Scrap Gold: What To Search For
While you might think that finding jewelry and other items at tag sales and second hand stores would be easy, the truth is, it can be very difficult to find these things unless you know exactly what you are looking for. As with most other endeavors, hunting for hidden treasures can begin with some trial and error – most seasoned second hand treasure hunters have made plenty of mistakes! Luckily, these mistakes don’t normally cost a lot of money. In general though, here is a list of items to keep an eye out for.
Jumbled Heaps of Jewelry
When gold was much less expensive, people bought a lot of costume jewelry, much of it made from 14K gold or better. Jewelers and jewelry manufacturers picked up on the trend, selling styles that were faddish and which went out of style quickly. You might even have some of those styles lying around the house right now! You would be amazed at how many people have heaps of unwanted trendy jewelry, broken jewelry, and other items of value just waiting to be discovered.
Like the finds we talked about a little earlier, much of the jewelry you will find for rock bottom prices at second hand events comes in tangled heaps. It is not normally laid out neatly, and it is hardly ever priced individually. Much of the valuable jewelry will be mixed in with worthless junk or costume jewelry, and it is often so tangled together that it can take ages to separate.
The best part about tangled jumbles of jewelry is that it is cheap. The seller simply wants to get rid of the stuff, has no idea what is inside the tangled mess, and doesn’t know or care how much it is worth. You can buy wads of jewelry for as little as fifty cents; particularly if you go on about how much trouble it will be to untangle it. Remember: haggling is permitted, and it is expected. So if you think a wad of chains and beads is priced too high, don’t be too proud to haggle. If you don’t find anything of value in the mess, you haven’t wasted much money at all, and if you work to untangle it during free time when you’re watching TV or being similarly entertained, you’re not losing time, either.
If You Don’t See it, Ask!
Often, people think that the old jewelry they have lying around the house is worth so little that it is not even worth selling. Sometimes they are so concerned about the fact that the jewelry is in poor condition that they think no one will give them any money for it. So, if you arrive at a garage sale and see no jewelry, ask the person holding the sale whether they have any jewelry available. If they look puzzled, you can come up with a plausible explanation – many people do buy old jewelry for use in crafts and other projects, and the words “scrap jewelry” don’t sound particularly fancy.
Boxes of Old Coins and Other Metal Items
One of the best places to find gold, silver, and other precious metals is in containers that hold all kinds of old odds and ends. While gold coins are very rarely discovered mixed in with other items, gold jewelry, particularly white gold jewelry, sometimes finds its way into bins and boxes. In addition, people have a tendency to believe that single earrings, worn out gold jewelry, and old or outdated looking jewelry is valueless – sadly, some of these items end up in the trash! Do not overlook those old catch all boxes.
Often, single items are marked with individual prices that may seem high for garage sale or thrift items, but which actually allow you to earn a profit. The question is, how can you tell what is worth money, and what is not? For instance, there are many base metals that have a gold color, and some items are very lightly electroplated so that they appear to be the real thing. Luckily, we do not have to judge by appearance. Unless items are very old, they will normally be marked with a stamp that provides immediate insight as to their value.
Some often overlooked items include class rings, brooches, tie clips and tie tacks, cufflinks, commemorative pins, money clips, and even pens. Most people who start looking for secondhand gold limit themselves by only looking for things like bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces. Don’t make that mistake – instead, take a look at everything that gleams.
Purity Markings: Understanding Karat Marks and Fineness Mark Gold Percentages
Pay close attention to this section, and consider printing it out for later use. A very important part of finding second hand gold is understanding what is worth money, and what is not.
The purity markings seen on jewelry items indicate the gold content. For example, 8K translates to 333/1000 fineness alloy of gold and copper, with 333 parts of 1000 being gold and the other 667 parts being copper. This is extremely low, when compared with the highest alloy, 22K, which is 917/1000 gold and which is normally found in jewelry pieces that originate from Asian countries or from India. 24K gold is 999/1000 gold and is very rare – the highest gold content in jewelry is usually 22K. 14K and 18K are easiest to find. In a nutshell, the higher the Karat number, the greater the amount of pure gold and item contains. The greater the gold content, the more an item is worth.
The most common markings you will find on a piece of gold jewelry are karat purity markings or fineness markings (also known as European markings), which are normally very small. In some cases, these markings have been worn off. Here is a list of the most common karat markings, along with their equivalent fineness markings.
8K 333 33.3%
9K 375 37.5%
10K 417 41.7%
14K 585 58.5%
18K 750 75%
21K 875 87.5%
22K 917 91.7%
24K 999 99.9%
One of the most important tools you can carry with you as you search is a small magnifying glass, or even better, a jeweler’s loupe. You should also memorize the chart above, or carry it with you as a reference any time you are hunting for second hand gold. This will help you to first determine that an item is indeed gold rather than base metal or “gold tone”, and it can help you to determine whether an item is a good investment or not.
Lastly, it is important to remember that some of the most valuable pieces available have no markings whatsoever. Understanding the properties of gold can help you to determine whether an item is or is not of value.
Solid gold is heavy. The only metal that is heavier than gold is platinum, and it is worth even more money.
Low karat gold items weigh less than high karat gold items.
High karat gold items are malleable. They bend with only a slight amount of pressure. If you’re looking at an item that does not belong to you, be careful not to damage it by testing malleability!
Gold is not magnetic. Bring a magnet with you, and remember that clasps usually have steel springs inside – test a non-functioning part of a piece, like the chain, to see if it is magnetic. Be careful, because copper, brass, bronze, and some steel alloys are not magnetic; neither is silver.
Gold never tarnishes. If an item is discolored, and the discoloration cannot be wiped away easily, then that item is not likely to be gold.
Some jewelry that is very valuable may be marked in Chinese, Japanese, or another language. If you cannot read the characters, use caution and look for other signs of value. A gold testing kit can take the trouble out of the entire process. You can buy one for about $20. An electronic gold tester can be found for about $100 and can help you with valuation. This is a wise investment!
Read the next section, what to avoid.
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