SCA-Bling-art - 3/26/13
"SCA Bling on a Budget, or Trolling for Treasure" by Ld. Daniel Basques du Pau.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
SCA Bling on a Budget, or Trolling for Treasure
by Ld. Daniel Basques du Pau
Looking for that special piece of period bling that will go well with your garb? Looking for just the right item for that special persona in your SCA life? Don't want to spend a modern fortune on any of this? Looking for jewelry, real jewelry, gold and silver jewelry, amber and ivory jewelry? Pieces of jewelry that in most of our period might buy you a holding complete with serfs? I have bought sterling silver and gold, both 10K and 14K, at flea markets, thrift stores, and garage/estate sales at well below their melt price. I've sold part of what I've bought either at the melt price or to friends and kept the rest for myself or given it as gifts to family and friends. Hunting for such treasures is fun thing to do on a Saturday morning when you are not off at an event. What follows is what I have learned over time. As it pertains primarily to the hunt for both sterling silver and gold jewelry you may find it a profitable read indeed.
People often don't take a good look at what they are selling. I've bought chains with pendants where either the chain or the pendant was sterling silver and the other was not. The seller saw the one and did not check the other. Items that are sterling silver are marked in one of several ways. They are commonly marked "STERLING", "STER", "STG", "SS", "925" or "S925". I've read that those that are marked 925 are typically the more modern pieces. The 925 mark means that the piece is 92.5% silver, which is the silver content of sterling silver expressed as a fraction out of 1000. This is something that a lot of people do not know and you may not want to explain. I have read that some pieces of jewelry out of Mexico, marked 950, 975, or greater have an even higher silver content than 92.5 %. Occasionally you might find pieces that are marked 900, 835 or even 800. These type of pieces are often called coin silver as they were on occasion made from melting down silver coins. I've been told that these pieces are typically older and European. Occasionally you will also find what is seemingly a gold item marked 925 or SS/GF. Such items are gold plate over sterling silver. These items are typically called vermeil. That being said, I have read that for a piece to be considered vermeil the gold must be both at least 10K and at least 2.5 micrometers thick.
Sometimes you will find pieces, typically small pendants or rings that are not marked in any way. These can be chemically tested to determine if they are sterling silver at your melt buyer if you choose to sell them for melt. Regarding pieces whose silver content is uncertain, the best thing that you can do is to look at the quality of both the workmanship and any stones that are set in the piece and bargain accordingly.
You may find pieces that are marked EP Sterling or Sterling EP. These are pieces that have been electroplated with a solution that allows a thin layer of sterling silver to be placed over a lesser metal. You may find a piece that is marked nickel silver or German silver. Those items are made of a copper, nickel and zinc alloy. Unless the item is silver plated it has no silver content at all. All of this doesn't mean it is a bad piece, it's just not silver. I have read that from around 1868 to present there has been a fair amount of American Plains Indian crafted jewelry made from nickel silver. So some recreationists, not of our period, might be interested in such pieces.
If you are extremely lucky you may find a small bar of metal, a privately minted coin, or a small piece of cast sculpture marked 999+. Those pieces are fine silver. Fine silver is essentially pure silver. I recently held in my hand a 10 ounce ingot of such for which I was quoted an offer of $330 by the people I sell to for melt.
Side note regarding silver plate, if you come across a clutch of silver plated dinner ware in your hunt, pick up one item, a fork or a spoon, in the predominant pattern and check to see if it is sterling. If it is not, look through the assortment for other patterns and check each in turn. Sterling pieces will some times get mixed in with silver plate by mistake and a regular size sterling silver spoon should get you between $5 and $8 if sold for melt. If the silver plate is in good condition such might add pizazz to your feast gear. Of course, you will need to both get it at an acceptable price and polish it. It goes without saying that I always pick up "silver" pieces; plates, bowls, platters, candle sticks, and nick-nacks and turn them over to see if they are sterling. I haven't found any yet but I continue to look.
I've been told that there is some fake "silver" jewelry coming out of China that is stamped 925. I think that is true because I recently saw some rings so stamped and both the rings and their stones just looked wrong. Caveat emptor, if an item doesn't look true, in the workmanship or the stones that are set in it, it probably isn't.
Regarding silver coins:
US coinage in the form of dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollar coins minted in 1964 and before are 90% silver. These coins, especially quarters, can occasionally be found in circulation. Because of their silver content, they are worth a bit more than their face value.
