Antique Secrets: GOLD!

I found gold today. Ever since I have been picking for antiques and collectibles. I have found gold teeth 4 times! Today, it was in a prescription bottle. Nine grams of dental gold. I had gathered together a couple of books on geology, two old slide rules, a pocket knife, and some hardware, and this old prescription bottle. I laid it on the “cashier table” at the estate sale. The man said, “hmmm, how about five dollars?” Sure… OK. When I weighed it out and figured that gold today was over $1600 per troy oz, and nine grams is about .28 troy oz, and the gold value estimate of dental gold could be 75%, it comes out to $344.

I let the seller set the price. I did not hide the items. They were all there to be seen. But, I ask you, was this dishonest or unethical? I’d like some comments from some of you.

Years ago, I bought a large and important collection of minerals and crystals from someone. I was able to obtain some wonderful rare pieces. I was able to get the library, and some other antiques and things. In the collection was a pretty valuable “Thatcher’s Rule” which is like a big cylindrical slide rule. I bought it for $100. I sold it for $600. I went back and gave the person I got it from another $200 after I received my payment. The guy I sold it to sold it for $1500. Was anyone in the wrong here? Does ethics have any business at all in the picking business?

I would love some discussion to add to our posts here. Even the famous “American Pickers” on TV have some controversy online about their escapades.

Does it have to be gold? is that too blatant of a find? What if you find cash in an old book? What if you find any kind of item, that you know is impossibly rare, but it is so obscure and esoteric, and the chances are you are the only one in a hundred square miles knows anything about it. If you buy it cheap, are you taking advantage, or just a smart business person? After all, you “paid” for your knowledge. Is that any different than a doctor knowing more about how to cut into you. He is adding value to the situation because of his education.

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7 Responses to Antique Secrets: GOLD!

  1. sraik says:

    I debate about this a lot as well. When I buy something cheap from a dealer at a flea market? Or an estate sale. Do I just pay the value and run?

    I haven’t reached a decision yet 🙂

  2. Patty Moore says:

    Well, I just found your site and now I’m leaving two comments in one day, but I would like to weigh in on this subject. Maybe I’m just not very good at what I do (seriously), but the truth is that I don’t make a lot of money in the “junk” business. I depend on making a good profit on one or two things to make up for the many small things I don’t make a profit on. So I don’t feel bad for paying very little for something and then making a good profit. I remember a dealer who ran a sale once who told every customer, “If you make a lot of money on this, please come back and share some with me”. Fat chance! If I were getting rich, or even middle-class, I may wonder if maybe I was taking advantage of people. But when I need to put food on my table, and when I’m not concealing anything, or being dishonest, or even haggling over the price, I never feel guilty for finding a bargain.

  3. I also am a picker, and I struggle with this. How obligated am I to tell a seller the value of his wares? I suppose if he knows you are a picker, and that you buy low purposely, then they should be diligent to know what they’ve got, and to be informed. Sometimes I buy things that I have a hunch might sell high, but no real proof, like the Mobil Oil Tire Patch Kit (tin) I bought for a buck and sold on eBay for $260. I was hoping to get maybe 20 dollars! I’ve even seen Mike Wolff and Frank Fritz give more than the people asked for, BUT, I have seen them really clean up with some naive sellers. Like last night, I was watching their show, American Pickers, and Mike was going on and on about this J.C. Higgins bicycle that he probably could get $1000 for (MY guess, that’s not what he said), and the guy asked $50. Mike said OK right away. Funny thing was, they never mentioned that bike in their little “I bought it for X amount; I’m going to ask X for it.”

    I let these Proverbs guide me.

    “It is nothing, it is nothing, says the buyer, but when he has gone his way, then he boasts. (Proverbs 20:14)

    “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.” (Proverbs 21:6)

    • admin says:

      Wow, what a great reply! I especially like the Proverb references! Thank you. There is a lot of controversy online about the American Pickers show, and their taking advantage of people. I have mixed feelings. Maybe I am just rationalizing. I had a good friend recently tell me of a deal he had. He bought a bedroom dresser set at an estate sale. He said he got it home, and because he did not have the muscle help to get it off the truck, he disassembled it on the truck. He put it in place, and could not get one of the drawers to fit right. He turned it over and found an early colt revolver! His son looked it up, and found it was worth $2000! He didn’t know what to do. The family did not know it was there. How do you answer this. On the estate side of things, we had a family estate that needed clearing out. We had an estate sale. It was a solution for us in the family. There were things actually stolen, with the persons running away down the sidewalk. That was obvious. The not so obvious, was people hiding things within piles of stuff.

      When you are buying at an estate sale, you are a solution to the family, so you should not feel guilty. If they wanted top dollar, they could have sold it on ebay themselves (ie your Mobile Oil Tire Patch Kit). With your experience, comes knowledge. You will also buy duds. You spent time and energy to learn. Knowledge gives you advantage, but you paid for it just as if you paid for an education. If everybody that held a sale studied everything too, and priced it, it would not sell. I went to a recent “estate sale” put on by another picker, and found many things I would have bought, but she had he antique store prices on them. I passed.

      Rule of thumb: I’ve been pretty happy with the seller setting the price, and if I want it, and can afford it, I’ll buy it. If I make a profit, that’s great. Sometimes I do not. I have bought “estate lots” and go to load up, and found silver dollars as I was loading, and have handed them back to the family. If i’d found out at home, or at a later date… Who knows.

      • Bob G says:

        This is an age old dilema amongst anyone in the business. When I first started buying and selling I felt guilty about some of the profit margins I made. Then I started adding up the time put into research (education) over the years, cost of overpaying in the past, etc. and realized sellers cannot be your friend. It is not a pickers job to inform people what they have IMO. At first I was hesitant to more than make 30% or so profit, but after shopping around my local competition I realized they are all paying wholesale (30-40% or less of value) on everything they buy, it is industry standard.

        Great profit finds are what keeps pickers going, I make my bread and butter on double ups, but when the ocassional $2500-5000 profit comes up for cheap I’m not going to think twice about putting steak on the table.

        One story I recently came across was an antiques dealer who specalizes in militaria who drives around with ad signs on his truck and has been doing so for most of his life. One lady approached him with four or five pieces of Hitler’s personal sterling flatware, taken by her brother from the Eagle’s nest, and a porcelain plate. All were 100% authentic and the entire collection in today’s market is easily $4000-5000. You would think this dealer who has been buying and selling his entire life would atleast offer $1000 or more as most of us would, but no, he gave the lady scrap weight for the silver and probably $20-40 for the plate. Things like that make me cringe (for the fact someone would ever be so dumb) but also highlight the attitude amongst most people looking for deals out there. We all want money and we all want that next amazing pick.

        • admin says:

          Thank you SO MUCH for your great comments! You are welcome to give as many as you would like. Please keep them coming. If you would like to “be a regular” and have stories and photos of current picks and picking stories, let me know. We can do through email, and place them as regular “posts” instead of just comments.

  4. Roxy says:

    I have been a picker for 30 years. I have had my own shops, made a good living on the internet, and sold to dealers. Never once have I ever felt guilty or bad for making a huge profit on an item. Not once.
    When I buy something from someone, no matter where, it is their job to figure out the worth of an item. Nowadays the internet makes that fairly easy. They have made the decision to price their item and I have made a decision to purchase it at THEIR price.
    There are many times that sellers have priced their items at retail when they paid nothing, (as in Estate sales) and I chose Not to pay their price.
    I figure that it’s so easy to sell items online, that anyone can do it, and choose not to.
    I am always honest in all of my dealings, but going back and giving someone extra money when you paid the price that they chose to sell it at, is going way too far.

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