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Byline: Paul Gores
In ancient times, kings craved it. Today, athletes compete for gold medals. We mark wedding vows by exchanging bands of gold. Even the streets of heaven are said to be paved with it.
"From the beginning of time, there's always been this lust and this hunger for gold," said David Derzon, a West Allis, Wis., coin dealer who buys and sells gold.
But gold's status as an investment isn't as clear.
For some, owning gold bullion or shares of gold stocks is an important hedge against inflation and downturns in other investments. For others, gold is seen as an investment whose price is too susceptible to major swings.
At the moment, at least, gold is back on more investors' radar screens, thanks to increases in the per-ounce price of the yellow metal over the past two years and strong showings for mutual funds focused on gold and gold mining.
In 2002, the average gold and precious metals mutual fund was up 63 percent while the …