Tradio: Prospecting for Fun and Profit
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Steve: I’m going to continue talking about…
Steve: Prospecting! Get your donkey, get your pickaxe, and come on down! All right, well you may have seen all these things on the Bering Sea, and going for the gold in Guiana, and just all that other stuff and you know it’s very exciting, but it’s not as profitable as just running around to the flea markets and garage sales, and finding that gold and silver.
Let’s grab this phone call. Good morning. You’re on Tradio.
Caller 1: Yeah, Steve. I’ve got a Kenmore portable sewing machine I’d like to get rid of. Brand new, never been used.
Steve: Okay, how much you want for it?
Caller 1: I’d take $40 for it in nothing flat.
Steve: That sounds like a good deal. Give me a phone number.
Caller 1: Area code 941-661-0453.
Ken: What color is it?
Caller 1: Oh, you know, I don’t know. I’ve never seen it out of the box. I would imagine it’s white.
Steve: [Laughter] It’s cardboard color.
Steve: All right! We got you!
Caller 1: And I also have two Mahjongg sets.
Caller 1: I own Mahjongg sets. One of them is an old antique and the other one is relatively new, maybe five years old.
Caller 1: And I’d like to get $35, $40 dollars for each set.
Steve: Okay. If you want, I might be interested in the old set. If you get a chance, you could bring it by. I’ll be happy to look at that for you.
Caller: Which one you want?
Steve: The older set.
Steve: See how old that is and… because sometimes they’re worth a lot more than that if they happen to be ivory tiles. I’d pay a lot more than that for it.
Caller: Okay. I’m at Department of Motor Vehicles getting my license, and I’ll go back home and get them and bring them up there.
Steve: All right. I’ll be there about 11:00.
Ken: You can go back and get him in probably what? He’ll be there for two days! You’re at DMV. They take forever.
Caller: [Laughter] Well, I’m just renewing the license.
Ken: Oh! All right.
Caller: But I’ll bring them up there.
Steve: All right. We’re open on Saturday too, 10:30-4:00, incase you don’t get out of there too quickly.
Caller: I’ll be there.
Steve: Okay, thanks.
Caller: Thank you.
Steve: All righty. Bye now. All right, you never know. Sometimes the older… some of those older Mahjongg sets are made — most of them are made out of bone, but some of them are made out of ivory, and I can always use the ones made out of ivory.
All right, so we’re talking about prospecting, and we talked about the fact that you want to get yourself a loupe, which is a little magnifying glass you can carry around in your pocket. You want to get yourself a magnet because gold and silver in general will not be attracted to a magnet.
So let’s say you went to this garage sale and you’re looking around, and you spy all that costume jewelry over there and you kind of mosey on over. Nobody’s really there yet, and it says “Your Choice for a Buck.”
Okay, so let’s go looking, and we talked about it last week that if you’re looking at chains or bracelets what you do is you look at the clasp, the piece that fastens together. And lots of times you could either see, find it, a 10K or a 14K or an 18K mark on that clasp or the little piece that attaches to the clasp, and that would give you an indication that, in theory, it should be a piece of gold.
Now, you’re going to find a lot of stuff out there that are what we call “cheaters.” You know, there are people who make this stuff. They put those tags on them and it’s not gold, but usually if they’re a cheater they’re not going to sit there and try and get a $1 or $2 for it.
They’re going to be in a Win-Dixie parking lot with the hood of their car up, and with this forlorn look on their face, and you’ll find this during Christmas time a lot. They come walking up to you, and they got this big old chain around their neck, and they go, “Oh man, can you help me out? My car just broke down, and all I got is this gold chain.”
And you’re looking at it, and you’re going, “Steve said this gold is worth a lot of money if it’s big and heavy, and this chain is huge!” and the guy says, “I just need $300 or $400 to get my car fixed, so I can get it towed out of here.”
Then he takes his chain off, and you look at it and you say, “Well, you know, Steve told us to look at that clasp, and that clasp says 14K on it. And I don’t have my magnet with me, but it kind a looks like it should be gold, so I’ll take a shot — 300 or 400 bucks.”
And then you’re going to bring it into Westchester Gold and Diamonds and I’m going to say to you — by the time you hit that door and it’s in your hand — I’m going to say to you, “That’s not gold,” and you’re going to go, “What?” and I’m going to say, “That’s not gold.”
