.
The key point is, whoever buried it didn't come back.
Gold doesn't ensure your survival if society breaks down altogether, but it can help protect you from the wipeout that happens when paper money becomes worthless. However, remember how the hungry Esau sold his inheritance to his brother Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew: it's not enough to have gold, you need someone to sell it to, and at a fair price.
So ignore the apocalyptic prophets; gold is for troubled times, not for utter disaster, and it's not the only thing you should have. As Eric Sprott said recently, "most ... experts say that you should have 5% or 10% of your money in gold".
The question is, how to hold it.
Via a broker? MF Global held gold in a client account (effectively, as trustee) for investor Gerald Celente, yet the holding was seized by the firm's creditors when it collapsed in 2011.
Via a depository? Congressman Ron Paul has tried to get the Federal Reserve to open its vaults to auditors to find out how much is actually there; we're still waiting, and Germany is getting worried about its holding in the US. It is even rumoured that China has "lost" 80 tons from its own national treasury. Attractive stuff, is gold.
How else? An August 2012 article in Investors Chronicle looks at other ways: gold funds, gold bars, coins. Even then, you need to be confident that the fund holds 100% of its stock, 24/7 - you'll recall that fractional reserve banking began among gold dealers who took advantage of the fact that their customers usually didn't all want access to their metal at the same time. And it's worth noting that some outright physical fraud is now going on: tungsten has the same density and is far cheaper, so selling a gold-wrapped bar of tungsten represents a fat profit for criminals.
In these times of weakened trust, perhaps you could accumulate some gold coins from a reputable dealer, and keep them safe somehow - and don't tell those who don't need to know.
Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.