First, we’ll cover gold measured in terms of purity that is expressed in karats, symbolized by the letter “K” and “kt” with jewelers.
24 Karat 100%, or pure gold
22 Karat 91.7% gold
18 Karat 75.0% gold
14 Karat 58.3% gold
10 Karat 41.7% gold
Now let’s cover silver, a metal marked with a purity mark. Here are the marks and their percentage of silver contents that correspond:
999 99.9% silver
958 95.8% silver
925 92.5% silver (known as Sterling silver)
800 80.0% silver
We are referring mostly to jewelry or decorative pieces and keepsakes here (such as silverware, candlestick holders, or other things that may bear a stamp to show their precious metal content). Coins are a little bit more involved and beyond the scope of this article, as there are too many to list here.
One of the problems that people run into with jewelry and their great-grandmother’s candlestick holders is that most businesses that buy them will usually pay according to their melt value. This is especially true with silver. Most of these dealers will estimate the silver content of your item by weight, and then will pay you roughly 15-25% under value to cover their handling and melting charges.
For coins there can be a numismatic value attached to the coin…that is, its worth as a collector piece…that is greater than the melt value. There is also the little problem that although the coins are no longer in circulation, well…they are. All coins and currency are (technically) the property of the U.S. government…and to melt them down without proper authorization would be considered destruction of government property.
Jewelry doesn’t have that problem. The real problem is that you will receive a fraction of what it is worth when you take it to a dealer who will hand you nice, crisp, approved, Federal Reserve Notes in exchange for your silver or gold. Here’s how to figure out the “melt value” in silver:
Take your weight in silver (usually in grams) and convert to troy ounces, multiplying this weight by the percentage of silver in the silver content of your item. Then you will have the amount of silver in troy ounces. Then it’s a simple matter to look up the spot price of the silver (what silver is trading for that day on the commodities exchanges). Divide the weight of your silver by the spot price to find out the worth in dollars. Then multiply this figure by the percentage that the dealer will pay you minus his handling and melting fees.
Now, many people do this routinely as a business. Others hold onto their finds. Your actions will be determined by your purpose: to turn a “quick” Federal Reserve note out of some metals, or to garner a supply little by little as a hedge against either a currency collapse, or as a barter material  in a future time. Either way, this piece will get you started on researching an area you may choose to enter or specialize within. Good luck and remember to lay your groundwork before you act. JJ out!
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