You would be amazed, but even in the case of gold, people often don't take a good look at what they are selling. If you find gold it will probably be marked 10K or14K. Pure gold is 24K. Other possible marks are 8K, 9K, 12K, 15K, 18K, and 22K. The K may be replaced with ct. To further complicate things you may find pieces marked with a P after the K mark. The P just means that there was no rounding up to the number, for example 13.8K to 14K, and that the piece is exactly the number stated. Just to confuse matters further, each of these marks could be replaced with three numbers representing the fraction out of 1000 that is gold in the item. The numbers 333(8K), 375(9K), 416(10K), 500(12K), 585(14K), 625(15K), 750(18K), 916(22K) and 1000(24K) represent the range of gold content you might possibly see. I have only run across those type marks once when I found a 585 mark on a gold ear ring. It meant that the piece was 58.5% gold, thus 14K. Note that 14 divided by 24 actually equals 58.3% so that piece was actually slightly greater than 14K. All the other conversions come out exactly.
Be forewarned, you can come across items that are stamped, for example, in the following fashion,"1/20 14K" or "1/20 14K GF". Such would mean that it consists of 14K gold fill over a cheaper metal. You may also come across pieces that are marked 14K GE or 18K GE. The GE stands for gold electroplate. Needless to say these pieces are not worth very much. You might find an item that is stamped 14K but is a fake. I had for a while a 14K brass ring. As I have previously written, caveat emptor. If an item doesn't look true, in the workmanship or the stones that are set in it, it probably isn't.
A word of caution, I have been told that in a number of states of the USA there are some legal issues regarding buying gold for resale/melt purposes. You may find that in your state you are supposed to get licensed to do so. You may also find that you will be required to take pictures of such items and hold them for a certain amount of time so the police can come by and pick them up if they are stolen.
Regarding platinum and palladium:
While I have never found platinum jewelry I do know that it is out there. It is a silvery metal and might be mistaken for silver by some people. It was popular in the 1920s through the very early part of the 1940s in the US and has become popular again in recent years. At the present time its spot market price per troy ounce is roughly the same as gold's. It is my understanding that if a piece is marked Platinum, PT or PLAT with no modifying numbers it is at least 95% platinum. If found with a three digit number ahead of PT or PLAT such indicates the amount, out of 1000, of platinum in the piece. Other possibilities are a three digit number followed by PT or PLAT followed by another three digit number followed by an abbreviation denoting one of the other platinum group metals. This apparently can stretch to a string of up to three elements long. If you acquire a piece that you think might be platinum I recommend that you to take it to a jeweler you trust and get him or her to help you determine its value. Restrictions on its buying and selling for resale/melt purposes may echo that of gold in your state.
I have yet to find palladium jewelry but I do know that it is becoming popular in the US. It is also a silvery metal and like platinum might be mistaken for silver. Its spot price per troy ounce is a bit less than half that of gold and platinum. It is marked with a three digit number followed by either PD or PALL.
Regarding red coral, jet, ivory, amber or bone:
I have bought, on occasion; amber, jet, antique ivory and bone in the form of beads, pendants, pins bracelets and necklaces. I have used the ivory and amber beads to make rosaries and paternosters. While I've seen strands of red coral twigs I've never run across round red coral beads such as were typically used in late period. All of this material is out there if you look for it and in the case of amber and ivory often misidentified as plastic or bone respectively.
Regarding glass and gem stone beads:
It is relatively common to find these materials in necklaces of beads. In my experience however, vendors usually price such items higher than they are worth.
