Steve: I wasn’t here last week. I was here in spirit, but not in body. I was out on the road, buying. I hit the pavement like the pickers and all the other guys you see on television.
We were in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was interesting. It was challenging. It was like being in the shop, but we had people bringing all kinds of items and things in. What was kind of unusual, to me – and I really hadn’t thought about it until I got there – I advertised, like I do here in town, for coins, antiques, and military items. I was going for Civil War items, so we had a picture of Civil War items in the ad, and gold coins and things.
We think of the Gold Rush in California as 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 miners were there, and there’s still a lot of gold, believe it or not, up in those hills. They actually started a mint in South Carolina. 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 1830s to 1860s, they would put a “D” on a lot of the gold coins, and that would actually stand for the Dahlonega Mint.
Dahlonega coins are fairly rare. In 37 years, I’ve had maybe three of them. What was unusual – and I guess it wasn’t when you really think about it, but it wasn’t anything that I had planned ahead of time – I’d 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. When you looked at the dates, and you look at the mint mark, a lot of these coins were Dahlonega Mint coins.
A normal five dollar gold piece is going to be worth somewhere between $350 and $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, I realized that these were coins that were handed down from generation to generation. My ads prompted these people to say, “I wonder what these coins are worth?”
I’ve traveled around the country, and different regions will have different types of items that are more plentiful. I never really 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 the coins that they’d then offered regular coin money for. They brought them in, and I paid them what the coins were actually worth.
We paid $3500 for one five dollar gold piece that was a Dahlonega coin. It’s funny, because the guy had it on a chain around his neck. He saw our ad, and he came in and said, “Is this anything special? You have pictures of gold coins, and what you’ll pay up to for gold coins. I’ve had this coin for years and years. I can live without it, but I’ve it taken around to these gold places, and everybody’s telling me $300. I know there’s more than $300 in the coin. Does it have any coin collector value?”
It was an 1852, and I looked at it, and I said, “That’s an early date. It’s in a holder, and it’s not held in with prongs.” It was held with a bezel, which protected the edges of the coin. It didn’t put any mars on the face of the coin or the back of the coin. When I flipped it over, low and behold, it was a Dahlonega Mint. I looked at him and I said, “How much were you offered for this?” He said, “The most anybody offered me was $310.” I said, “I’m going to offer you $3500 for it.” He just looked at it, and he . . .
Ken: Took it off his neck [laughs].
Steve: I had it in my hand. He snatched it out of my hand, and he said, “How much are you going to pay for this?” And I said, “$3500.” He said, “Why?” I said, “Well, I could pay you less if you’d like.” I explained to him about the mint mark, and 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 kind of cool, because we’d treated him right.
At Westchester Gold & Diamonds, we’ve been doing the same thing in this town for 37 years, so while we want to buy as much stuff as we can, we’ve got to be able to make money on it. We are 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 if you have items like that that you could come in and bring them with you.
Other things that I had advertised for were Civil War items, and they came out of the woodwork. When you’re in South Carolina, that Civil War stuff comes out of the woodwork. I had one fellow come in with a box full of goodies. He had a little pocket naval pistol, which was really neat. He had all kinds of cartridge buckles, and he had a couple of belt buckles and brass buckles.
A lot of times, you’ll see these big ovals. They’re made out of bronze and they say “US” on it. When people look at that, they think it’s a belt buckle. They did make some belt buckles like that, but what that actually 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. These are collectible.
As with any collectible we’ve talked about over the years – condition, condition, condition is very, very important. All of these Civil War military things are relics, and depending on the condition, we sometimes will call it a “relic relic”. His cartridge covers were what we call relic relics. They had been dug up on the battlefields. They were in pretty rough condition. Items like sell for – depending on the condition, between $50 to $125.
