Steve Duke Presents Tradio Gems: Civil War On the Road
(Excerpts from Tradio)

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Steve Duke:
I wasn’t here last week. I was here in spirit but not in body. I was out on the road buying.

Ken Lovejoy:
Really?

Steve:
Yeah, I hit the pavement like the pickers and all the other guys that you see on television and stuff. We were in South Carolina, Spartanburg. It was interesting. It was challenging. It was like being in a shop, but you know we had people bringing all kinds of items and things in, and what was kind of unusual to me, and I really hadn’t thought about it until I got there, in my ad I advertised like I do in town here for coins and antiques. I put in there military items, and at that particular time, I’m in South Carolina, I’m going for Civil War items. So we had a picture of Civil War items in there and gold coins and things. We think of the Gold Rush in California as being the big Gold Rush, and it was. But the first big gold rush was in Georgia, around 1824. They struck gold there and the population boomed. The gold buyers were there and there is still a lot of gold believe it or not up in those hills. But they actually started a mint in South Carolina and it was in Dahlonega.

On the backside of a gold coin or most of your other coins, you’ll find what we call a mint mark. The mint mark could be an O for New Orleans, it could be an S for San Francisco, it could be a D for Denver, it could be a CC for Carson City. But at that particular time from around the 1830’s to 1860’s, they would put a D on a lot of the gold coins and that would stand for the Dahlonega mint.

Well, Dahlonega coins are fairly rare. I’m going to say in 37 years I’ve had maybe three of them. What was unusual, I guess it wasn’t when you really think about it, but it wasn’t anything that I had planned ahead of time. I would love to say I had that much foresight, but I didn’t. But when we asked for gold coins, a lot of coins came in and when you looked at the dates, and you looked at the mint mark, a lot of these coins were Dahlonega mint coins. Now a normal $5 gold piece is going to be worth somewhere between $350 to $400, depending on its condition.

A Dahlonega gold coin is going to be worth anywhere from $500 up to a few thousand dollars, depending on its condition. It was pretty unusual that I had seven different Dahlonega coins come in while I was in South Carolina. But then when I sat there and thought about it, no these are coins that were handed down from generation to generation. My ad sort of prompted these people to think what these coins are worth.

I’ve traveled around the country, so it was kind of neat to see how different regions have different types of items that are more plentiful. I really never stopped to think about the Dahlonega mint being up that way. Fortunately for me and the people who had them, it was a very good meld, because they turned a lot of coins that they’d been offered regular coin money for, and they brought them in and I paid them what the coins were actually worth. We paid $3500 for one $5 gold piece which is a Dahlonega coin. And it’s funny because the fella had it on a chain around his neck. He saw our ad and he came in and asked if the coin was anything special. He saw we had pictures of gold coins and what we would pay up to for gold coins. He told me he had the coins for years and years and he could live without it. But he told me he has taken to these gold places and they all tell him it’s worth $300. He knows there is more than $300 in the coin, and he asked if it has any coin collector value? The date is 1852, so I told him that it is an early date, it’s in a holder, and it was not held in with prongs, it was held with a bezel which protected the edge of the coin and didn’t put any mars on the face or back of the coin. So when I flipped it over, lo and behold, it was the Dahlonega mint. So I looked at him asked him how much he was offered for it. He told me the most anybody offered him was $310. I told him I was going to offer him $3500 for it. And he just looked at it…

Ken:
And he took it off his neck.

Steve:
Well, I was holding it, and he snatched it out of my hand. And he said, “How much are you going to pay for this?!” And I told him, $3500. He asked me why? I told him, I could pay him less if he liked, but I explained to him about the mint mark and stuff. So he said, you know what, I don’t need it, and I appreciate you giving me a fair price for it.” We were there for four days buying and he came in every day with something else to sell that was kind of cool. Because you treated him right. At Westchester Gold And Diamonds, we’ve been doing the same thing in this town for 37 years. So, we want to buy as much stuff as we can, and we’ve got to be able to make money on it, but we’re not here to rape and pillage like a lot of the guys who come into these hotels. We’re knowledgeable in what we do, and we would appreciate it if you have items like that, that you could come in and bring them with you.

Now another thing that I had advertised were for Civil War items. And they came out of the woodwork. Now when you are in South Carolina, that Civil War stuff comes out of the woodwork. I had one fella come in with a box full of goodies. He had little pocket naval pistol which was really neat. He had all kinds of cartridge buckles, and he had a couple of belt buckles and breast buckles. A lot of times you will see these big ovals and they’re made out of metal, they are bronze. They may say U.S. on it. And when people see that they think it’s a belt buckle. Now they actually did make some belt buckles like that. But actually what that was, that went on the flap of a cartridge holder that they had their bullets in. And just from the sheer weight, it would keep the flap in place. And these are collectible. And again as with any collectible we’ve talked about over the years, condition, condition, condition is very, very important.

