“We’ll Pay Cash for Your Old Gold and Silver”
March 18, 2015 12:40 AM   Subscribe

I came by my own dishonest trade honestly. By the time I was sixteen, I had been kicked out of high school three or four times—I never managed to graduate—and my mother, fed up, sent me down to Texas to live with my older brother, who had recently been released from prison. He was briefly Calgary’s most successful cocaine importer, before getting busted and sent off to Spy Hill, and he had found employment as a sales manager for a hugely successful jewelry store owned by a brilliant, wildly charismatic man named Ronnie Cooper.
- Clancy Martin (previously) in Lapham's Quarterly
posted by the man of twists and turns (22 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Expensive jewellery is pretty silly.
posted by adept256 at 1:34 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was a great piece, well written and interesting.
Thanks for the post!
If you have any broken jewellery, PM me!
We pay the best on Mefi!
Just you weigh it yourself, the price of gold is $1147 an ounce, just follow this because it isn't 24K, you won;t be sorry. (not really ;-)
posted by bystander at 3:02 AM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Still smells like Born Again Christian - the Jewelery Scam spin - to me. You know, throw in some pop philosophy (absolute truths unknowable hence we all are to an extent liars), absolve yourself up to the point you do not blatantly blame the victim, pretend you atone by speaking "the" truth and sell some books.

Nice spin, but till you reimburse the victims from your own pocket plus damages (and the damages can be pretty darn terrible from a psycological perspective) you are all talk and much bullshit, so I will not shed a cry if somebody throws you under a bus. Surely, I am not going to buy any of your books ever.
posted by elpapacito at 5:17 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is how all sales works, and all capitalism is built on sales. This is how profit works. It's more stark in this industry, but he is no more or less complicit in a scam than anyone else. Take it or leave it. We pay the best price in town, everyone know that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:04 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I guess it's progress, of a sort, that today's "cash for gold" places apparently just give you a shitty rate for your 'scrap gold' and don't really try to swindle you per se.

I wonder why that is? I don't think that people have gotten especially more moral since 1980. But it does seem like that sort of personality-based con game is on the decline. (See also: car dealers doing the Fargo-style hard sell of bogus 'undercoating', etc., are pretty rare anymore.) Is it just that, with less disposable income to spare, the average American is just that much harder-nosed than we used to be, leaving less room for chicanery? A sort of bonus effect from flat real incomes?

Nice spin, but till you reimburse the victims from your own pocket plus damages

We all know that's never going to happen, but it's interesting to see the inside of the sausage factory, as it were, from someone who worked in it. I'd file this as a mild sort of true-crime narrative, of the same type if not the same degree as tales told by ex-gangsters and the like. You don't have to like them, nor necessarily even to trust that they are a completely reliable narrator, to find the window they provide into a nasty bit of the universe illuminating.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:06 AM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just finished reading Broke, USA, about the pawn/title loan/subprime mortgage industries that feed off of the poor. This just sounds like more of the same. People hold onto the things they consider valuable (gold, diamonds) and when they are desperate enough, they'll turn them in for a price they have to accept, because they have no other choice.

Capitalism can be horrifying.
posted by xingcat at 7:09 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Clancy was my Existentialism teacher in Kansas City. He was always nonchalantly dropping these little hints about his past life in class... "Well, of course that was back in my ecstacy dealing days...anyway, what Kierkegaard is saying is..."

His novel is good!
posted by saul wright at 7:28 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


A college friend worked in the back office of a big Boston jeweler, and always made sure to come out and wait on me herself; when she was too busy, she gave a Significant Look and a "He's family" to whichever of her colleagues took care of me. She was plainly businesslike, aside from chatter about common friends, and she left the calculator out on the countertop when she was whacking some great percentage off the price tag. And I always sensed that the people who she entrusted me to were also kind of not interested in me, because they had been warned off of the high-pressure sell.

Since she moved on, and I moved away, I am now at the mercy of the local mall jewelers, and I don't trust them a bit.

Growing up, my dad's friend was in the business, and he also was very matter-of-fact about it. He sold me the engagement ring for my wife: we all went in a back room, he showed me a few stones and pointed out the nicest one, my dad told an embarrassing dirty joke, we agreed on a price, and the ring was ready the next day. I even talked about apprenticing in the store one year; I still wish I had.

My memories of those positive, non-swindle-y transactions just highlights how untrustworthy every other single jeweler seems to be…and this guy isn't helping me feel better.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:30 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I bought my then-girlfriend a sapphire for her engagement ring in Boston. We walked into the store and talked engagement and there was a palpable sigh of disappointment when we said we weren't looking for a diamond ring. So we got ripped off anyway, but I feel like it was 50% less slimy just because it wasn't the diamond engagement ring pipeline.

> I guess it's progress, of a sort, that today's "cash for gold" places apparently just give you a shitty rate for your 'scrap gold' and don't really try to swindle you per se.

Yeah, I think it's because people have had the "you're going to get ripped off wherever you go" aspect beaten into them so completely that there's no point in even putting up a facade. Save the overhead - they're here, and going to the next shop only prolongs their pain.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:37 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


It seems a strange feature of American geography that in poor city neighborhoods some of the most prominent commercial real estate is leased out to jewelry stores. If I was poor I think jewelry is the last thing I would buy but maybe it is worth more if it is the only luxury you can almost afford. I wonder if it is like that in Britain and Australia.
posted by bukvich at 7:41 AM on March 18, 2015


Kadin2048 I question your assertion: But it does seem like that sort of personality-based con game is on the decline. (See also: car dealers doing the Fargo-style hard sell of bogus 'undercoating', etc., are pretty rare anymore.)

I got the four square treatment at a car dealer not too long ago. Salesman: "If we can meet your needs, will you buy a car today? If so, sign here." (emotional commitment). Me (knowing the answer): "Is it a legally binding document?" "No" "Then why should I sign it?" Blah, blah, blah... I don't know why I even bothered with the indignant outrage and didn't just turn around at the first sight of the piece of paper.
posted by tippiedog at 9:28 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Interesting. I guess it's progress, of a sort, that today's "cash for gold" places apparently just give you a shitty rate for your 'scrap gold' and don't really try to swindle you per se. I wonder why that is?

I, too, have wondered what sort of person sells their gold at the sort of place that pays a dude to twirl a sign around at an intersection. I think it's because these places are intentionally fishing for the customers that are least likely to haggle. Much like some people argue that the clumsier 419 email scams, the ones that are composed in all-caps and riddled with typos, are deliberately crafted so that only the most gullible people will fall for them.

If nearly all jewelry stores are buying gold these days, and you want to get into that market without opening a jewelry store, it would be silly to try to out-posh your competition. So you'd go the other way — make it mundane. Prey on people who don't know they can go to jewelry stores. Prey on people desperate enough that they're already buying your payday loans or car title loans. When you deliberately select the most desperate clientele, you don't have to give the process a veneer of legitimacy, because you know that 90% of people will accept your shitty offer anyway.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:30 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


savetheclocktower - I work for a company that sells financial products marketed to the same people who frequent payday loan shops and pawn shops (my company is trying to give them a banking option that's cheaper than check cashing, which still isn't great, but it's ethical enough that I will work for them).

In our training, I was surprised to learn that many of our target customers, especially recent immigrants and/or non-English speakers, trust the local check cashing shop more than other places simply because it's local, all their friends go there, too, and they know how things work. To extrapolate to your question: I imagine they would feel more vulnerable going outside their regular milieu to sell gold--not to even mention mundane but very real challenges for these people, such as transportation to a place that might give them a better deal.

In training, the company hammers into our heads--to the company's credit, in my opinion--that the decision making processes of our target customers usually differs very much from the (generally middle-middle and upper-middle class) employees' decision making processes.
posted by tippiedog at 10:47 AM on March 18, 2015


Ugh, I remember a poor friend in college insisting that the gold chain they'd bought "was a good investment" and would "hold value". It's especially crappy that the poorest folks are sold some of the least useful things. I'm guessing that in the 20 years since then they've sold it and discovered that those precious dollars had many more useful ways they could've been spent.
posted by ldthomps at 10:52 AM on March 18, 2015


I was highly amused by the people who heavily invested in gold when it was up around $2000/oz. Extraction costs, ignorning the small players shown on shows like Gold Rush, are still around $500/oz, and looking at gold prices over time, it has always dropped down to around extraction cost. Sure enough, prices peaked 2011-2012, and have been dropping ever since. Vice another war or terrorist attack to drive panic-buying, which I wouldn't put past some of the larger gold investors deciding to stage if the price drops too low, it'll probably keep going down until it hits the "barely profitable for the larger players" point then stay there until the next crisis. Same thing, writ smaller, looks like its been happening with silver and noble metals.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2015