One thing that makes a big difference –there’s various loops that would attach to the leather that’s on the back of these things, and when you find them in the ground and they’ve been dug up, generally the loops have rotted away or they’ve 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 said, “What do you want for this pistol?” He said, “I want $1200.” To me, $1200 was full-blown retail. I looked at it, and the condition it was in. It was a piece that I thought we’d get $900 to $1000 for it. – “I’d pay $800 for it.” – “I couldn’t sell it for that kind of money.” I said, “Okay.” At that point, I could see that it was going to be useless to bother making any kind of offers on his stuff, and I said, “What do you want for your cartridge covers?” He said, “I want $175 for this one, and I want $200 for this one, and I want $100 for this brass plate.” I said, “Okay, well, thank you for bringing all of your stuff in. I certainly enjoyed looking at it, but you don’t leave any meat on the bone. Where is your store?” He said, “I don’t have a store.” I said, “Where do you sell it?” He said, “I set up at the flea market.” I said, “What do you ask for these things at the flea market?” He said, “I ask $1200 for that gun, and I ask $175 for these brass plates.” I said, “The next time, if you bring something to somebody like myself, you’ve got to leave a little meat on the bone. You are not asking ridiculous retail prices for these things, 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’s the least I would take for this stuff.” I said, “That’s fine. Thank you very much. Give me your card, because if you can sell it for that kind of money, I’m more than happy to sell to you, where you can make money.” He said, “What would you sell these to me for?” I said,” What you’re asking $125 for, I would be more than happy to sell to you for $75.” He said, “You couldn’t ever do that. Nobody would sell them for $75.” And with that, I walked into the office, because I’d bought some other stuff – pulled it out, and I said, “Okay, here’s $400 worth of things that you priced to me at about $800. Are you a buyer?” And 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. And a lot of times people will come in, and I’ll say to them, “What would you like for your diamond? Would you like for this piece of Tiffany glass or this painting?” And they’ll say, “Just as much as I can get,” which doesn’t really help either one of us, but a lot of times if you tell a dealer what you’d like for an item, you may tell them too cheap. You might give yourself away and say, “I don’t really know what the heck this thing is worth. I’m going to say, ‘I want as much as I can get for it,’ and see what happens.”
If someone says to you, “I really want to buy this,” and they make you an offer, and you feel like the offer is not going to be enough, by all means say to them, “You know what? I was expecting to get this kind of money for it.” Just don’t walk out the door, because you really went there to sell something. Give them an idea of what you want to try and get for it. If there’s 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. 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 & Diamonds, and they’ll 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, and when you come into Westchester Gold & Diamonds, if you’re looking for something in particular and you don’t see it, always ask us, because there’s a lot more behind those doors you don’t have any inkling of.
Ken: Might have to take a trip to the warehouse.
Steve: Yes, we’ll go to the warehouse.
Another item that was pretty cool that came in was a Confederate Cavalry sword. 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 armament, generally it’s not as nice. The welds or the solder 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.
This gentleman came in, and he pulled this out of a nice case. It was in great condition, and it had 1862 Confederacy, and it had CSA on the scabbard. It had everything on it to make it a Confederate sword, except the fact was, it wasn’t. He had a story where they found this in the wall of a house. His dad was dying, and he had to get some money to put him in the hospital. It was a tearjerker. Everybody in the whole place was listening to this guy, and it was like they were going to take up a collection for him. I listened to him, and I listened to him. Then I did what we’ve talked about before. I did what we call “the sniff test”.
Any time 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. This sword supposedly was from the 1860s. It had been used. It had been carried. The hygiene back in the 1860s 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. They didn’t wear nice gloves so that they wouldn’t mess up their sword. They used this as a weapon. They used it as a sidearm. This was their life, so they held this in their hand most of the day. Well, your hand’s going to perspire. You’re going to sweat, and it’s going to go into the leather. I don’t care whether it’s a jacket. I don’t care whether it’s the handle on a knife. I don’t care if it’s a wood handle. If it’s something that was handled – it 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 F’breeze. 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.
When I smelled this leather handle, it smelled just nice and fresh. All the bindings on it – there were no wear at all on the bindings. When I say bindings – the handle was covered with leather, and then there was a wire that went around that leather and all the way up on the handle. Lots of times you’ll find a little break on the bindings or you’ll see some kind of wear and tear on those bindings – rust on the wire. There wasn’t any.
Now on the hand guard that faced on the outside, generally you would walk by a tree and something would hit it. It’s going to leave a mark. It’s going to leave some sort of scuff on that. There 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’ve talked 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 brushstrokes. The patina had been applied to the scabbard and to a little bit of the blade, and things like this. It wasn’t a used piece. Plus the stampings – the CSA – Confederate States of America – the stampings weren’t correct on it, and this gets a little bit more involved, but 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 just don’t know if it’s real. You don’t know if it’s old. Do the sniff test. Pick it up and smell that leather, because that’ll certainly give you a real good starting point for whether it’s genuine or not.
Yes, there’s some people who will put dirt all over that and play the game, but 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 a reproduction and losing your money. The best thing to do is to 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.
