Monday, November 21, 2016

Why don't I find any silver coins?

silver coin
I have two places that I go to, one being a boy scout camp and the other being an abandoned strip of houses from the 20s that i have pulled out around 10 and 15 wheat pennies, respectively but no silver. I was wondering why this is and whether or not it happens to you guys?

 Many reasons.
  • First and foremost, mintage. Look at mintage numbers for pennies vs silver for any year. Pennies are always higher. 1964, for example, saw 929,360,000 dimes minted, while 2,648,575,000 pennies were minted. That's almost three pennies for every one dime. There are simply MORE pennies in existence.
  • Second, pennies can appear in the highest number of any coin when receiving change. The maximum amount of pennies that can logically be distributed in change - if the cashier has enough of each coin type - is four. The maximum quarters you'll get as change are three. The maximum number of dimes is two. The maximum number of nickels is one. That means if you got change ending in "4" or "9" - ie, 64 cents or 19 cents - you'd have more pennies than any other coin type. Back in the old days, cashiers were more serious about their job. They used to count your change backwards to you. Not like today where someone lazily hands you your change wrapped in a receipt.
  • Third, at face value, a dime is 10x more valuable than a penny. A quarter, 25x more valuable. A half dollar coin, 50x more valuable. A dollar coin, 100x more valuable. Most people that drop a penny today will seldom expend the energy to locate it, bend over, and pick it up. The same was true for some people in the old days. Certainly a kid who dropped his pennies would spend the time to find them, but adults, like today, often disregarded pennies. The same is not true for higher denomination coins. Still to this day, few people will ignore a quarter they've dropped, even though a quarter today is roughly the same value as a penny in 1900.
I think these are the three biggest reasons we find many more Wheats than silver. There are more Wheats in existence, there were more Wheats in people's hands and pockets, and pennies have always been "disposable". That's why it's not uncommon for people to find many more Wheats to silver. Some places, the ratio is better. Some places, the ratio is horrible.
Speaking of places, why would we assume a Boy Scout Camp would have lots of silver? They were primarily occupied by young boys. Their food, lodging, and everything else was probably already paid for. They weren't buying or selling goods or services while camping. They maybe had some coins for the day trips where they'd go into town or something, but generally, they weren't engaged in commerce. The same is true for these houses from the 1920s. Houses are great places to detect and people often find great coins, but money wasn't changing hands on the front lawns of U.S. homes like it was changing hands on the streets downtown, or at a stage coach stop or something. The adults we'd expect to have money in their pockets weren't rolling around on the lawn or playing in the yard - their kids were. The same that was true for the Boy Scout Camp is true for kids playing in their yards. They didn't have a lot of money, and what they had was likely small change like pennies and nickels. Please note I'm not saying that you can't find silver in these places. Of course you can. But it's not unusual for the penny:silver ratio to be really high.
Some people insist that places have been "cherry picked". This is possible, but it's debatable in my opinion. There are a host of problems I have with the "cherry picking" idea.
Certainly there are machines that are "hot" on silver, but no machine can completely differentiate between wheat pennies and a silver dime 100% of the time. I will use my E-Trac Target ID numbers to elaborate. On the E-Trac, Wheat pennies are pretty reliably identified as 12-40, 12-41, and 12-42. Silver dimes are usually higher; 12-44/45. Of course, target ID can be affected by depth, soil, nearby targets, the condition and orientation of the coin, etc. But generally, a Wheat will ring in this three number range. But other coins can also hit in this range, including half cents, two cents, and on occasion, an odd silver dime. It would be really foolish for these "cherry pickers" to skip a 12-42 because it's not a 12-43. You just can't be 100% sure that it isn't silver. And what if you're sure it's a Wheat so you skip it, and it turned out to be a 1909 VBD!? And how many times have you recovered a penny only to hear another target that was masked by that penny? Why would you skip a Wheat penny when you KNOW it's a Wheat? It's old, it's likely at a similar depth as silver, and it could be masking a better coin. I can't ignore these possibilities when I hear a Wheat penny.
Edit: I should add that I do believe a site has been gone over by an experienced hunter when I find Wheats and modern pennies but no pennies from the 60s and 70s which often sound like silver dimes.
People are using newer, better machines and finding silver in parks that have been "pounded" since the 60s. They were either masked by nearby targets, masked by ground interference, or too deep to reach. I myself pulled a Barber Dime out of a park that people swore up and down was devoid of all silver. And a few months ago I was at a park that had the turf removed, and there was plenty of silver deeper than anyone had previously dug. So when people say "people cherry picked that place in 1990, so there's no silver left", this is what I say in response.
This reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend recently regarding the beach I detected last week. Maybe this is only tangentially related, but I'll type it out anyway. Let's pretend that we have an area to detect that has clear boundaries, and this area is static; no new targets come in to the area. It is "frozen in time", and all the targets in the area are within reach of our detector. Given enough time, this place can be completely cleaned of every target. Let's say our goal is only to find silver coins, and everything else is "junk". We have no way of knowing this information, but there is an exact number that represents the ratio of conductive "junk" to coins. Let's say there are 1000 total targets, and the ratio is almost 200:1, junk to silver. When you start detecting, the first target you dig you have a 1 in 1000 chance of digging a silver coin. Each target you recover only improves your odds that the next target will be silver. Depending on your luck, you could have terrible ratios or great ratios, but eventually, the junk will become less and the silver will be found. The reason I thought about this scenario is because my friend quipped that "at least we know this site isn't that good, so if XXXX shows up, he won't find anything either". I thought about it for a few minutes and realized that all we are doing when we "find nothing" is improving the odds that the next guy will find what we missed. So it does not console me any amount when I think a place is "pounded". All I can think about is the idea that someone else will come get what I missed, and they'll have an easier time because I was kind enough to clear a hundred pieces of junk.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Difference between Gold, Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry

Difference between Gold, Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry
If you're the type of person who appreciates vintage and antique jewelry, you've probably come across jewelry that's described as "Gold", "Gold Filled" "Gold Plated" or one of a dozen other phrases with the word Gold in it. When shopping for vintage and antique jewelry, whether on eBay or in your local antique mall, it's important to know the difference between these common phrases. Not all "Gold" is created equal.
In order to get a real understanding of all these terms, you have to first understand some basics about gold itself.
Gold is an elemental metal. This means that pure gold is made up of nothing but gold atoms. Other examples of elemental metals include copper (made of nothing but copper atoms); iron (made of nothing but iron atoms) and aluminum (made of nothing but aluminum atoms).  In its natural form, gold is orangish-yellow in color (sometimes called "buttery" yellow), has a bright shine (high luster), is very soft (it scratches easily) and is very malleable (it can be hammered and stretched easily with iron tools).
Example of Elemental Gold In Its Natural "Nugget Form"
When people talk about the "Price of Gold" or the "Spot Gold Price" or "Gold Bullion" – they are talking about pure elemental gold. Pure gold is so soft, however, that it is rarely ever used to make jewelry because it cannot hold up to daily use. For example, a pure gold ring would constantly lose its shape and any stones set in it would be at risk of coming loose.  Rather, most jewelry is made from a "gold alloy".  An alloy is a combination of any two metals. For example – brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass is made by melting down copper and zinc and "stirring" them together.
Similarly, gold alloys are made by melting down pure gold and combining it with another metal (usually silver, copper or tin). 99.9% of the gold jewelry on the market today is made from a gold alloy of some type.
Indicating Gold Content
Because gold jewelry is usually sold in alloy form, it is important to know how much pure gold it contains – and thus its inherent value. There are two common systems (known as "Fineness Marking") for indicating gold content in jewelry – the Karat System and Numeric System.
In the United States, and countries which export heavily to the United States, the Karat system is used. In the Karat System, pure elemental gold is referred to as 24K gold. There is no higher standard in the Karat System than 24K gold (you will sometimes see scams where people claim to be selling 25K, 26K and 28K Gold – this is simply an attempt by a dishonest dealer who is trying to take advantage of an un-knowledgeable customer).
24K gold is gold in its purest form without any other metal added (though even most 24K gold usually has minute traces of other metals in it. That's why even fine gold bullion is labeled 99.999% Gold instead of 100% Gold).  Gold alloys are represented in the Karat System based on the number of "karats" of gold contained in each alloy. For example, in the United States you will commonly see 14 Karat and 10 Karat Gold. 14 Karat Gold consists of 14 parts (aka "karats") gold and 10 parts (aka "karats") some other metal (58.3% pure gold). 10K Gold consists of 10 parts gold and 14 parts some other metal (41.6% pure gold). Other common indications are:
  • 18K = 75% Pure Gold
  • 12K = 50% Pure Gold
  • 9K   = 33% Pure Gold (common in British and Antique Pieces. It is technically unlawful to represent 9K gold in the U.S. as being solid gold)

Example of a 14K Gold Mark with the manufacturer's name "Esemco" beneath. U.S. Law Requires All Manufacturers to include a maker's mark along with the fineness mark. 
While not very common in the United States, you will sometimes encounter 20K, 21K and 22K Gold items. These are usually of Middle Eastern (e.g. Kuwaiti) or Far Eastern (e.g. Hong Kong) origin.
Outside the United States (and a few other Western Countries), the dominant fineness marking system is a numeric system that indicates the amount of pure gold a basis of parts of one thousand. For example, if something is 18K gold (75% pure gold) then it is 750 parts out of 1000 pure gold. It's a fraction – 750/1000 = 0.75 or 75%.  In the Numeric Marking System (sometimes called the "European System" or "Convention System") you use the first number. So an item that was 75% gold (18K in the Karat System) would just be marked 750. Similarly, an item that is 58.5% Gold (very close to 14K in the Karat System) would be marked 585. Other common markings are:
375 = 375/1000 or 9K Gold
875 = 875/1000 of 21K Gold

