A few months ago, my boss, Kristen, came to me with an assignment: Figure out the best way to unload silver coins and old gold jewelry and write about it. It turns out that this wasn’t just a random story idea, as Kristen’s mother had recently dusted off a box of old coins and jewelry (and a few gold teeth- eeek!) from her attic and wanted to see just how much she could get for them. Despite my pressing questions regarding the origins of those teeth (I have yet to get an answer), I jumped on the research.
Why Gold and Silver are Making Headlines
What I found was some very useful information for individuals looking to unload old goods made of precious metals. People looking to sell gold and silver are not hard to find. After all, silver and gold have been making headlines in recent years, as the prices have soared to record highs. On August 22nd 2011, gold reached a new high of $1,908 per ounce, and on April 29th 2011, silver hit a 31-year high of $49.21 per ounce. Even though prices of both have slipped in recent weeks, gold has been one of the most profitable investments of 2011, with a gain of 22 percent.
Pawn shops and jewelers nationwide have reported increased interest in people looking to unload jewelry clanging around in the back of their drawers. Silver’s rapid increase has many looking to pawn family flatware and coins.
It may sound like easy money to slip into a pawn shop, unroll a velvet case full of silverware, and walk away with hundreds in cold, hard cash.”Getting top dollar for your gold and silver goods takes a bit of research, not to mention math skills,” says Doug Eberhardt, a gold and silver broker-dealer and author of the self-published Buy Gold and Silver Safely. “You need to do your homework, and you need to shop around,” he says. “The amount that you will get will vary widely from place to place, and customers are easily fooled, since the price is always given in grams. I don’t know anyone in America who can convert grams to ounces, but many people are pleasantly surprised by the dollar figure offered and take it.”
How to Convert Precious Metals Into Cold, Hard Cash
The first step is to figure out the price of your metal by going to Kitco. Prices are quoted in ounces, and the site also provides historic prices, so you can determine whether you want to sell now or wait for prices to rise.
Once you have figured out the price of your metal, use this tool to convert the price per gram, which a jeweler or pawn broker will likely quote you, to the price per ounce.
Multiply that number times the percent of gold by karat: 14-karat gold is 58.3 percent gold, 18-karat gold is 75 percent gold and 22-karat gold is 91.6 percent gold. Alternatively, you can also plug the figures into a scrap gold calculator found online.
Finally, determine your bottom line. Eberhardt says that 70 percent of the metal’s market value is a good deal, but you should expect most places to offer 30 percent to 40 percent. “You have to make a decision as to what you think the item is worth, and who might give you more,” he says. “Not too many places will give more than 50 percent.”
Dollar Figures vs Emotional Attachment
Kristen ended up making her decision based not on the complicated equations above, but on the emotional attachment to each item and the perceived dollar value. She started out on her mission strong. She called around to local establishments she’d checked out on Yelp before heading to Cedar Park Jewelry, outside Austin. “They looked at my gold first and offered me what I thought were good prices. I was more than happy to make $218 for the QVC jewelry that’s never seen the light of day, and $103 for nasty old teeth—er, ‘dental’ in gold-exchange lingo.” She was more hesitant to sell other items. “They offered me $430 for one beat-up 1970s 14-karat charm bracelet, and $370 for a 14-karat omega bracelet, but I wasn’t ready to sell those. They’re sentimental, so I want more for them. I guess everything has its price.”
As for the silver, “The owner separated anything post-1964 and told me to spend it. He then counted out all the other silver coins, quarters and dimes, which equaled two handfuls, and offered me $410,” she said. Because she had called around first, Kristen had learned that she could get 23 to 24 times the face value for silver coins. For the sake of comparison, she asked the owner what he was giving her, only to discover that he had quoted her only 22 times the face value. “When I told him what the other place offered me, he immediately said, without hesitation, that he’d give me $500 instead of $410.” In the end, Kristen decided to keep her silver.
Where to Go
If you are looking to unload some precious metal, there are several places you can try. Each has its drawbacks, however, so weigh your options carefully.
Jewelers: “Start with a reputable jeweler, though they are few and far between,” Eberhardt says. “They’re in it for the money, just like anyone else.”
Pawn shops: See above.
Mail-in services: “These cash-for-gold companies, many of which famously advertise on TV, might be an option for those without access to a jeweler or a pawn shop,” Eberhardt says. If you go this route, expect to get a very low price for your goods, and buyer beware: The Better Business Bureau has ousted many of these firms for being unethical.
eBay: Although most of the above places will buy your gold and silver with the intent of melting it down, you might fare better by selling the item to people who want it for its original use, not just its intrinsic value. Start your research with the site’s “completed sales” to get a sense of what the market will bear. You might realize that the men’s onyx cocktail ring from your great Uncle Lou actually commands top dollar today.