Where and how to hunt:
In trolling rummage and garage/estate sales for bargains, here are the tactics I use. Check Craig's List and other listings starting the weekend before you are going to hunt. Select out first the listings that advertise sterling silver jewelry, antique jewelry, vintage jewelry or costume jewelry. Second, check community sales where there are a lot of garage sale sites in close proximity. Third, check church and charity rummage sales. Your prime garage sale hunting window on any given Saturday morning is from 5:30 am to 10:00 am. Most garage sale "announced" start times are 8:00. A few early sales will start at 6:00, 6:30, 7:00 or 7:30. A few late sales will start at 8:30, 9:00 am or 10:00 am. If a sale advertising jewelry starts at 6:00 get there no later than 5:30 and wait for them to open up. I have, in a scrum, bought sterling silver by flashlight at 5:45 in the morning. Sales that advertise that they start later than 7:00 almost invariably start earlier than their advertised time. Thus, while the rule of thumb for a sale with real potential is to get there at least 30 minutes earlier than the advertised time, I find it prudent to allow progressively more lead time the later the sale is to start in the day. Be polite at garage sales, especially if you are early. When they say they are ready, ask to see what jewelry they have. After you have looked through what they have out and made your selections, ask if they have any other items, not yet put out, that they might want to sell. Two thirds of my best buys have come to me this way. Tell them that you are willing to look at single ear rings and broken pieces since you re-purpose, and need odds and ends to do so. Tell them that you would be happy to look through odd boxes of miscellaneous jewelry. All this works for privately run sales. As you get to know the area you will be hunting in, you will find that there are perpetual garage sales that show up on Craig's List and other listings every week or so. I avoid them as they tend to be barren of anything of value.
If a sale starts on Friday and runs through day of your hunt it is probably not worth your trouble to go to it on Saturday. A few sales are only on Sunday. Check out where in town each individual sale is located. As you might expect, sales in more affluent parts of town tend to have better stuff. As you can only make it to so many sales on a Saturday morning within the prime hunting time window, plan your expedition such that you can hit as many of your targeted sales as possible at least 30 minutes before they are listed to start. Double check your directions, or better yet, print them out. A dash-mounted GPS device, or an application that runs GPS route tracking from your favorite electronic communication device is a great asset.
Professionally run estate sales and large well advertised rummage sales are often a real scrum. Be the first in line and wear your steel-toed boots. Don't be distracted, go directly to where the jewelry is and pick up whatever you think you are interested in. Never put down, at a garage sale, an estate sale or a rummage sale, anything that you might want to buy, since if someone else picks it up, it is theirs, not yours, to buy. Be advised that of the two, the rummage sales are the most likely to have what you are looking for at a price you will be willing to pay.
Thrift stores come in two flavors, charity and commercial. Know when they have their sales and become friends with the sales staff. Your better bargains will be found at charity thrift stores. The pickings vary depending on the charity and where in town the thrift store is located. As you might expect charity thrift stores close to pricier neighborhoods tend to have better stuff. Their pricing on individual items tends to be odd. Some items may be priced at or above retail while some items may be marked below melt. As I've previously written, check both the chains and the pendants on necklaces since one may be sterling silver and the other not. Always look through any boxes of "junk" jewelry they might have. I've picked up sterling silver rings and brooches, as well as amber and ivory, out of such boxes.
Flea markets are a great place to hunt. Lots of vendors are in close proximity to each other. Check out flea markets an hour or two before they close. The vendors will have been at it all day, are tired, want to make sales and are likely to bargain. Get a feel for which vendors are the professionals and which are running what are essentially tiny garage sales. As you might expect, your better bargains will be with the latter. Like at garage sales it pays to be polite, to ask if they have anything for sale they have not yet put out and to look through boxes of "junk" jewelry. From the bottom of one such "junk" jewelry box I recently pulled out a sterling silver pendant set with a chunk of butterscotch amber the size of the first joint of one of my little fingers. The vendor apparently thought it was pot metal and plastic. When I asked how much he gave it to me.
Estate auctions are a trip. You would be amazed at what you will find being auctioned off. The one I recently attended ran 4 hours long. The bargains got better and better toward the end of the auction when the bulk of the bidders, having spent what they had budgeted, were gone and the auctioneers were tired and wanted to go home. I have been told that the reason for this is that some auctions are "salted" with high-end stuff brought in by the auction company. That stuff is apparently sold early in the auction after the crowd has been warmed up and in a buying mood. Thus the folks with big money get spent out early in the sale and have gone home. I have also been told to be wary of phantom bidders and shills that certain auctioneers might use to jack up the price. They have warned me not to be snookered into bidding against someone who does not actually exist or is a shill for the auctioneer. Be that as it may, decide how much you are willing to spend for an item and stop when you reach your limit.
