I came across this post by Clancy Martin at The Ways of the Woodchuck, which is the PR blog of Harper’s Magazine. The post is a separate story, but a teaser of sorts, of a longer-form story by Martin that’s going to be in the June 2010 Harper’s Magazine. In the story, Martin breaks down the strategies of those traveling gold-buying operations piece by piece. On one hand, it comes off as a bit slanted, as Martin is an ex-jeweler himself—but this fact also lends a measurable authority to the piece.
Essentially, Martin confirms all our worst fears about “Road Show” jewelry-buying operations: they’re not going to give you the amount of money you should be getting for your gold, jewelry, or collectible currency. Eventually, Martin gets to the mechanics of just how these companies tend to work:
But the key phrase in this ad is “up to.” […] Every piece they price is “up to,” and every evaluation is a “free verbal evaluation,” and every private room contains a person whose job it is to explain to you why your piece is only worth the value of the scrap metal. “Your sterling silver is the most common type on the market, or an incomplete set: so we have to scrap it, and we pay the price of the scrap silver weight, less a percentage for the smelter.” Your diamonds? “Look under the microscope and see all of the flaws. You wouldn’t even want to wear it, much less expect a lot of money for it.” Your jeweler’s appraisal that you brought in your pocket? “Did he charge you anywhere near what he appraised it for? No. That’s one of their tricks. To make you think you got a bargain.”
There is no shortage of these types of companies, and too, this type of advertising pops up all over the country. Often, the companies do a fairly good job of making themselves difficult to find, which can make it tough for consumers to file BBB complaints about the companies—and for individual BBBs to maintain reports on such buyers. This is compounded by the fact that the firms move from city to city, and while the events may be run or organized by very few people, the “buyers” to whom you’re selling your items may vary from place to place.
In the end, it’s important to remember that if you’re interested in selling your gold, jewelry, or collectible currency, you should check with BBB ahead of time and, above all, do not sell your items without getting more than a couple bids, preferably in writing, if that’s at all possible.