Now all of these Civil War items are relics. Depending on the condition, we sort of sometimes will call it a relic relics. And his cartridge covers were what we sort of call relic relics. They had been dug up on the battlefields. They were in pretty rough condition. Items like that sell for, depending on the condition, between $50 to $125. One thing that makes a big difference when there are various loops that would attach to the leather on the back of these things. When you find them in the ground, they’ve been dug up, generally the loops have rotted away or they have deteriorated. So that has a lot of bearing, even though you don’t see it on the front, it has a lot of bearing to a collector, because they want it in original condition.

So he pulled these things out, and I asked him what he wanted for this pistol. And he said he wanted $1200. To me, $1200 was full blown retail, and I looked at it and for the condition it was in, it was a piece that I thought we could get $900 to $1000 for it, I would pay $800 for it. He said he couldn’t sell it for that kind of money. I told him okay. At that point, I could see that it was going to be useless to bother making any kind of offers on his stuff. So I asked him what he wanted for his cartridge covers. So he said he wanted $175 for this one, and he wanted $200 for this one, and $100 for this breast plate. I told him, okay, thank you for bringing all your stuff in. I certainly enjoyed looking at it, but he didn’t leave any meat on the bone. I asked him where his store is. He said he doesn’t have a store. So I asked him where he sells it and he said he sets up at the flea market. I said okay. Then I asked him what he asks for those things at the flea market? He said he asks $1200 for the gun, and $175 for these breast plates. I told him the next time if he brings it to somebody like me he needs to leave a little meat on the bone. He is not asking a ridiculous retail price for stuff, but unfortunately my retail prices are usually a little bit less than what you sell them for, and I can’t pay retail for them. He said that was the least he would take for the stuff. I told him that was fine, thank you very much. I asked him for his card because if he could sell them for that price, I am more than happy to sell to him where he can make money. He asked what I would sell those things to him for. I said what he was asking $125 for, I would be more than happy to sell to him for $75. He said I could never do that because no one would ever sell them for $75. And with that I walked into the office because I bought some other stuff, pulled it out and said, here’s $400 for the things that you priced out to me at about $800. I asked him if he was a buyer. Then the shoe was on the other foot and he wasn’t really a buyer, he’s more of a seller. So we weren’t able to do anything with each other.

This is something else that I tell people. A lot of times people will come in and I ask them what they would like for their diamond or piece of Tiffany glass, or a painting. And they’ll say just as much as they can get. Which doesn’t really help either one of us. A lot of times if you tell a dealer what you’d like for an item, you may tell him it’s too cheap. You might give yourself away and tell him you don’t really know what the item is worth and say you want as much as you can get for it and see what happens.

If someone says to you that they really want to buy your item and they make you an offer, and you feel like the offer is not going to be enough, by all means, tell him that you were expecting to get however certain amount of money for it. Don’t just walk out the door because you really went there to sell something. Give him an idea of what you were trying to get for it. If there is any meat left on the bone, I think most dealers would buy an item because that’s what we’re in the business of doing. We buy and we sell. And if we don’t have any merchandise to sell, we have to go out there and buy it again. People will come into Westchester Gold And Diamond and say “Steve, why would you go anywhere? You’ve got more stuff than any place I’ve ever walked into. Why do you go looking for more?” Well, because, more isn’t always better, but I like to have stuff that everybody doesn’t have. When you come into Westchester Gold And Diamonds and if you are looking for something in particular and you don’t see it, always ask because there’s always a lot more behind those doors than you have any idea, any inkling of.

Ken:
You have to go to the warehouse!

Steve:
Or we’ll go to the warehouse, yes. But another item that was pretty cool that came in was a Confederate Calvary sword.

Ken:
Ooooh!

Steve:
Now with the Confederates it wasn’t like the North. They made do with what they had. A lot of their implements were pretty crude to work with. So when you look at their swords and armaments, generally they are not as nice. The welds and the soldering on the joints of a sword handle aren’t usually really nicely done. They were made because it was a weapon. This is what you protected yourself with. This is what you killed your enemy with. It was a weapon. And this gentleman came in and he pulled this out of a nice case. It was in great condition. It had 1862 Confederacy and it had CSA on the scabbard. It just had everything on to make it a Confederate sword, except the fact that it wasn’t. And he had a story where they found this in the wall of a house, and his dad was dying and had to get some money to put him in the hospital. So it was a tear-jerker.