How to look:
The most common jewelry item of interest you will find will be sterling silver. The watch phrase is "trust, but verify". To determine if an item is sterling silver you need to bring with you a small refrigerator magnet, a magnifying glass, and a hand lens or loupe if you have one. If the item looks to be either silver or gold pick up the piece and check the workmanship. Test it against that small refrigerator magnet you have in your pocket. While a clasp on a chain might be attracted by the magnet the chain should not if it is silver. See if any telltale marks are obvious. If they aren't look at it under that magnifying glass you are carrying in your back pocket. If you still can't make out the marks use that hand lens or loupe you have with you. Please note that the more you study a piece, the higher the opinion the seller will likely have of it. If you can find no marks but still want the piece tell the seller it is not, as far as you can see, marked and start to bargain. If you do find marks but the piece doesn't look right pass it by. Marks are often on chain clasps and clasps can be changed. Look at wear points on the piece to confirm that wear has not worn through plate to show base metal beneath. Sterling silver will almost always be marked. Gold is even more likely to be marked. That being said I've found both unmarked. This happened if a piece was privately cast and never marked. This is most commonly seen in sterling silver. With wear and as a result of repairs to or the resizing of a ring its marks may have been obscured or even destroyed. In my experience this is most commonly seen in old gold rings.
You will turn up both ivory and bone as pieces of jewelry. Ivory comes from the teeth and tusks of animals. While elephant ivory has been the most important source, ivory from many species including hippopotamus, walrus, pig, mammoth, sperm whale and narwhal have been used throughout history. Although I found once what I think is walrus ivory, what ivory you will find will probably be older pieces of elephant ivory. That being said, you will not come across ivory often, although it is not exceedingly rare. I have found both ivory and bone as beads, pins and pendants. I have also found scrimshawed ivory, albeit only twice. Quite frankly it can be difficult to tell the difference between bone and ivory. Indeed, directions regarding telling the difference between ivory and bone would take up an article in and of itself. As both ivory and bone are appropriate for our period it is not necessary for the purpose of this article to explain how to tell the difference. If you want to find out how, there is plenty of information on line. Plastic can also pass for ivory. Plastic can generally be found to have a mold line.
I have found semi-precious gem stones such as amethyst, jadeite, agate, milky quartz, rose quartz, blood stone, turquoise, malachite, carnelian, mother of pearl and garnet in the places I hunt. Most are found either as round or irregularly tumbled beads. Such are easy to tell from plastic and, depending on the stone, easy to tell from glass. I have also found carnelian and jadeite as rings. Amber can be found in colors ranging from greenish yellow, honey yellow, yellow and all the way to near cherry red. It can be transparent, translucent or opaque. If unset in jewelry it is most commonly found as round or irregularly tumbled beads. It can also be found as rough chunks pierced as beads and as faceted beads. It is easy to tell amber from glass but harder, without destructive testing, to tell it from plastic. If you think a bead work piece is amber examine the beads for inclusions. If you are lucky you may find an insect or two. Be that as it may, unless amber is set in silver I tend to steer clear of it since I have found it far too easy to be fooled. I've found amber set in sterling silver in rings, broaches and, most recently, in pendants.
You should also keep your eye out for miscellaneous non-jewelry items that might be of interest. In my hunts I've found musical instruments such as flutes, recorders, violins, cellos, and drums. I've found throwing axes and knives as well a swords and sabers. I recently found a huge, worked brass, middle eastern platter. When I first saw it I thought that it was a very large gong.
If you see a small jewelry box for sale look inside it to see if it is empty, then pick it up and gently shake it to see if it rattles. I bought one such for 50 cents, took it home and carefully teased out the "rattle". It was two small pieces of gold. I recently picked up a jewelry box at a garage sale and did the rattle test. The person running the sale asked what I was doing. I explained and she scornfully said "You won't find any gold in that box." I went over and looked at the jewelry on the table in front of her. There were four rings in a bowl. I picked them up and examined them. Three were dross, the fourth and smallest ring was marked 10K. I held the rings out to her in the palm of my hand and asked "How much for the rings." She said 50 cents a piece. I bought two rings, the gold one and one of the dross rings, for a dollar so that she would not need to make change. People look, but they do not see. People hear but they do not listen.
How to bargain:
Before you begin to bargain, indeed before you begin to hunt, there is a critical question that you will need to address. How do you decide how much to pay by weight for sterling silver and gold? To answer that question you need to know what the present melt price in your area is for sterling silver, and 10K, 12K and 14K gold, both per gram and pennyweight. A pennyweight is just a bit over I.5 grams. The way to determine this is to take known weights of sterling silver, and 10K, 12K and 14K gold and shop them around to various buyers and back out the prices per gram and pennyweight you are being offered. Unless you are enamored of particular pieces of jewelry I suggest that you will want to pay less than those prices.
