Friday, June 12, 2009

Sovereigns, eagles & bars: My adventures in buying gold

A friend of mine who is really worried about the coming Great Depression just decided that he was gonna go out and buy gold. "Wanna come along?" he asked me. You bet!

First we googled around to get information. is best site on the web to look for information on gold -- or at least it's my favorite. I love checking gold prices on Kitco and reading rants by the Mogambo Guru and gold tips from the Daily Pfennig. Kitco also has gold for sale and their prices are reasonable -- but here's the deal-breaker. They also charge a $30.00 shipping fee plus a few more dollars for insurance. The result is that although they listed their gold price today at $960 an ounce, because of their shipping and handling costs, you end up paying $1,014 an ounce.

Then we went to the local coin shop here in Berkeley. "I can sell you one ounce of gold for $1, 021," said the proprietor, a man who has been selling stamps and coins here for decades. But that's seven dollars more expensive than Kitco. "And I can also give you a word of advice. Buy quickly." That's two words. "The price of gold is really going up. And the dollar's value is deflating really fast. Time to buy as much gold as you can, as soon as you can." My friend bought a Grant Wood one-ounce gold coin, manufactured by the U.S Mint as part of its artists' series of gold coins. The Mint's gold American eagle coin was much prettier but it cost a lot more.

Next stop: A coin shop on Solano Avenue in Albany. "We have a very good price on gold," said the shopkeeper, "but you have to remember that there is also a 9.5% state sales tax as well." Kitco never mentioned that! "But if you buy over $1,500 in gold at one time, then you will no longer have to pay the tax because you then fall under the category of being an investor. So it pays to buy at least an ounce and a half of gold at a time." In other words, you can't just buy a gold coin here and a gold coin there. You gotta time your purchases so that they become "investments". My friend bought a one-ounce Swiss gold bar and a half-ounce gold bar. No tax!

"We also buy silver plate," said the shopkeeper. "If you bring us your old silver tea service, for instance, we will give you a good price for it. And then we will melt it down into bars."

Next we went off to a coin shop in El Cerrito. This shop, like most other gold shops, was heavily protected by Plexiglas and iron bars, and the owner had to buzz us in. But by that time, my friend only had $500 left to spend. "Tell you what," said the owner. "I'll sell you two one-fourth-ounce British sovereigns and one small Mexican gold peso for that amount. Plus tax of course."

The owner also told us that silver dollars were a good investment too. "You can get a new Canadian maple leaf one for only $17.00. They are better than gold in some ways because, should the dollar become worthless, you can use them for barter and don't have to cash them in, break them down or shave off gold dust if you want to pay for something." Good to know. And more in keeping with my budget. But my friend stuck to gold and bought the peso and the two sovereigns. They were cute.

On the way back from El Cerrito, I appealed to my higher power and resisted stopping at Fat Apple's for a slice of olloliberry pie with whipped cream -- but I couldn't resist stopping in at Caio Bella for some of their new peach martini sorbet or maybe their new papaya creme de cassis gelato. Maybe I can't afford to store up on gold right now but I surely can afford to store up on memories -- so at least if the Great Depression hits, I can always fondly remember that triple scoop cone: one scoop of West African milk chocolate, one scoop of limoncello mascaraone and one scoop of key lime pie gelato! But just to be on the safe side, I also bought a lottery ticket.

"Why do you want to buy so much gold anyways," I asked my friend. "Why not just put your money in a bank?"

"Because when the coming financial hard times ahead really hit," he replied, "I want to be able to keep my family safe."