And you’re going to say, “Well… I didn’t even show you yet.” I go, “That’s not gold. You don’t have to show it to me.” Well, how did I know that? Well, for the fact that I’ve been doing it for almost 40 years, that’s one way I can sort of figure out what you got.
The second way is the fact that lots of times, the color is just the wrong color, or there’s certain styles of bracelets and necklaces that I’ve seen over and over again, and I can sit there and look at them across the room and tell you what all the markings are on them and know they’re not genuine.
Now is it because I’m that intelligent or is it because I’ve gotten burned over the years once or twice? I’m the first one to admit it’s because I’ve gotten burned.
Ken: It happens.
Steve: It happens, and you know what? Those are generally the lessons that you remember the most and I’m not proud of that fact, but I’m certainly not embarrassed to say, “Yeah.”
Over the years you’re going to make some mistakes. You know if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not buying enough items and I’ve certainly done that both ways. I’ve bought a ton of stuff. I can guarantee that we buy more merchandise in this town, in this area, than anybody else around.
I mean, this is what we’ve been doing for a lot of years, and, you know, if you’re buying that much stuff, sooner or later you will buy merchandise that’s not gold or silver, even though it’s marked. You know, you may be in a hurry, you didn’t test the way you should have, and you learn.
What I do a lot of times is I put a pile of stuff on the top of my desk up in the corner, and every time I think I’m a smart guy, I look at that pile and I say, “Okay, we won’t be buying any more of this again, and that’s part of the lesson. So how do you tell whether these items are gold or not? Well, there’s a couple different ways.
One way that works the best, for me, is we test it with acid. Now you’re not going to do that if you’re at a garage sale or an estate sale, but after you’ve bought your stuff you could buy what we call a test kit. This has basically concentrated nitric acid in it, and it’s got different solutions, different degrees of acid.
And you take what we call a touchstone. It’s almost like the stone that you would sharpen a knife on, and you run that piece of suspected gold onto the touchstone. You take your acid, and you put it right over the top of that mark. Now, if the mark disappears, then it’s not gold. If it changes color, now we have to determine what carat gold that actually is.
You can buy pre-mixed acids in 10-carat gold, 14-carat gold, 18-carat gold, 22-carat gold; they’ve got an acid that you can test for platinum with. Generally, I just use 14-carat gold acid, and if I put that on a mark on a touchstone and that mark stays nice and bright, I know that it’s at least 14-carat gold.
Now, what I’m going to have to do is take my 18-carat gold and test it again, and make another mark. I put the 18-carat gold acid, and I look at it. Now if it stays nice and bright, that tells me it’s 18-carat or higher, carat gold. If it turns an orangey color that tells me that it’s only 14-carat gold.
Now if I put that mark there and I test it with my 14-carat gold, and it turns orangey and starts to fade, that’s going to tell me it’s probably 10-carat gold or less, depending what color it turns, how fast it changes, what the items looks like, the color that it started, you know, and all this comes with experience, all of it comes with time
But again, testing it with the acid, you know, it’s hit or miss. You learn pretty quickly, you know, if it fades out, what carat gold it is. If it stays nice and bright, what carat gold it should be. And I’ve told you before, just because gold is marked 10-carat or 14-carat or 18-carat, it doesn’t mean that the proportions of gold are always going to be correct.
You know, 14-carat gold theoretically is 58.5% pure. Most of the time when you get an assay, it’s going to be anywhere, somewhere between 53-56%, maybe 57% pure. Lots of the newer jewelry was under carated very, very greatly in the 80s, and people say, “Well, if it’s supposed to be 14-carat, why would they only make it 13.5 carat?”
Well, if you’re a manufacturer and you’re making 100s of 1000s of pieces, just saving that little half-carat on a 100,000 pieces turns around and equates to a large amount of money, and the average consumer is not going to have any idea that they’ve bought under-carated jewelry.
So this is why most of the time, you know, if you come in and you’re looking at gold, don’t always say to yourself, “Okay, I know what this stuff is worth. I can calculate what it’s going to be worth.” You can’t always because it’s generally not what it’s supposed to be.
Now let’s say you didn’t have any acid, and this guy turns around and he says, “You know, I’m going to sell you this big, fat thick chain for $300,” and you say to yourself, “Well, it’s marked 14-carat. It looks good. Steve said that it should have all these markings and it does. Do I take a shot at it? Do I spend that money? Do it! Do it!”
Yeah, and the other side’s going, “Don’t be a chump! Don’t waste your money!” All I can tell you is, there’s nobody out there selling you dollar bills for 50 cents. It doesn’t happen, and what does that mean?
That means that if a fella has got a big fat chain on his neck, that he knows he can go to a pawnshop or someone like ourselves who buys and sells gold and get a $1,000 for it, why is he going to say to you, “Give me 300 bucks?” He’s not going to, so if it’s too good to be true it probably is.
That’s where the adage came from, but I’m going to tell you right now, how you might take another test without the acid or anything else. This is what we call the sniff test, and if you take that chain and rub it between your hands, and if it gets kinked up, it gets kinked up. If they want to sell it to you, don’t worry about it.
Rub that thing between your hands really fast until it starts to get a little bit of warmth to it, and now smell your hands. Smell them! Besides the aftershave that it smells like because it came off the guy’s neck, does it have a metal smell to it? Smell brassy or kind of metal?
Gold does not have a scent to it. You can rub a heavy chain in your hand made out of gold, sniff your hand and you’re not going to have that metal, that metallic smell to it. If it’s a gold plated chain or if it’s made out of some other substance besides gold, generally by rubbing it between your hands and doing a sniff test, you’re going to be able to tell that it’s not gold.
And this comes in real handy, especially sometimes at these garage sales, you know, you found a big chain and it’s marked a dollar, but there’s a lot of other costume jewelry in there and there’s some gold pieces that you found. You know what? You got a pretty good shot that it might be gold because here’s somebody’s having a garage sale.
Someone’s passed away: they don’t want to be bothered with this stuff. It’s too much trouble to box it up and walk into a store like Westchester Gold and Diamonds, and walk out with a few thousand dollars. They’d rather sell these things for a dollar apiece and think they made money.
Well, you know what? These are the people that you want. These are the people that are too busy to make money. You’re not. You’ve got the time. Go out there and start prospecting.
Ken: You’ve got the tools now.
Steve: Pick up that chain. You got the tools. Now it’s a matter of obtaining enough of the knowledge so that you can do it consistently without making too many mistakes — too many costly mistakes. So you do the sniff test with this big chain. You don’t smell anything. It looks like gold, it’s got a gold marking on it, snatch it up. For a dollar, you can’t go wrong.
Now what other kinds of items are you going to find that are made out of gold when you look at this, and lots of times everybody’s got their hands in this box of costume jewelry? What things should you look for? Always look for chains and bracelets. It goes without saying. Those are going to be the two gold items you’re always going to find.
Look for little service pins. You know, they worked for Bell Telephone for 10-years and might have what looks to be a little diamond in that pin. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. It might have like a little ruby or sapphire, but those service pins lots of times are gold. Now how do you tell?
If you see a couple of them lying around there, snatch them up, put them in your hand. Don’t let anybody else get near them. Now turn them over. Take your loupe out and look on the back. Generally they’ll say 10-carat.
Now, you might encounter a couple other things while you’re prospecting. It might say 1/10, 10 carat. That means it’s gold filled and it has a very, very minute amount of gold in it. Is it worth taking? Probably not, unless it’s a very large piece and you can pick it up for very inexpensive, and you’re just going to accumulate a lot of this together, then it becomes worthwhile.
But unless you’re buying lots and lots of this gold-filled stuff or this 1/10 or 1/20 stuff, you’re looking for the home run right now when you’re out there prospecting; so if it says 1/10 on it or 1/20, pass on that. If it says 10K on it, snatch it up. That’s worth a buck.
Let’s say you’re looking at — you’ve got some old metals, and it looks like they’re from athletics and things like that and they look old. I mean, they’re dark colors and stuff like that — kind of ratty looking. But you know, what the heck, pick them up and look at them. Lots of times you’re going to find out that the silver ones generally were made out of sterling.
The older ones, sterling silver wasn’t that expensive. You’re talking about silver wasn’t less than a dollar an ounce when that stuff was made. Snatch it up — you just made yourself a score. Turn over the other ones that look like they might be gold. Generally, a lot of times they will say “solid gold” on the back of that.
Now, Steve didn’t tell us what’s this solid gold mean? Is it 10-carat or the 14? I’m telling you that it’s solid gold. When you see solid gold generally 99% of the time it’s going to be 10-carat gold.
But if it’s a big metal, and I say a “big metal” I’m talking about a metal the size of a quarter made out of solid gold or 10-carat gold, and you can buy it for a dollar or two or five dollars — you just made a home run. Generally, a piece like that’s going to have $70 to $150 worth of gold in it. Snatch it up! That’s something you want to look at.