Bargaining is a game and, as it is a game, there are rules. The rules are situational however. At garage sales, non-professionally run estate sales, charity rummage sales and charity thrift stores I, to be fair, try to make sure the seller knows what the item or items are before we start to bargain. I will admit that this has lost me a few buys. Not so with commercial thrift stores, professionally run estate sales and flea market vendors as they really should know what they have on their table. Estimate the weight of the silver and/or gold of the item you want to buy. Ignore the stones that are set in the piece and focus on the metal weight. Figure out how much you are willing to pay based upon a fraction of the melt price. I try to pay no more than a third of the melt price. That lets me cover what I will keep and recover both what I was wrong about and my gas costs. I try not to bargain individually on items but lump what I want together into a single deal. I get a better price per item that way and I am less uncomfortable with including an unmarked and thus iffy piece of silver or two. Try to get the seller to state a price. If it is, for you, a good one don't be greedy, pay up and say thanks. If not, start your first offer at either roughly half of what you are willing to pay or half of what you think that the seller might be willing to take. If you are bargaining over a pile of stuff and the seller will not come sufficiently down pull one or more of the lesser items out of the pile; ones that you don't particularly find attractive, items you were not sure of or items that would bring the lowest price at melt, and restart the bargaining process. Always remember that if there is gold in the pile you want to buy its melt price is typically so much higher than what the seller thinks it is worth that its value will often far offset the excessive price that the seller may place on individual pieces of silver, or indeed all of the silver, in the pile. Thus you are negotiating on the total value of the pile rather than the value that the seller places on individual pieces.
At some point during negotiations it may help to pull out your wallet and lay your offer on the table. This ploy tends to motivate some sellers. I generally only do this when I've made my last offer and I'm prepared to pick up my money and walk away. From personal experience I have found that it is a good idea to carry at least part of your capital in one dollar bills plus a couple of dollars in small change in your pocket. If a person offers to sell you a nice sterling silver ring or a 10K gold ring to you for 50 cents or less (this has happened to me more than once), you don't want to have them thinking about the deal as they are making change for a buck. Get the price you want. Close the deal quick before the seller has a chance to change his or her mind. Then smile and walk away.
Don't be afraid to take a gamble if the reward is likely to be high and the cost low. I recently went one Saturday morning to a 7:00 am sale. I got there at 6:45 am and asked about jewelry. In addition to some odd stuff there were two bags of jewelry marked 75 cents and a dollar. The dollar bag was marked "fashion rings all for $1." The light was bad and the cost was low. The 75 cent bag had three jewelry boxes in it two of which contained pearl stud ear rings set, according to my reading of the boxes, on 14K gold posts. The bag of rings was more of a gamble. I bought both bags. The ring bag contained 11 rings, a pin and a single orphan earring. In among the costume jewelry rings in the bag I found four gold rings, two 10K and two 14K, and one sterling ring. The pin was sterling silver and the orphan earring was 14K.
How to sell the swag you don't want to keep:
In your hunt you will find pieces of jewelry, typically in silver, that just will not work in the SCA and that you do not want to wear mundanely. I have acquired some of the most trite and/or just plain ugly silver pieces you can imagine. These things just cry out to be melted down and made into something pretty. You will also find gold or even platinum which, because of its intrinsically high value, you may want to sell off. To sell for melt you need to find a reputable place that will give you a good price. Preference should be for an establishment that will test suspect pieces rather than declining to buy anything not marked. I have one place that gives me the best price and a second that will test but seems to pay less. I'm in communication with a jewelry artist that teaches and is willing to buy sterling for melt at a price above what my best buyer will pay. We will see how that plays out.
If you come by a high end piece by a named maker that you want to move along you will need to find a place that will buy it for above melt. For those cases you will need to find an establishment that deals in estate jewelry.
In my opinion placing items in consignment shops is generally a bad bargain. Around here the split is generally 60/40 in their favor. At that split you may be hard pressed to get the melt price out of most pieces of silver. In addition you have to wait for your money until the item sells.
You last option is selling online. I've not done it but I am exploring that option.
Copyright 2013 by Daniel Phelps. <dephelps at embarqmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.