Thieves smashed a lobby display case and stole the gold from the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka, the site of an 1851 Gold Rush known as the second Mother Lode.
Surveillance footage shows two men broke into the courthouse around 1 a.m. Wednesday, said Allison Giannini, a spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office.
In addition to searching for the suspects, investigators were trying to figure out how the thieves broke the display case's supposedly unbreakable glass and why no alarm alerted authorities to the heist, Giannini said.
The total collection was worth $3 million, officials said. The county was still taking inventory to determine how much of the gold had actually been stolen.
The break-in was discovered by courthouse employees just after 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
Yreka, the Siskiyou County seat, sits in the shadow of 14,000-foot Mount Shasta near the Oregon border. Miners and other residents donated much of the gold to the collection over the past century, while other pieces were purchased with county funds.
"The historical pieces, if they aren't found again, they're absolutely irreplaceable," Claudia East, vice president of the Siskiyou County Historical Society board of directors told The Record-Searchlight of Redding.
The collection was exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair in San Francisco, East said.
"These individuals violated the security and sanctity of our courthouse and stole a piece of our Siskiyou County history," Sheriff Jon Lopey said.
Randy Bolt, a guide at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, said thefts had become a greater cause of concern recently in small towns throughout the state's gold country, many of which keep samples of the valuable mineral on display.
"With the economy and the price of gold, it's on more people's radar than it was five years ago," Bolt said.
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