‘The Junk Lady' on buying and selling precious metals

by Leslie Turk

If you know what you're looking for, you can get valuable precious metals at estate sales; if you're a seller, look to online auctions.

When out in the field shopping estate, garage and flea markets, a valuable item to search for is gold and silver. The price of gold at this time is more than $1,400 an ounce, and sterling is near $36 an ounce. I have found in my "junking" trips several examples of 10, 12, 14, and even 18 karat gold jewelry and sterling silver, and you can too, but you need to know a few tips.

You really need a good magnifying glass that can help you to look for marks. When you search for marks, look everywhere because I know on brooches the mark is on the pin mechanism and it is very hard to see. You also need to be familiar with the marking system of gold and silver. Here is what you might see: .925 or STER stands for sterling silver; .750 is 18K gold; .375 stands for 9K gold, which is prevalent in antique pieces; .583 or .585 is 14K gold; and PLAT stands for platinum. If you see a piece that is marked 1/20 of 12K gold that means it's gold filled, and gp stands for gold platedm which really doesn't have much value. Do note that if a piece is not marked, it does not necessarily mean that it isn't made of a precious metal. Jewelry before the 1900s often wasn't marked, and the mark could have been cut out when the piece was resized or it could simply have rubbed off. I'm told acid kits for testing gold are simple to use, but I haven't used them myself.

Many estate sales offer sterling items such as candle sticks, goblets, flatware, bowls, trays, etc., but they have even more silver plated items. While silver plate is both beautiful and functional, it doesn't have the resale value that sterling has, so you really do have to look for those marks. Make friends with the estate sale coordinators and ask about sterling items that are in the house. Again, we want you to find what you are looking for and we want you to spend money with us.

Finally, when selling your gold and silver, be smart. I have found that the very best place to sell your gold and silver is at an online auction. Group your broken or outdated gold jewelry in a lot and invest in a postage meter that can weigh grams. Most gold is sold by the gram, and sterling is sold by the gram or ounce. Also, take good pictures. When you do sell your gold or silver, be sure to insure it when mailing because many lots can be worth hundreds of dollars. Since Christmas of this year I have sold eight graduation rings for prices between $100-$200, but again I moved all of these rings at an online auction and not to these operations offering to "buy your gold." Again, be smart, but keep in mind this is a good time to sale precious metals.

I hope to see you at my next sale.

[Editor's Note: Cheryl Cockrell, aka The Junk Lady, specializes in estate sales. Check back weekly for her blog, "The Weekend Hunt." Read more about her and get info on upcoming sales here.]