It's the stuff of which fairy tales are spun. Rumpelstiltskin. King Midas. The goose that laid the golden egg. Jason and the Golden Fleece. Master gilder Bill Adair gingerly takes a sheet of gold leaf -- beaten to 1/250,000th of an inch thin -- and blows it onto a gilder's cushion. It is shimmering, effervescent, as elusive and un-solid as sunlight, but Adair captures some of his gilder's tip -- a special brush -- and applies it to an antique frame he is restoring in his F Street studio. "The old Italian gilder I learned from told me to take the tip over my scalp to help make the gold stick to it, but it never worked. 'You should eat more sardines,' he told me. But I hate sardines so I just put some hand lotion on the back of my hand and pass the tip over that." To artist-sculptor Adair, gilding is "something that I can do with my hands and make money," but gold itself is something more. "It has mystical qualities," he muses. "It's used as money, and it resembles sunlight. The Egyptians thought it was at the center of the world. It's eternally brilliant . . ." Gold in its many facets is all around town. You can learn about the gilder's art and see it on domes, statues, even lilies. You can buy gold, pan for it or drink it. You can explore an old gold mine, or watch a jeweler turn gold into the ultimate in adornment. You can see golden eggs and ancient amulets. You can even see a reasonable facsimile of the 271/2-pound gold bars kept at Fort Knox, and learn why you shouldn't even think about breaking in. Here's where to find gold in this here city: IN THE RAW: Gold as naked as the day it came out of the ground -- some of it mixed with diamond-bright quartz crystals -- can be seen in the minerals section of the Smithsonian's NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. It's in big chunks and tortured shapes and comes from California, Colorado, Venezuela and Virginia's Spotsylvania County. NO GOOSE EGGS THESE: For Marjorie Merriweather Post, the goose that laid the golden egg actually was a cereal. But with the cash earned by Post Toasties et al., the heiress was able to fill the breakfast room with eggs of gold, enamel and diamonds, by Faberge. Post acquired the eggs in Moscow, where her husband was U.S. ambassador, and latter enthroned them at HILLWOOD, her Washington manse. Also on display at Hillwood, now a museum, are gold chalices, statuettes, a 14th-century tiara belonging to a Byzantine emperor and other golden goodies. To book a tour, call 686-5807. DON'T PINE FOR IT, PAN OR MINE FOR IT: Gold was mined in what are now the suburbs as late as 1939 and even recently gold nuggets as big as four ounces have been panned in nearby streams. To find out where and how to look for it, join an expedition organized by the OPEN UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON on August 7, 8 or 10. On a similar expedition last weekend, everybody took home a little bit of gold. The $15 fee includes pans and a map revealing the locations of more than a hundred gold mines in Maryland and Virginia. Call 966-9606 for registration information. Roland Van Allen, gold buff and amateur geologist, leads the tour and will sell gold maps separately for $3. Call him at 577-2119. For an overview of gold mining in this area, see a slide presentation Saturdays at 2 at the Great Falls Tavern, near Potomac. Call 299-3613 for information. The OLD MARYLAND GOLD MINE, now owned by the National Park Service, is near the intersection of Falls Road and MacArthur Boulevard. Park your car at Cooley's Fruit Stand, cross the boulevard and walk about twenty feet into the woods. The Old mine pits are surrounded by chain-link fences. Nearby are the remains of a mill used to extract gold from rock. MEET LEFTY LUGER: Lefty is the modern equivalent of the never-sleeping dragon who guarded the Golden Fleece, but L.L. keeps would-be Jasons away from the 276 million troy ounces of .999 fine gold that's stored at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Actually Lefty is a talking dummy in the museum in the basement of the U.S. TEASURY, but don't try to put one over on him. He totes a gun and when you press his button he commands you to "state your business" -- just as the real dragons do at the real Fort Knox. If Lefty the dummy doesn't intimidate you, be aware that the gold bars he's guarding in the exhibit are painted fakes. There are some real gold medallions on display, which you can buy from the U.S. Mint. Call 783-3800 for current prices. Also in the museum, which is entered from East Executive Avenue across from the tourist's entrance to the White House, are gold boxes used to carry the stuff cross-country in stage coaches just like the ones in the Westerns. GOLDBEATER WANTED FOR FRAMEUP: Goldbeaters -- the artisans who make gold leaf -- are an endangered species in the U.S. According to gilder Bill Adair, who buys a lot of the stuff, there's only one, Urban Billmeier of Chicago, who pounds the stuff by hand. You can see pictures of a goldbeater at work, plus some of the tools of the trade -- such as the "wagon" that slices the bar and the hammer that pounds it -- in the American Frame Exhibition on the sixth floor of the HUBERT HUMPHREY BUILDING on Independence Avenue. The exhibit also includes a history of frames and tells what frames do for pictures. FRUITS OF THE GOLDEN BOUGH: "It's so beautiful you want to play with it," says metal sculptor Richard Martin, emptying a packet of gold granules into his hand. Martin works and plays with gold seven days a week in a small, open-to-the-public atelier in Alexandria's TORPEDO FACTORY. Martin melts the gold in what looks like an ashtray, then casts it in molds he makes himself with tools he makes himself, using the lost-wax process. For most of the things Martin produces, including his favorite, the Cross of May, that's only the beginning. For the small cross, which took him more than two years to develop and which was inspired by a colleague who was restoring an inner-city church, he casts a cross-shaped gold bar, then slices it into 14 pieces ("for the stations of the cross") and painstakingly solders the tiny pieces back together in the shape of a cross. Martin also makes a gold apple, as