Tradio: Steve Duke Presents Tradio Gems: Silver Prospecting

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There’s more and more people out there looking for ways to earn extra money, get a couple of extra bucks that they didn’t have before without having to open up their own company, or do stuff like that without a big expenditure.

So, what I like to do is talk about prospecting, and if you’ve been watching television – no, you don’t need to go to the Bering Sea, and you don’t have to go to Ghana, and … this you can do right there in your own home town, in Port Charlotte or Punta Gorda, or North Port or Sarasota, Fort Myers, wherever you’re at, listening to us.

What I’m going to do is give you a list of the few of the tools that you should probably have before you go prospecting. Then, we’re going to give you a couple of examples of things that you want to look for. But one of the important tools that you probably want to have, especially if you’re over 40, because your arms have gotten a little shorter as you’ve gotten older, and you find that you can’t quite see things as easily as you used to.

You want to go out there and get yourself a magnifying glass, and ideally, you get yourself what we call a “loop.” A loop is a very small, fold up magnifying glass that you can carry in your pocket. Jewelers use it for diamonds and gemstones, we look at pretty much anything we can’t see anymore, and that seems to be a lot of stuff for me.

So, you know, rather than getting a really big magnifying glass, you kind of want to be a little inconspicuous when you go prospecting. So get yourself a loop – if you can’t find any, we actually have those over at West Chester Gold and Diamond. You can buy them, they’re fairly inexpensive.

They could range from $5 up to – a really good jeweler’s loop is $125. You know, if you’re just going to be out there prospecting, a $5 or $10 loop will probably get the job done for you.

You also want to go out there and find yourself a nice magnet, and you know, don’t go to the junkyard and get one of these ones that they pick up cars up with. You don’t need something like that. You need something to put in your pocket.

Again, this is sort of where you’re in stealth mode here  so, you know, you want something small but if you can get one that’s got real good magnetism in it, that’s a great thing to have. If you can’t find anything and you turn around and you look at the refrigerator and you’ve got one of these refrigerator magnets on it that sometimes some of the realtors will send you, or different companies will send you, it’s got a little calendar on it sometimes, it’s magnetic. Put it in your pocket and take it with you.

Another thing that you’ll find is fairly good to have – it’s a nice little thing to have, is a little pocketknife. It doesn’t have to be a switchblade, just a nice little pocketknife. I tend to like ones with a little bit of a thinner blade, because – I’ll explain what we’re going to do with that later on.

So those are the three things that you can go out there and now become a prospector. Now we’ve got to zero in on where are we going to go prospecting? Well, you look in the newspaper and there’s a lot of garage sales. I’m going to say that’s a great place to start.

On the weekends, there’s usually flea markets around. That’s another place to go. Any of these church sales that you’ll see coming up, you know. Or big organizations have these different sales going on. This could be another place to go hunting, although there’s probably a lot of prospectors that have already gone through these items only because, you know, they work at a lot of different organizations and as this stuff gets put out, or people bring it in to drop it off, there’s a prospector out there and he’s picking through the goodies and you’re usually getting creamed, but not always.

So these are the spots that you’ll want to go. So typically, we jump in our vehicle and you kind of find an area that you think might be good for prospecting. It might be a mobile home park, a lot of these people have been living there for a long time.

Or it could be a retirement area, retirement section where people have been living for a long time. Someone may have passed away and they’re having an estate sale. A lot of times you can cream through it and say, “Well here’s a moving sale, it’s in a newer section of Port Charlotte, probably not good. If – I’m going to put that down on my list of priorities.”

Here’s something that says “Estate sale,” okay. So that means they’re probably leaving, someone may have passed away. Probably a chance that there’s going to be a lot of older stuff. I’d put that as a priority on my list of prospects.

Jump in the car, get there as early as you can – usually there’s a sign that says, you know, “No early birds. No one before 8 o’clock.” Well, of course you’re going to have people there at 6:30, and you want to be one of them because you want to be one of the first people in there.

Now, if you don’t have kind of a background as far as prospecting goes, and you’re just listening to me, trying to learn how to become a prospector, the easiest things for you to spot and get quick cash are going to be gold, or silver items or any other kind of precious metal. This is something you can buy a lot of times below the market, because many people have no idea what they have.

Or they don’t even know that it’s gold or silver, and you’re going to go out there and try and find them. So you’re in line, you’re waiting to get in there. The door opens, you go rushing in and now you’re looking around at all the stuff, and you’re going, “Where am I going to go look?”

Well, a seasoned prospector gives it a quick once over, and they look for anything that looks like silver color. “There’s a set of candlesticks over there in that corner. They might be silver. There’s a whole bunch of old platters and trays and things over there – silver color, they might be good. I’m going to go over there first.”

Alright, well run over there before everybody else gets there. Now, let’s start looking at them. Okay, well here’s a set of candlesticks – we pick those up, and man, these are heavy. If these are silver, it’s going to be a score. You flip them over and you look, and on the bottom, almost read what it says but not quite. These darn things are so dirty, how come these people don’t clean their junk?

Well, ready in your pocket and pull out that loop. Put it up to your eye and pick that candlestick up and hold it up towards the loop until it comes into focus, and what does it say? It says, “Oh look, it says ‘sterling.’ I remember Steve saying something about sterling. I’m going to hang onto this – it says something else on there. ‘Sterling reinforced.’ Man, that must mean they use a lot of sterling in this thing because it’s so heavy. Cool, I’m hanging onto these. Now let’s go look at some of these other trays.”

You pick them up and you look on the bottom and it says “Rogers Brothers.” “That sounds like some guys that would make silver, but that’s all I can see. It says ‘Rogers Brothers.’ But here’s another mark on it. It says, ‘I.S.’ Does that mean ‘I am Sterling?’ I don’t know! Steve didn’t tell me about that.”

Alright. Well, Steve is telling you now that most of the times when you see “Rogers Brothers,” that was a large company that did silver plated items. And when you see “I.S.,” that means “International Silver Company,” and they also did silver plating. There’s not enough silver on any kind of silver plated items to be able to retrieve that’s worth your while to go prospecting for that stuff.

You would need pounds and pounds and pounds of it, and then it’s still not worth the silver content. It’s basically worth scrap metal. You don’t want that one. Let that one go.

Let’s look at another tray. Alright, we pick that one up and you can’t see anything on that one. But it’s got some little marks on the bottom of it. “I can’t make them out, let me get my loop and look, and okay. Here’s the mark on here – this one, this is cool. This looks like a lion. Okay.

“Then there’s another mark, and that’s a letter. And then, I can’t make this one out. Let me look again. This looks like a castle, and it’s stamped into the metal. It’s dirtier than heck, but it doesn’t say sterling. I’m going to throw, I’m going to pass on this one.”

You don’t want to do that. What you’re looking at are what we call “hallmarks.” Hallmarks are basically marks that are made from other countries, that tell us basically the silver content, the year that particular item was made and what town or province it was made in.

Now if you see that lion and he’s facing to the side there and he’s got his leg up in the air, that means it was probably made in England. That’s what we call the “Lion Passant,” or the “sterling mark.” That tells us this is a score, this is sterling.

Now what’s the letter mean? The letter tells us exactly within one year a date of manufacture for that particular item. And the castle tells us that was made in Sheffield. Now if it had an anchor it would have told us that it was made in Birmingham, and there are some other different marks but we don’t really need to know that, we’re not being historians today, we’re being prospectors.

So, now this tray is definitely sterling. Put it over there with the candlesticks and let’s finish going through this whole thing of trays and little things. Now here’s another piece and it doesn’t say ‘sterling.’ It doesn’t have those hallmarks on it. “There’s a number on here. Let me look up this number – the number is 41. Steve didn’t tell me about 41.”

41 is a catalog number. Probably doesn’t mean anything other than a style number, so that as a manufacturer if you’re selling a particular item to a company and they say, “Hey, Bob, I need seven more 41 trays in my store.” “Okay, we’ll get it out to you.” Pass on that one.

Go to the next one. We look at this one, and here’s another one. “It doesn’t have any hallmarks, it doesn’t say ‘sterling.’ It’s got another number – I’m probably going to pass on this one. It says ‘800.’” Don’t pass on it. What does 800 mean? If you see a number and it has a decimal point in front of the number – sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t, but generally it will.

You might see ‘.925.’ You might see ‘.800.’ What this is, this is generally from Germany, or it’s going to be somewhere in Europe, again. This is going to tell us the fineness or the purity of that particular piece of silver, which means – sterling is, theoretically, 92.5% pure, that’s why you’ll see that ‘.925.’ When you assay it, it usually doesn’t come out that high. It usually comes out around 90%.

But if you see the ‘.800,’ that usually will tell you it’s 80% silver, so put that in your pile. That goes in the good pile.

Now we’ve worked out way through the trays, and here’s a little basket. “Let me look on the bottom. It says ‘quadruple plate.’ Well, maybe that just means its four times worth more than silver.” Quadruple plate means that it’s been plated four times. It’s polished, it’s dipped in a vat of silver, comes back out and gets re-polished. It’s dipped back in, and we do this four different times.

Now why do they do it? It’s a little bit more expensive process, it was a little bit better piece of silver plated and a lot of different companies were known because theirs would hold up for a lot of years through normal use. You have to remember that these weren’t put on the Earth for you just to be doing prospecting. They were actually utilitarian pieces. They were silver trays.

Sometimes there was a tea set put on it. Maybe there were cookies used on it, but it was made to be used. So the more silver plating that was on it, the longer that silver plate will hold up, the nicer that particular piece will look. So this is why we find, sometimes we find this ‘quadruple plate.’

Now there’s another thing sitting over here full of knives and forks, and spoons and things like that, or what we call, you know, “flatware.” “So let’s go look at this flatware – how do I tell if it’s silver, Steve?” Well, turn it over and look at the back side. Down by the – either if it’s a fork, down by where the tines are, or where the portion is, you know, where you pick up the food with. Look a little bit above that and look for a word, generally it’ll say “sterling.”

Or, it could say ‘.800.’ Now you know that, you know that ‘.800’ mark is also something you want. It could have those little hallmarks again, and it could have three little markings on it. Again, you’re going to look for that lion facing sideways with his foot up.

But you look at you say, “Well this has got three marks on it, too. Hmm. I’m betting that this is silver.” Well, you’re going to find out as a prospector, sometimes you’re going to hit fool’s gold, sometimes you’re not, sometimes you’re going to hit iron pyrite, sometimes you’re going to score. Well, there’s books out there, and you can learn what all of those little markings are, but generally if it’s got the markings on a piece of flatware and it’s got those three marks on it but it doesn’t say “sterling,” a lot of times that’s just a factory mark. That’s a manufacturer’s mark.

Sometimes it will be sterling, sometimes it won’t be. There’s a lot of manufacturers who made different types of silver plate and they’ll put those three marks on there. Actually, they’ll put all kinds of different marking on there. You may see a piece of silver flatware and it’s got a name like “Gorham,” which is one of the big makers. It could even say “Tiffany,” which is another big maker. It could say “Toll.”

It could say all kinds of different names, and it’s a big heavy piece. You’re going, “Score man, I just prospected and found myself  a big hunk of silver flatware! And to prove it, it’s got these letters on it right here that say ‘E.P.’” Well, those “E.P” letters mean ‘electraplate.’ Leave it down there for the next prospector who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he’ll buy it.