The other thing that I’ve talked about on the sniff test is, believe it or not, you can go prospecting at a garage sale. You may not have a loupe to be able to read the little markings on a piece of gold or silver, and you might not have a magnet that you can test it with, but if you take a chain that’s gold-colored, and you rub it in your hands until it gets a little warm and then you sniff your hands – if you smell metal – usually it will smell a little 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, you bump into something, and you’re not sure. If you do the sniff test on your gold, and it smells like metal, then you’re going to want to pass on it.
I don’t care if it says 14K 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.” You’re looking at this chain and you’re going, “That’s $1000 chain, and this guy only want $200 for it,” don’ let the greed get to you. Put it in your hands, rub it around real hard, and sniff your hands. If it smells like brass, it probably is brass. Pass on the $200 deal.
I mention this because Christmas isn’t that far away, and I see it every Christmas. Somebody comes in of the whole handful of chains that they are so proud of and from the time they hit the door to about three steps inside, I’ll say to them, “They’re not real.” And they’ll go, “What?” I’ll go, “The chains are not real.” –“Well, you haven’t even looked at them. How do you know?” I’ll say, “It’s not real, dude. How much did you pay for it?” – “Well, a guy’s car broke down.” I’ll say,” It’s not real. Don’t even tell me what you paid for it. You’re out your money.”
It’s funny, last year the police came into the shop, and they had a handful of chains like this, and I said, “These aren’t real.” They said, “Can you test them for sure, because I’ve got the guy sitting out in my patrol car handcuffed for selling this over at the Winn-Dixie parking lot to people and telling them it’s real.” So we tested it with acid, and it turned green. I showed him the sniff test, and he goes, “Do that again.” I said, “No, you do it. Put it in your hands, and rub it real hard, and sniff your hands.” He goes, “It smells like metal.” I said, “There you go. You’re ready to open up a gold store.”
So this is the sniff test, and it’s something that’s important for you to do, and 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’ve 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 and things like this, but you have to understand that most of it wasn’t marked “sterling”.
What happened a lot of times was they would melt down silver coins and use this stuff to cast either flatware or hollowware or different stuff that they could possibly use. There were some different hallmarks – unusual hallmarks that you don’t normally see. There’re 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 might see 925 over 1000, which means, theoretically, it was 92 ½ percent silver, or it was 92 ½ parts out of 1000 of silver. Generally, most sterling isn’t going to be 92 ½ percent pure. It’s usually somewhere between 89 to 91 percent pure. It’s usually what we call “under karat”. It’s really not as much silver in there as there is supposed to be, and 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, you may see an “800” on it, which would tell you that it’s European.
A lot of the early American silver will say “coin” on it. You look at it and you go, “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, so just by putting the word coin on it, people understood that this is actual silver, and it’s 90 percent.
You’ll 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 look at Paul Revere piece, there was a T for his initials. There’re just a lot of makers that used different letters for their names, different symbols, and again, if you’re going to go out there and try and buy this stuff, you learn the hallmarks.
Another thing you can do as a quick test – if it’s a spoon or something like that, if you just put it between your fingers or 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’ve got a lot of resistance, then it’s probably not a piece of silver. Now this is only if it’s not a real super-thick piece. Most of your coin silver pieces were thin. Silver 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 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. It’s not the sniff test, it’s a touch test and a flex test.
I do that quite often, and lots of times on gold pocket watches, if you sit there and you 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, and you can feel that flex, and it goes back to its original position, it’s probably gold. What you want to do then is open up the case and look for some kind of touch marks or something that’s going to give you a guide that says, “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, and 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 if you’re not sure, I’m Steve Duke, the owner of Westchester Gold & Diamonds telling you, “Here’s some of the simple tests that you can perform when you’re out there in the field that’ll save you money or make you money.” With that we’re going to take a quick break and return to Tradio.
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
Listen to Tradio every Friday at 9 a.m. at 1580 WCCF or live stream with IHeartRadio App
Visit our Website: http://www.westchestergold.com
Westchester Gold and Diamonds is one of the largest buyers of gold, silver, diamonds, Rolex watches, antique and estate jewelry in southwest Florida.
As the premier jewelry store in Port Charlotte since 1974. We do custom design and we are able to duplicate many designs that you may have seen in your travels; often at a fraction of the price.
We accept your old diamonds and jewelry in trade, the same as cash.