Would you put Greasy Smeazy's Motor Oil in your Mercedes, Ford, or even lawn mower? Of course not. "Greasy Smeazy" would be the hallmark of that motor oil. A hallmark is similar to a trade mark, brand name, or other identifying mark which guarantees the quality, quantity, or manufacturer of that product. You buy Duncan Hines brownie mix, or Gold Medal flour when you grocery shop. You purchase Quaker State or Pennzoil motor oil when you have your wheels serviced, because you know the quality is excellent. (Quaker and Pennzoil are now one company) When you buy jewelry, you want to be certain of the jeweler who sold it to you, and know if something goes wrong, he will fix it.
Lots of fake watches are sold on Times Square and other shady places, by shysters operating out of a brief case. Rollex watches for $25 are legend. They look exactly like a real $10,000 Rollex from a distance, but close up, the difference is obvious. Lots of kits are available for your Volkswagen to make it look like a Mercedes. Appearance isn't everything, but to a professional sales person, it may mean a lot. We dress as we want others to think we are, which will be our trade-mark or hallmark. Some of us dress impeccably, in the finest duds with great hallmarks, to impress our bosses or customers. Hart Schaffner & Marx suits are excellent, as are Hickey Freemans. Mine mostly collect dust in the closet. Hallmarks do at least two things, and they are (1) impress, and (2) guarantee. Good suits fit wonderfully, as well as make you appear great, as opposed to cheapies, so the hallmark can mean comfort as well as good impressions. Hallmarked grocery items will be of excellent quality, or the manufacturer wouldn't print his name on the box.
Hallmarks are extremely important when one buys precious metals.
A poor, or non-existent hallmark on a silver bar or gold coin means trouble when you want to sell. When I had my three hotels in Silverton Colorado, often, miners who had "high graded" (stolen) gold ore from the mines in which they worked, wanted to sell the gold buttons they had made. Their value was always far less than the spot price of gold. Why? Because how was the buyer to know how much gold was in the button? Gold buttons were simply little round drops of gold that miners came up with after they milled and smelted their smuggled ore. Such operations usually took place in basements or in out of the way places, and in small quantities.
Silver ore "high graded" from mines, always had similar undesirable qualities, because it had no hallmark. The price for the bars was tiny. How would anyone know how much silver was in them? Was it .999 pure? Who knew? Notice the above is all in the past tense. It is said that for every dime taken out of the San Juan Mountains, there is still 90 cents there, waiting to be mined. Mining in America is virtually impossible now, due to ridiculous regulations promulgated by the EPA and other debilitating governmental aristocracies.
Miners had various ways of getting high grade ore out of the mines, some of which are not mentionable here, but when there was a will, there was a way. The mine company allowed for a certain amount of it, as stopping it was virtually impossible.
When buying anything, buy a good brand name, or a product with a decent hallmark. When you want to sell your metals, who in the world would want to buy the above items? No one. How would you know what they contained? I bought them for a song, to help out a broke miner who couldn't find anyone else to buy them. One should no more buy gold or silver without a good hallmark, than one would buy white lightning from a moonshiner who didn't look particularly upright. I tried moonshine once, and it was smooth, but there was a huge chance of getting poisoned. The risk of buying gold and silver without hallmarks is equally risky.
Stocks that are undesirable, have large "spreads," which is the difference between the "buy" and "sell" prices. Gold and silver also have "spreads" which is the difference between the buy and sell prices. Good hallmarked bars and coins have small spreads, whereas numismatics have huge spreads. The above illustrated button and bar have spreads so large, that I don't know why anyone would want to buy them.
Good hallmarks are Krugerrands, Canadian Maple Leafs, American Gold Eagles, American Silver Eagles, one ounce silver rounds from a widely known maker, and hundred ounce silver bars from Johnson-Mathey, Englehard, or the like. Others may have much larger spreads when you wish to sell or even barter your metals. Always buy the best.
Then there is the question of jewelry made from precious metals. Jewelry is beautiful, and most of us wouldn't do without it, as it enhances our appearance, as well as being utilitarian. Gold watch bands hold necessary watches for us guys, and the lady always needs to look gorgeous with gold chains, rings, and bracelets. That's fine, but don't act like the Indians (from India) and place all your gold and silver in jewelry. Jewelry is just like the above pictured gold and silver with no hallmark. What karat is it? How much does it weigh? Who would buy it? Who made it? Is it a fake signature? Could you barter with it? With jewelry and numismatic coins, one is buying age, condition, and artistry. With good hallmarked gold and silver coins and bars, one is buying the most gold and silver for the least currency. With jewelry and numismatics, you buy for a lot and sell for a little…if a buyer can be found at any price when hard times come.
If the economy went down the tubes completely, and the dollar was being inflated daily, you would certainly want to sell a bit of your saved gold or silver to buy food or fuel. Who would you sell your fancy bracelet to, when millions are out of work, and times are really tough? On the other hand, selling a few silver eagles or a gold eagle to meet current expenses would be easy. Who would want a rare, 1903 MS 63 $3 US gold coin, which one paid many hundreds for? No one would buy it for anywhere near what was paid for it. If they did, they would be a fool.
Inasmuch as you wouldn't buy Lame Duck Motor Oil or Hurley Burley oatmeal, don't get carried away with poor, or non-hallmarked gold and silver, jewelry, or numismatics. Everyone wants to sell eventually, for one reason or other. Buy what is easiest to sell, which requires no jeweler's loupe to examine, no scale to weigh, and no professional grading to establish authenticity. You get the point. Protect yourself!
September 7, 2002
Don Stott has been a precious metals broker since 1977, has written five books, hundreds of columns, and his web site is www.coloradogold.com
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