Ken:
Tear after tear. Whoooo!

Steve:
Everybody in the whole place was listening to this guy and they were going to take a collection up for him. I listened to him and listened to him. Then I did what I’ve talked about before. I did what I call the sniff test.

Ken:
[Laughter]

Steve:
So anytime I look at a weapon, or any kind of a leather item that supposed to be antique or old, we do a sniff test. I’m going to teach everybody a little bit about this. On the handle of the sword is generally a leather grip. Now this sword was supposedly from the 1860’s, it had been used, it had been carried. Now the hygiene back in the 1860’s when you were out on the battlefield wasn’t the greatest. I don’t think they worried about washing their hands very often.

Ken:
No showers.

Steve:
No showers. Except when it rained. Okay. So they didn’t wear nice gloves so they wouldn’t mess up their sword. They used this as a weapon. They used it as a sidearm. This was their life. They held this in their hand most of the day. Well, your hand is going to perspire and the sweat is going to go into the leather. I don’t care whether it’s a jacket, whether it’s the handle on a knife, I don’t care if it’s a wood handle. If it is something that was held, over a period of years, if it’s an antique piece, if you do a sniff test, you’re going to smell something that doesn’t smell too great. It’s not going to smell like Febreze, it’s not going to smell like Bounce. It’s going to smell like perspiration, it’s going to smell like sweat, it’s going to smell like dirt. It’s going to smell like it was used for what it was done for. And when I smelled this leather handle, it smelled just nice and fresh. All the bindings on it. There was no wear at all in the bindings. When I say bindings, the handle was covered with leather and then there was a wire that went around that leather all the way up under the handle. Lots of times you will find a little break in the bindings or you’ll see some sort of wear and tear on those bindings, rust on the wire. And there wasn’t any. Now on the hand guard that faced on the outside, generally when you walked by a tree and hit it, it will leave a mark, it will leave some sort of a scuff on that. That were scuffs on it, but they were scuffs that were made with files. You could see how they were done. It’s going to develop a certain amount of patina. And we talk about patina, that’s the oxidation on a piece of metal that makes it dark. The patina was all very even and when you looked at it, you could see it was done with brush strokes. The patina had been applied to the scabbard and a little bit of the blade and things like that. It wasn’t a used piece. Plus the stampings, the CSA, Confederate States of America, the stampings weren’t correct on it. This gets a little bit more involved.

I’m going to tell you if you’re out there prospecting for antiques and you find a sword or something like that, and it’s got a leather handle and you don’t know if it’s real, or you don’t know if it’s old, do the sniff test. Pick it up and smell that leather. Because that will certainly give you a really good starting point for whether it’s genuine or not. Yes, there are some people who will put dirt all over that and play the game, but again, as I’ve told you before, if you’re going to spend your money on collectibles, become knowledgeable. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is money to you. Whether it’s either buying something that you can sell again or not spending that money on something that’s a facsimile or reproduction and losing your money. The best thing to do is go out there and handle as many items as you can. See as many items as you can. Touch them, feel them, smell them. That will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Now the other thing I’ve talked about on a sniff test is believe it or not, you can go prospecting at a garage sale and you may not have a loupe to be able to read the little markings on a piece of gold or silver, and you may not have a magnet that you can test it with. But if you take a chain that is gold color and you rub it in your hands until it gets a little warm, and then sniff your hands. If you smell metal, it usually will smell sort of brassy, then it’s not going to be a gold chain. It’s going to be a gold plated chain. Is it the most sound way to buy gold? No, not at all, but a lot of times, you’re out there and you bump into something and you’re not sure. If you do the sniff test on your gold and it smells like metal, then again, you’re going to want to pass on it. I don’t care if it says 14 carat on it and it’s stamped, and it’s a big heavy chain and somebody’s got it around their neck, and you just pulled into the Winn Dixie parking lot and they say to you, “Man can you help me out here? My car broke down and I need $200.” And you’re looking at this chain and thinking it’s a $1,000 chain and this guy only wants $200 for it, don’t let the greed get to you. Put it in your hands, rub it around real hard, sniff your hands. If it smells like brass, it probably is. Pass on the $200 deal.

I mention this because Christmas isn’t that far away and I see it every Christmas, that somebody comes in with a whole handful of chains that they are so proud of, and from the time that they hit that door to about three steps inside, I’ll tell them they’re not real. And they’ll say, “What?” I’ll say, “The chains are not real”. They’ll say, “You haven’t even looked at them, how can you tell?” I have to tell them, “They’re not real, dude. How much did you pay for them?” He says, “A guy’s care broke down!” I say, “It’s not real. Don’t even tell me what you paid for it. You’re out your money.” It’s funny, the police came into the shop and he had a handful of chains like this and I told him they aren’t real. And he asked me to test them for sure because he had the guy sitting out in his patrol car handcuffed for selling them over at the Winn Dixie parking lot and telling people they are real. So we tested it with acid and it turned green. So I showed him the sniff test. And he asksed me to do it again. I told him to do it, to put it in his hands and rub it really hard and sniff his hands. He said it smells like metal! I said, “There you go! You’re ready to open up a gold store!”

Ken:
[Laughter]

Steve:
So this is the sniff test and it’s something that’s important for you to do. It might look funny and it might sound dumb, but this is something that will save you a lot of money and make you a lot of money. It’s a little bit more knowledge that you’ve got.

Another thing that will help you out there, look for what we call touch marks. I talked to you about these too. These are the hallmarks that different countries will put on their pieces of jewelry or watch cases or anything that’s made out of metal. We had a bunch of different silver pieces come in when I was in South Carolina. Southern silver is something that a lot of people collect. Whether it’s flatware or hollowware, things like this. But you have to understand that most of it wasn’t marked sterling. What happened a lot of times, they would melt down silver coins and use this stuff to cast either flatware or hollowware and different items that they could possibly use. And there were some different unusual hallmarks that you don’t normally see. There are books out there that you can buy that have all kinds of various hallmarks. These are the little stampings that you see on gold or silver. I’ve told you lots of times, if you don’t see the word sterling, you may see .925 or you may see 925 over 1000 which means, theoretically it was 92.5 percent silver, or it was 92-1/2 parts out of a thousand silver. Generally, most sterling isn’t going to be 92.5 percent pure, it’s usually somewhere between 89 to 91 percent pure. It’s usually what we call under carat. It’s really not as much silver in there as it supposed to be. A lot of your gold jewelry is the same way although they police the gold jewelry a little bit tighter than they do the manufacturers of sterling silver. A lot of times if you don’t see those numbers, now you may see an 800 on it, which would tell you that it was European. A lot of the early American silver will say “coin” on it. You look at it and you think “coin”, Steve didn’t say anything about seeing “coin”. This showed that it was made out of melted coins and people back then knew that coins were 90 percent silver. Just by putting the word “coin” on it, people understood that this is actual silver and it’s 90 percent.

Now you also get some of the makers, Paul Revere, when you look at a piece of Paul Revere, you won’t see a PR on there for Paul Revere. Back then, they didn’t use an R, they used a T. So when you looked at a Paul Revere, it was a T for his initials. There are just a lot of makers that use different letters for their names, different symbols. Again, if you’re going to go out there and try to buy this stuff, you learn the hallmarks. Another thing that you can do is a quick test. If it’s a spoon or something like that, if you just put it between your hands and just give it a little tug, a little bend, a little tension on the handle of that particular piece of silver, if you find that you got a lot of resistance, then it’s probably not a piece of silver. Now this is only if it’s not a really super thick piece. If it’s thin, and most of your coin silver pieces were thin. So it was expensive, they didn’t have a lot of it. They melted down coins to make it. So you find that the thickness is considerably thinner than most of the sterling pieces that you’ll see nowadays. If you give it a little bit of a bend, and it bends, and it doesn’t go back to its original position, there’s a good chance that you might have a piece of coin silver there. So this is something else, not the sniff test, it’s a touch test and a flex test. So I do that quite often.

Lots of times on gold watches, gold pocket watches, if you sit there and just sort of squeeze the case between two fingers, you’ll find that it sort of goes in, and it’ll come back out. If it’s very difficult to squeeze that and make that case flex at all, it’s probably just a gold plated case. If you can actually push on it and it flexes, you can actually feel the flex and then it goes back to its original position, it’s probably gold. Then you want to open up the case and look for some kind of touch marks or something that’s going to give you a guide that says that this could possibly be gold. A lot of the different companies would use different emblems. They would use an eagle, they would use an anchor, they would put a letter on it. This would imply that it was made out of gold. So again, get that knowledge, go out there and learn about all these different types of marks. But again, if you’re not sure, I’m Steve Duke, the owner of Westchester Gold And Diamonds, telling you that here are some of the simple tests that you can perform when you’re out there in the field that will either save you money or make you money.

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Have Questions about your antiques, estate jewelry, collectibles or old treasures?

If you have questions for Steve Duke to answer about your jewelry, antiques or collectibles, just send a photo of the item and your question directly to Steve Duke at WGDiamonds@HotMail.com and Steve will research it for you and you may be contacted to participate in an upcoming Tradio episode. Be sure to include your name, email and phone number along with your question and email it to: WGDiamonds@HotMail.com