in Big Apple, and a D.Cherry for D.C. The latter recently raised eyebrows hereabouts when the cherry was suggested as our city's official emblem, but Martin is above the fruit fray. "I think it's a delightful piece of jewelry," he deadpans. "If people think there's something wrong with a cherry . . ." THE GOLDEN FLEECE AND CROESUS: The real golden fleece may live only in mythology, but the Holy Roman Empire founded an Order of the Golden Fleece back in 1429 and the worthies initiated into the order got to wear a facsimile of the fleece, together with crowns and emblems, on ribbons around their neck. You can see this in the Money and Metals section of the Smithsonian's MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY. Also on display are history's first gold coins, issued by Croesus, King of Lydia, circa 500 B.C., a whole room filled with gold coins from all over, some famous fakes and the President Grant Collection of Japanese Gold and Silver Coins. These are interesting because they're big, oval instead of round, and painted with big bold calligraphic characters. THE GOLDEN ZOO: Where can you find gold panthers, turtles, oxen and strange birdlike creatures? In the jewel-like DUMBARTON OAKS MUSEUM. The Byzantine and pre-Columbian collections include gold Egyptian bracelets with panthers, Roman amulets, marriage belts from Constantinople and dragon-head pendants from Costa Rica. The small gift shop sells some reproduction jewelry, but looking at the real stuff is free. THE GILDED NYMPH: When prominent lawyer Joseph James Darlington died, his freinds in the Washington Bar Association funded a fountain in his memory. The fountain, completed in 1923 in JUDICIARY SQUARE, includes a life-sized gilded-bronze nymph with fawn on a pedestal. Both nymph and fawn are nude, which offended Darlington's fellow Baptists. Sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein countered that the woman came "direct from the hand of God instead of from the hands of a dressmaker." Another gilded nude, this one a very moderne woman, tops the MARCONI MEMORIAL at 16th and Lamont Streets NW. CHARIOTS AFIRE, SWORDS AFLAME: Those noble steeds flanking MEMORIAL BRIDGE and the entrance to Rock Creek Parkway near the Lincoln Memorial have been criticized on such varied grounds as that they overpower the less-colorful Lincoln Memorial and that they reflect sunlight into the eyes of motorists. The two equestrian pairs -- actually called The Arts of War and The Arts of Peace -- were done by two different sculptors and almost didn't get done at all. They were commissioned in 1925 but not installed until 1951, what with wars, depressions and bureaucratic wrangling over the designs. Originally cast in Italy and gilded there using the mercury gilding process outlawed here (mercury being what drives hatters mad) the statues were electroplated, or fire- gilded, in 1972. Just this summer, they were cleaned and their lacquer coating, which didn't seem to be protecting the gold adequately, was replaced with wax. Another gold war memorial recently regilded was the SECOND DIVISION MEMORIAL, popularly known as "the flaming sword" on the Ellipse. The 18-foot sword symbolically blocks the German advance on Paris during World War I. GLITTER DOMES: The landmark gold-leaf dome about town adorns the RIGGS BANK Georgetown branch at Wisconsin and M, built around 1920 as the Farmers and Mechanics National Bank of Georgetown. But once upon a time the much larger Library of Congress dome also was coated with gold leaf. When the building was constructed in 1897, the entire dome -- with the exception of the ribs -- was gold. During the Depression the gold was allowed to wear down to the copper underneath. There has been recent talk of regilding the dome, but tastemakers fear it might then outshine that of the Capitol. Currently, talk centers on regilding only the flaming finial and the hemisphere that holds it up, but no one is talking about it officially. Remember, you read it here first. FOOL'S GOLD: Pyrite is known by scientists as iron sulfide and used in the manufacture of sulfuric acid. Prospectors, however, called the lustrous ore "fool's gold," and many's the fool who thought he'd struck paydirt. Nevertheless, pyrite also was mined for its own, less glamorous sake, and you can hike to Virginia's CABIN BRANCH PYRITE MINE this Sunday. Join a ranger in Parking Lot D in Prince William Forest Park at 2 for the 31/2- mile loop hike. GOLDEN NEST EGGS: The gold on sale at DEAK-PERERA at 1800 K Street NW -- Mexican pesos, South African krugerands and Canadian maple leaves -- is for investors rather than collectors but pretty to look at anyway. There are two specialists on hand around the gold display case to explain about the metal money and to keep you up to date on prices, which change from minute to minute. If you decide to buy, you can either take your gold home and fondle it like Scrooge McDuck or just take home a certificate and have your gold deposited in Zurich or Delaware. DOWN THE GOLDEN GULLET: If your thirst for gold seems unquenchable, invest $8.99 in a bottle of Goldwasser, a schnapps-like liqueur with flecks of real gold in it. It's available at CENTRAL LIQUORS. MAKEUP BY GOLDFINGER: James Bond junkies will recall how the diabolical Goldfinger killed one of James' women by painting her gold, thereby suffocating her. But according to Bill Adair, who sometimes butters his face and applies gold leaf to entertain children at his daughter's birthday parties, Goldfinger probably was using bronze paint. Gold leaf, says Adair, is porous and lets the skin breathe. STEIN'S Theatrical Dance Supply Centres sell a water-based gold makeup that not only won't snuff you but is hypoallergenic. It sells for $6 a cake at the stores in Arlington and Cleveland Park. GILDING THE LILY: To attempt vain improvements on something that is already excellent is to gild the lily, metaphorically speaking. Using a cherry-picker crane and a wobbly, improvised extension, Bill Adair recently gilded a lily literally -- in a medallion near the top of one of architect Robert Bell's neo- Georgian townhouses on VOLTA PLACE, just east of Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown.