Seeing the elephant. That was the goal of most of those heading for California in the wake of the discovery of gold in the mid nineteenth century. However this was nothing to do with large grey mammals but a common expression to describe the moment when someone first discovers their vein of gold. Gold had first been discovered at the start of 1848, but the news took time to spread. Nonetheless thousands descended on that remote region from all around the Pacific as the year wore on, seduced by reports of vast quantities of easily accessible gold. By the end of the year the news had reached the eastern United States too, and the following year thousands made the perilous journey across the continent or round South America to join in the frenzy, thus they were termed the forty-niners. Most were amateur and knew virtually nothing of mining, yet expected to make their fortune easily. In fact very few made their fortune, and most that did achieved it by selling goods and services to the over-optimistic miners. For the rest there was backbreaking work and little reward, yet over the decade that the Gold Rush lasted the amount of gold extracted was vast, and the excitement of the adventure has continued to fascinate to this day.
Pegasus have produced a nice range of figures which give a good impression of the sort of work these men had to endure. In reality any gold lying on the surface quickly disappeared so it usually had to be dug out and then panned to extract the gold. Consequently we find several figures with picks and shovels, either digging down to where they hope they will find gold, or extracting suitable material for panning. Two figures are panning for gold, which looks less work yet still required leaning forward all day with your feet in freezing water. Both these figures, which benefit from separate arms, are very well posed. Two more figures are using a more sophisticated tool - the cradle, of which more examples are provided as shown in our bottom row. This was essentially a larger scale version of the pan, but the principle was the same - to extract the heavily gold from the rest. Such items were usually home made but tended to be quite similar and those modelled here look good, although these devices often had rockers on the base to aid sifting but none of the models here have this. The man pushing the wagon would seem to be part of a larger, more sophisticated mining operation, which is how mining developed once the gold became harder to obtain. In general then we liked all the poses.
Naturally the miners wore their own clothes, so tough working clothes would be the order of the day and everyone here largely conforms to that. However we would observe that the very many photographs of these men display a rather wider assortment of clothes than is to be found in this set, and in particular many beaten and scruffy hats and caps of all kinds are much in evidence yet little of that variety is modelled here. Four of the poses are Chinese, and like many such men they have retained their traditional costume which is properly done here.
The sculpting is very good, with no sign of flash, and realistic folds in the simple clothing. Several of the figures come with separate parts such as arms, but Pegasus have provided clear pictures of the figures on their box so assembly is straight forward (although they have reversed the two men carrying the basket), and the parts fit together well. Apart from their clothing the Chinese are still very distinctive, with their long queues and their being suitably shorter than the 'western' figures.
Atlantic brought out a set of figures depicting a similar subject many years ago, but this offering from Pegasus is vastly superior. We particularly liked the effort to portray the Chinese, which were a major element of the miners yet are often overlooked today. A rather more weather-beaten and scruffy look would have been nice, but this is still a very good set depicting a defining moment in the history of the west coast of America.