- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

BALTIMORE (AP) For Kristen Zeman, it was $195 to pay a veterinary bill for her horse, Mister Deeds.

For Norman Flora, an unemployed contractor, it was major credit card debt weighing on him.

And Jim had fallen behind on his mortgage. He also owed money to friends, which is why he chose not give his last name.

All three converged recently at Smyth Jewelers in Timonium, bearing gold or silver items to trade for cash.

With gold rising above $900 an ounce and the economy tanking, precious metals dealers say now is a good time to transform gold to green by rummaging through forgotten possessions.

“It’s an opportunity for people to turn around and get cash on things that are broken, don’t fit, are out of style or they don’t wear,” said Smyth’s Ruthann Carroll.

Most of that precious metal is resold to refineries, where it is melted and recycled into dental crowns, electronic components and jewelry.

Smyth has lots of company. according to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, in Maryland, the number of licenses for buying or selling secondhand precious metals has jumped 50 percent in two years.

Dealers conduct shows at hotels and appear at house parties.

Shopkeepers like Michael Merrill, a dealer since 1974, are seeing more customers seeking quick cash.

“We have people selling lots of gold coins to pay a child’s college tuition,” said Merrill, whose shop is across York Road from Smyth. “Or their transmission goes up and there’s a $1,000 bill they didn’t expect.”

For Zeman, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom, it was a vet bill for her horse’s allergy medicine. The Phoenix resident said her family is not in financial straits, but money is tighter. So, it was so long to the jewelry she had stashed since she and a man named Nick went steady in the 1980s.

When Smyth opened at 10 a.m., Zeman was one of 12 customers waiting. The attraction was a bonus buyback promotion. Smyth was paying a 50 percent premium on gold, silver and platinum. For example, a 14-karat gold ring, or one with a 58.5 percent gold content, will bring $352.80 an ounce instead of $235.20, still leaving the store a profit. For silver, Smyth was paying $7.88 an ounce, up from $5.26.

The global price of gold is about double that of four years ago. In a recession, investors often turn to gold as a haven.

Sales consultant Greg McMahon looked over Zeman’s plastic bag of bracelets, charms and earrings. He also noted in passing that people have brought in unusual items, including gold used by dentists in teeth.

McMahon began with the magnet test: If it sticks, it’s not gold. He then looked through a magnifying lens to find the markings that specify the karats. One charm had no markings, so he scratched it on a stone, then applied an acid solution to the scratch. When that failed to erase the scratch, he knew the charm was 10-karat gold.

At last, he weighed the loot and told Zeman she would net $474 ? more than enough for her horse’s vet bill. “Are you kidding?” she said. “That’s awesome.”

Jim is 57 and a struggling carpenter from Carroll County. He cashed in silver flatware and other items which his late mother had owned. He left with $378.

Flora, 67, brought old watches, rings and other pieces. The Parkville contractor does home improvements, but with no work lately, he and his wife have been getting by on Social Security and their children’s help.

The watches turned out to be stainless steel, the lighter just gold-plated. But his four gold rings yielded $420 ? 10 times more than a Parkville jeweler offered. (Harry Loleas, the state’s deputy commissioner of occupational and professional licensing, cautions, “It’s sort of a buyer-beware situation.”)

Flora felt some regret at getting rid of gifts from his wife. Still, with a rueful chuckle, he said, “This will pay one bill.”

Information from: The Baltimore Sun, https://www.baltimoresun.com

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