Thiolate-protected gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) are a highly versatile nanomaterial, with wide-ranging physical properties dependent upon the protecting thiolate ligands and gold core size. These nanoparticles serve as a scaffold for a diverse and rapidly increasing number of applications, extending from molecular electronics to vaccine development. Key to the development of such applications is the ability to quickly and precisely characterize synthesized AuNPs. While a unique set of challenges have inhibited the potential of mass spectrometry in this area, recent improvements have made mass spectrometry a dominant technique in the characterization of small AuNPs, specifically those with discrete sizes and structures referred to as monolayer-protected gold clusters (MPCs). Additionally, the unique fragmentation data from mass spectrometry enables the characterization of the protecting monolayer on larger AuNPs. The development of mass spectrometry techniques for AuNP characterization has begun to reveal interesting new areas of research. This report is a discussion of the historical challenges in this field, the emerging techniques which aim to meet those challenges, and the future role of mass spectrometry in the growing field of thiolate-protected AuNPs.