But these are some of the markings that you want to look for if an item is that silver color. Now, reach in your pocket and very nonchalantly, take that magnet out and touch it to the different pieces that you weren’t quite sure of. If it sticks to that particular tray or that piece of flatware, it’s probably going to be silver plated, so this is a quick way to cull through it. If you’ve got time that you can look, you know, if you can see the word “sterling,” that’s best. You’re going to know that’s item is silver.

If it sticks to the magnet, it’s not going to be silver but there’s a couple of caveats here. There’s some things that you’ve got to worry about. Sometimes it’s made out of nickel, a nickel silver. This will stick to your magnet, but there’s also what we call “white metal” or “spelter.” This looks like silver lots of times, you’ll find big heavy pieces and trays made out of it. You’ll find statues made out of it.

Your magnet won’t stick to it. Look for those markings, look for hallmarks. Look for the word “sterling.” Look for that ‘.800’ number. You’ll also see ‘.900.’ This’ll also tell you that it’s 90% silver, and a lot of the Mexican silver we see is marked with that ‘.900’ mark.

Sometimes you’ll see, you know, where it says “Taxo,” which was a town that had a lot of silversmiths in it. But this again, this comes with time and knowledge, which is important for you to look up, learn, see, handle and touch. You can get on the Internet and learn a lot about silver makers. You know, you’ll see there’s some of the companies, or the countries, used different hallmarks.

There’s books and books of things that you need to look at and learn. The French had different hallmarks, just a picture of a person’s head, which was the symbol for their sterling. Some of the Swedish and Danish countries used different types of buildings and different marks. A lot of the early silver marks for the U.S. didn’t say anything about sterling, they said the word “coin” on them.

So if you pick up a piece of flatware or what we call “hollow ware,” hollow ware would be different, you know, like trays or silver tea sets and things like this. This is what we refer to as “hollow ware.”

You look on the back side, and it happens to say the word “coin.” Cha-ching! That means that it’s 90% silver, and why did they bother putting the word “coin” on it? Because most of the pieces that say “coin” were made around in the 1860’s during the Civil War. And because a lot of artisans didn’t have copper to work with, to alloy it with their silver because copper was being used for bullets and different armaments, what they did is they would melt down silver coins.

The silver coins were 90% silver. so rather than putting a big epitaph on the back of it saying “this item is made out of melted silver coins,” they just put the word “coin.” By seeing that word coin, it helps to date that particular item, which is also important because not only can some of the items you’re out there prospecting have silver and gold and precious metal content, but sometimes they’ll have historical value as well.

So, you know, you need to first narrow it down to the fact that, “You know what? I just scored because I picked up some silver and gold items that were pretty cheap, and I can scrap those and make myself some money.” Or if it’s something pretty elaborate or unusual, you might take it to somebody like myself at West Chester Gold and Diamonds, we’re always happy to look at that item and say to you, “Well you know what, this has got gold or silver content, but it’s worth more as an item, and we’ll buy it as an item.”

Lots of people out there who are buying gold and silver right now. You know, I joke about it, but a week ago they were selling shoes, and now they’re gold and silver buyers, and they’re experts. Lots of them have not a whole lot more knowledge than what you’re trying to learn right now. But, they’re buying it, they’re selling it, they’re scrapping it and you know, millions and millions of dollars worth of items this last time that gold has run up so high have been scrapped.

I mean, there are items that have historical value. They were worth ten times the silver and gold content that they were scrapped for. People weren’t knowledgeable enough to be able to know that, so as a starting out prospector, you’re out there trying to find these metals real quick. And later on, you know, you can either take them to someone who’s knowledgeable who cam tell you what you have, or you can always scrap them and make that money quickly.

You know, if you’re on a limited budget, that’s fine. You can do that too. But you know, as a prospector, you’re going to be out there looking for different things.

We’re just about out of time, and you know, we talked a little bit about silver – oh, we do have time. Alright.

Silly me! Then we’re going to talk about a few more things that you can start looking at while you’re out there prospecting.