Now there are some old ladies wristwatches in there, and they’re staring at you. Here’s a quickie: Grab them, put them into your hot little hand again, turn them over and look at the backside. If the front side is a gold color and the backside is silvery and shiny, that’s a stainless steel back. Put it down there for the next guy to snatch up.
Now, if it’s all the same color as the front and the back of that case, now get out your loupe and look at the ends of it — look at the edges of it. Lots of times you’ll find that the gold mark is right on the end of it somewhere, and it will say 14-carat or it’ll say 10-carat. You may see one that says 10-carat rolled gold. You might see one that says 14-carat rolled gold.
Again, this is a type of gold-filled item, and yes it has value to it. Unless you can buy it really cheap, you don’t need to mess with it. Like I said, we’re trying to teach you how to make a day’s wages or a week’s wages even. So we’re looking for the real stuff. We’re looking for the solid gold items.
Now, you know, a lot of times the men’s watches will have the same thing. Sometimes the mark is on the inside of that particular watch, and if you’ve been doing this for a while and you really believe that you’re good enough to know, and you really think that particular item is gold, and one way or the other it’s not going to effect your lifestyle to buy that item for two or three or four bucks, so when you get it home you can pop it apart, and look in the inside of that case and see whether it was gold or not, and take a shot at it. Now lots of times these watches are worth a lot of money because of what they are: the type of watch.
And this is something that we’ll talk about again, but while we’re prospecting for gold and silver, we’re not going to even be worried about that right now. We’re just looking for those items made out of gold and silver. So we’re looking for pins. We’re looking for bracelets and necklaces. We’re looking for some of the watchcases that might be gold.
You’ll find a lot of other unusual things. If you happen to see little charms from bracelets, and around people’s necklaces and things, pick them up. Take a look at them. These are quickies. All you do is take your magnet — touch it to the magnet and see if it’s going to stick. If it doesn’t stick, grab it. It’s probably going to be gold.
Now sometimes a bracelet or necklace will stick to your magnet around the clasp portion. The reason being there’s a little steel spring inside there, so don’t get turned off by the fact that it stuck to your magnet. Touch it to the body of the particular piece of jewelry — the middle of that chain or the middle of that bracelet.
I remember years ago when I first started, and I use to travel around the country buying out of hotels. I had a women come in, and she had all kinds of miscellaneous stuff and she handed me this item. It looked like a little corkscrew, and I looked at it. I didn’t have a clue what this was.
I was just starting out, and I looked at her and I said, “Gee, I’ve never seen anything like this before, what is it?” And she just got a very funny look on her face, and she sort of turned red, and I kept looking at this, and looking at it and she just kind of looked at me.
She said, “I don’t really know,” and then I looked at it and all the sudden the light bulb popped up in my head, and I realized that this was an IUD from around the 20s and 30s because it was made out of gold.
The gold was pretty much inert, and it would accomplish what it was supposed to do, what function an IUD was supposed to accomplish. So you never know what you’re going to run across made out of gold. You know, this was an unusual item, nothing to be…
Ken: I want to go wash my hands.
Steve: Yeah, exactly! Nothing that I’m going to run around and put in a showcase to try and sell, but…
Ken: [Laughter] Pick it up to botta-boo.
Steve: Exactly. But you know, look for old dental teeth or old bridges. Believe it or not, you know, there’s lots of that stuff.
Ken: Yeah, a lot of gold.
Steve: Now, if you find a bridge and it’s made out of white, and you think, “Oh, man, this here is what Steve was talking about.” It’s a dental bridge, it’s gold teeth, but it’s white, pass on that. Generally, it’s made out of chromium. There’s generally no gold in those items, and if there is, there’s maybe one or two percent — not worth buying, even in huge quantities.
I mean, and I’ve bought a lot of it over the years. It’s really not worth messing with, but if you happen to find those gold teeth, then you can pay a lot more than the tooth fairy for it. Make sure you snatch that stuff up.
I’m Steve Duke, the owner of Westchester Gold and Diamonds. We’ve been talking about all kinds of prospecting. There’s lots of stuff out there that you’re going to run into. You know, remember: Take that loupe, take that magnet take a look at the stuff.
Give it a shot, go out there and make some money, and if you need to turn it into cash, come see Westchester Gold and Diamonds. We’re in the Bear’s Plaza behind ABC Liquors. With that, we’re going to take a quick break and return to Tradio.
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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