Selling the Family Jewels
I love the many positive aspects of a family that shares its stories and values from one generation to the next. But this natural progression of life also brings with it some practical considerations: a whole load of material stuff that gets passed on from one generation to the next. Assuming you’ve already got enough stuff yourself, this can require some serious strategy to deal with properly.
As a case-in-point, let’s take my dear Mum – the same Grandma Money Mustache who was featured in the Cost-Effective Renovations article. Many years ago, her own parents passed on, leaving various antique things in their estate. One of these was a complete set of sterling silver flatware. It was fancy (although impractical) stuff which we occasionally used for big holiday dinners when I was a kid. After each use, it would become oxidized and require meticulous polishing with special fluids.
Fast forwarding 20 years, this sterling silver has been sitting in a drawer in GMM’s house unused for longer than some of us have been alive. She has no use for it, and it’s just taking up space. On the other hand, with my family not being overly wealthy, she surely CAN think of a practical use for a little bit of extra grocery money. For years, she has considered selling it, but the task always seemed a bit mysterious and daunting.
This year, I finally decided to take on the challenge. During my recent visit, she handed me the heavy bag of silver and wished me good luck. My research began.
My first stop was the Internet. How much is silver worth these days, anyway? I keep an eye on financial markets in general, so I knew we were still in a middle of a big commodities price boom. Gold, Silver, Copper, and various other things have been running hot since the late 2000s. In other words, this is one of the best times to sell precious metals in many generations:
In case you’re curious, that flat line on the graph extends back all the way to the late 1700s, with the exception of a spike to about 20 bucks around 1980. As of this writing, the current silver price is about $29.35 per ounce. Excellent.
The next stop in my research was to find a place who actually wanted to buy this stuff. I started with eBay, figuring there are people out there who collect almost anything – maybe this type of silverware “Joan of Arc” was highly desirable.
Unfortunately, nothing similar seemed to be getting bids on Ebay. I researched a bit further by Googling through some online forums. The consensus among silver sellers seemed to be that the collector value of sets like these is lower than the melt value of the underlying silver.
So I turned to the local business directories. I found various gold and silver shops, foreign exchange places, and other traders. I called a few, and they helped me learn some useful things about this ‘stash of silver that I was looking to sell:
Silver flatware actually comes in two varieties:
- Silver Plated, which looks and feels just like silver, but is actually only covered with a thin coating of silver. Other, cheaper metals lie within. This stuff is not worth much in this context.
- Solid Sterling, which is always stamped “sterling” on the handle. This stuff is 92.5 percent silver metal.
There is one additional complication: even in a sterling silver set, the knives are usually made with stainless steel blades, and silver-plated handles. This was done for functional reasons, since silver is too soft to make a good knife.
When you add all this up, I was left with three piles, shown in this picture:
You’ve got your knives on the left, sterling silver in the middle, and silver plated stuff on the right. After the sorting process, I was left with only 33.5 ounces of actual sterling, when weighed on a postal scale.
But there was still a hurdle to clear: who would actually buy the silver? All of the local dealers sounded a bit shifty to me. Many of them had bad marks on their Better Business Bureau record when I looked them up, or bad reviews. Most of them were quoting a payout of only about $15 per ounce for the silver – half the market price.
Some more online research led me to another buyer, this place called “Midwest Refineries” in Michigan. Reviews were reasonable, and their payout is a more reasonable 90% of the market price of silver. So I decided to check them out.
They have a circa-1993 website, which may actually be a good thing: what does a metals recycling company need a slick website for?
I sent a couple of emails. They were answered quickly and accurately by a guy with reasonable grammar and an email address that matched the company’s domain name. Once again, a good feeling.
So today, I packaged up the sterling in a well-insured, USPS flat rate box. Shipping was $5.35, and insurance was $12.00. I sent it to Midwest Refineries, and let them know to look for it in Thursday’s mail.
I’m expecting to receive a check for about $800. (33.5 ounces x 92.5% purity of Sterling silver x 29.35 silver market price x 90% payout rate).
Now, at this point, you may find yourself asking,
Eight Hundred Bucks for that tiny pile of forks and spoons in the middle!?
And if so, this article has made its point. If you’ve got silver or gold in your family, and are not sentimentally attached to it, you should seriously consider selling that shit! Many people have much bigger piles of silver cutlery sitting around, and even silver plates, bowls, and other tableware. That stuff is worth thousands of dollars now. And if you wouldn’t currently buy it for thousands of dollars, that means you should sell it for thousands of dollars – a sound general rule for deciding whether or not to sell any of your stuff.
It’s extremely valuable right now, helping with your cash situation. It serves to declutter your life, so you are toting and storing fewer material things for the rest of your life.
And it’s even environmentally friendly to cash this stuff in. Today’s sky-high precious metals prices have caused a mining boom (just ask any Australian). When you sell into the market, you are increasing supply, which tends to decrease the market price and decrease the profitability of mining operations. So less mining happens, if you decide not to hoard silver and gold.
In this case, I’ll be passing all the proceeds on to my Mom once I get them, which makes the project even more exciting for me. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
It turned out wonderfully. I published this article on a Wednesday, just after I sent off the package. I didn’t get a confirmation email as I had requested from Midwest Refineries, so I was mildly annoyed, thinking they were slow to process the delivery. But when I opened my mailbox on Saturday afternoon, there was a check from the refinery, addressed to me!
Reviewing the papers they sent me, I got exactly what I was supposed to receive. In the equation above, I not realized that silver prices are quoted in “Troy ounces”, which are 31.10 grams, which is 10% larger than the 28.35 grams size of the standard ounces I had measured in. This is all silly, since I think the world should use the metric system for everything. But anyway, in the end I got $715.00, which is still a wonderful haul for a handful of cutlery.
And because the service was so good, I can now fully recommend Midwest Refineries as a place for US residents to ship their silver and gold stuff for a nice 90% payout and quick turnaround. During the order, I didn’t tell them I was Mr. Money Mustache and that all of you were watching, since that may have influenced their behavior. I have no relationship with the company and don’t get referral fees, I just think they did a good job.
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