So we started covering different silver items. Now, let’s talk about a few of the things that you just found. How much should you pay for them? That’s the $64 Million question right there.

You picked up a pair of candlesticks and they are heavy! Man, you’re going like, “These are … I could pay anything for these!” No you can’t, because if you look on the bottom, it said “reinforced.” What did that mean to you? Well, it means that what they’ve done – there’s a very, very thin sheet of silver that makes up and comprises those candlesticks.

The majority of what those candlesticks are would be one of two things. It’s either going to be cement, or it’s going to be shellac, and how do you tell? You know, it doesn’t really matter. All you have to know is that you don’t want to start tearing people’s stuff apart while you’re at the garage sale, okay?

Let’s say you bought those, that set of candlesticks and they just hold one candle each. They stand about, oh, three or four inches high and you paid $20 for them but they were awful heavy, so maybe I scored.

Well, what you want to do now that you own them, go outside and you can do a couple of different things real quick. You can turn around and smash that on the concrete sidewalk. People will think you’re crazy and it looks like you’re in a fit of rage. They’re going to leave you alone, but you could also go in your pocket and take out that pocketknife.

Right around the edge on the bottom of the base there, you’ll see a little seam. You can take that pocketknife and stick it in there, and if you pry it just right it’s going to pop apart. What I would personally do, I’d throw them on the concrete, because I’ve scrapped thousands of those and it’s a lot easier. Just sit there like a wild person and smash it on the concrete. All of a sudden, the bottom is going to come flying off.

You’re going to be like, “The heck with the pocketknife, I’m smashing this stuff on concrete from now on. It’s a lot easier.” Or you can take it home and hit it with a hammer and crush it, and then the bottom will come flying off again. When you pick it up you’re going to be, “Oh, this is like aluminum foil!” Exactly. It’s very, very thin. There’s not a lot of silver involved in it, and if you look on the inside, what you’re going to see is either something that’s made out of white material, or something that’s kind of made out of a brown material.

If it’s white, that’s cement, that’s concrete that’s reinforced. If it’s sort of a brownish color, that’s basically shellac. And that stuff, when you get it on your hands and your hands are a little sweaty, it’s kind of gooey and it’s kind of sticky. That’s kind of a pain in the butt to get it off your hands, but soap and water will get it off eventually.

The concrete, the cement, a lot easier. Just smack that with a hammer, clean it up and you’ll be able to weigh that and find out how much silver you actually have.

Let’s say you found a candelabra. When we say “candelabra,” it’s like a candlestick but it holds four or five different candles in it. It’s going to have little arms that hold the candles out there. Well, it’s going to be pretty heavy, but the problem’s going to be – number one, it’s going to be filled with either a resin or shellac or cement, and those arms? Those are made out of copper generally, and they have silver wrapped around them.

So as heavy as they seem to be, there’s not that much silver involved in those arms either, those arms are not going to be solid silver, they just are not. They’re generally – because the silver is not going to be strong enough to hold or support it. Now some of the older pieces might be, but in general it’s going to have some sort of a rod that goes through there that’s non silver, and then it’s wrapped in silver as well.

These are some of the things that you can start prospecting for, and we could explain to you, you know, what you have if you happen to be prospecting and finding these items, bring them by Westchester Gold and Diamonds. We’re in the Baer Plaza behind ABC Liquors.

I’m always happy to take a look at that stuff and show you what you have. If you bought some stuff and you’re not quite sure whether it’s silver and you just took a shot because it had some different markings on it and you think it might be. You know, what you had to pay for it didn’t change your lifestyle – bring it in, what we’ll do is we’ll test it with acid, which is another way of prospecting, but you don’t want to do that at the flea markets or the garage sales.

We’ll be more than happy to help you. I’m Steve Duke, the owner of Westchester Gold and Diamonds, and we’re starting to talk about prospecting. This was a little quick overview of how to look for silver.

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