There are a bunch of down-market jewelry stores in and around my neighborhood that I've gone to for basic repairs, and judging by who I've seen in the shops and what the shops seem to be selling, I wonder whether their target clientele are people who are unaware of, not eligible for, or suspicious of savings accounts. Most of the pieces aren't particularly pretty or flashy, but they are weighty, and jewelry, while it might not hold value, at least won't get frittered away on small expenditures like cash does. And while the demographics are shifting, my neighborhood has a long history with immigrant communities, who might have no banking experience in their societies of origin, or substantial obstacles to banking in the US.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:07 PM on March 18, 2015


I seem to remember something about those who are more likely to end up needing bail money keep value in jewelry, as cash gets confiscated and large sums deposited into a bank tends to throw red flags to the feds. For those not too worried about bail money, but perhaps as immigrants from areas where banks runs are more common, not to mention the language barriers, I can easily see why putting your cash into a 'hard good' like gold or jewels seems like a reasonable option.
posted by gofargogo at 2:57 PM on March 18, 2015


In my burglary-prone suburb I've always assumed the proliferation of "We Buy Gold!" shops were just filling the need for places to unload stolen wedding bands. That they'd pay low prices for likely-stolen goods is exactly how I'd expect it to work.
posted by cccorlew at 8:09 PM on March 18, 2015


With regard to gofargogo's comment about jewellery being available for bail, in the UK there are mens rings with a gold sovereign coin mounted in them, allegedly explicitly because it makes them convenient and easy to value bail surety.
posted by bystander at 12:34 AM on March 19, 2015


I guess it's progress, of a sort, that today's "cash for gold" places apparently just give you a shitty rate for your 'scrap gold' and don't really try to swindle you per se.

I wonder why that is?
Now that a huge majority of the population has internet access and can type "price of gold" into a web browser, I imagine there are somewhat fewer people who will be outright swindled into selling for a tenth of market value. Also, it seems the number of "We Buy Gold!" shops has been growing non-stop (at least in my area), so if you try to squeeze too hard there's a risk that your mark will walk across the street and get a better offer.

Which is not to say that everything is peachy these days, but at least there's are a few forces working to shrink the crooks' margins.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:14 AM on March 19, 2015


You don't have to like them, nor necessarily even to trust that they are a completely reliable narrator, to find the window they provide into a nasty bit of the universe illuminating.

Of course you can, provided you take it with an healthy, 12-wheeler dose of skepticism. Take, if you will, the infamous "Pawn Star" series by History Channel (ah!). The entire "narrative" can be summed up as follow: filler filler filler, bla bla, how much will you pay? Half ? Ok! Omg everybody is happy and life returns to normal.

How real is that? Technically, these transaction can occour, altought the ones in the show are possibly staged for convenience. How representative of the pawn business is it? Not at all. At least in my experience, pawn shops are knee deep in desperation and exploitation of the said desperation. How does one exploit that? Easy, I make the price and you shut up, that's all it takes.

Consider other series, such as The Real Hustle one, broadcast in the UK, I believe, for a number of season with some success. Allegations were made some of the people involved in the represented scams were stooges and that might well be the case, but at least the people involved were actors, and probably no serial con artist's pockets were fattened thanks to that show. Moreover, the viewers are warned about behaviors they should be wary of. There is, imho, an actual educational value, as opposed to a gratuitous, audience baiting dramatization-glorification of people who essentialy are parasites.
posted by elpapacito at 11:48 AM on March 19, 2015


I watched Pawn Stars for a while, but I got tired of screaming at the TV: Why the fuck would you try to sell that valuable, unusual item at a pawn shop for a fraction of what you could get elsewhere! If you own some unusual item potentially worth thousands of dollars, then you are most probably the type of person who has the wherewithal to be able to find a more appropriate venue to sell it. And if, despite the above, you are, for some reason, so desperate that you need to sell it immediately at your local pawn shop, then the producers of the show sure as hell aren't going to show that. So, yeah, totally unrealistic.
posted by tippiedog at 7:09 AM on March 20, 2015


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