Example of a 750 Mark with the manufacturer's mark "RA" above.
While most countries will use either the Karat System, Numeric System or a combination of both, a few countries still use a pictorial hallmarking system. Hallmarks are slightly different from fineness marks because they indicate that the fineness of the metal has been approved by a governmental or quasi-governmental entity. Under a pictorial hallmarking system, the amount of pure gold contained in a piece of jewelry is indicated by a specific picture or symbol – for example – a common animal or the profile of a person. Modern jewelry will almost always also have a numeric marking in addition to the pictorial hallmark. Antique pieces, however, will often have just a pictorial mark or no mark at all.
If there is no marking, how can you tell whether or not something is really gold?
The first thing to keep in mind here is that a fineness mark or hallmark is just a label put on something by a person or machine. While these marks are a good indication that something is actually gold, the mark is only as valuable as the person who put it there. Anyone can order a set of hallmarking stamps off a website and stamp non-gold with 14K, 18K, 750 or any other mark. The only way to know you are getting real gold is to buy from a trusted dealer or test it yourself.
Gold can be tested in several different ways. In our store, we use two methods – Acid Testing and X-Ray Fluorescence. They both have advantages and disadvantages. For more information on gold testing – see our article "Gold Testing Basics".

Gold Plated and Gold Filled Jewelry

Now that we know what gold and gold alloys are, it's time to talk about gold plated and gold filled jewelry.
Gold Plated Jewelry:
Gold plated jewelry is NOT gold jewelry. Gold plated jewelry is jewelry made of a base metal (e.g. copper) or silver that has a very thin layer of gold applied to the top. The layer is so thin, that it can usually be rubbed off with a coarse pencil eraser in a few swipes. Some plated jewelry has a "thicker" layer of gold than other plated jewelry, but the difference is insignificant on the grand scale of things. When buying gold plated jewelry, you should consider the gold plating as nothing more than a coloring (an aesthetic attribute) – there is almost no inherent value to the gold applied. It doesn't matter if it's 24K, 14K or 18K.
Example of a Designer Gold Plated Bracelet with Natural Agate
This doesn't mean gold plated jewelry is "junk" or "uncollectible". To the contrary, much of the vintage and modern gold plated jewelry on the market is very desirable and a pleasure to wear. Common marks for gold plated jewelry include:
  • 14KGP — (Note: don't confuse 14KGP with just 14KP. 14KGP means 14K Gold Plate. 14KP means 14K Plumb – which is "dead on exactly" aka "plumb"  solid 14K Gold) The "14" can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.
  • 14K HGE  — 14K Heavy Gold Electroplate. This means the gold plating layer was applied using electrolysis. The "14" can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.
  • 24K Gold Plated — This means the plating layer is 24K gold. It usually indicates electroplating.
  • Vermeil — Means gold plated sterling silver or fine silver. It's regular old gold plating – except the underlying metal is sterling silver of fine silver instead of a base metal.
  • Gold Over Sterling Silver —Same as vermeil.
  • Gold Wash — Regular old gold plating with a nicer name.
  • Gold Clad / Karat Clad — In a technical sense – clad means that gold layer was pressure bound to the underlying base metal. However, "gold clad" is a common synonym for any type of gold plating.
  • Bonded Gold — Here again – this just means gold plated. As with all gold plated jewelry, some bonded gold jewelry has a thicker layer of gold plating than others – but the difference is negligible.
  • 10 Microns / or another number followed by the word microns or the symbol for micron "ยต" – this means that the layer of gold plating is 10 microns thick
  • Plaque Or – usually followed by a number of Microns. This is seen on French / Swiss pieces, especially watch cases. It means gold plated.
Gold Filled Jewelry
Gold filled jewelry is NOT gold jewelry. Gold filled jewelry is made by taking one or more sheets of solid gold (14K, 12K, 18K, etc) and wrapping them around a base metal under intense pressure. The gold sheets are effectively "filled" with something other than gold. Unlike gold plated jewelry, gold filled jewelry has a commonly measurable amount of actual gold in it. Like gold plated jewelry, some gold filled jewelry has a thicker layer of gold than other gold filled jewelry. In some instances, the weight of the gold is actually marked on the gold filled jewelry.
For example – mid 20th century and later pieces are very often marked 1/20 12K Gold Filled. This means that 1/20 of the metal weight of the item consists of 12K Gold (remember that 12K gold itself is an alloy consisting of only 50% gold – thus a 1/20 12K Gold Filled item is 1/20 12K gold and 1/40 pure gold).  Common gold filled marks include:
Example of the 12KT. G.F. mark on a rose brooch   
  • G.F. (stands for Gold Filled – U.S. Law requires that items marked this way be at least 1/20th gold by weight )
  • 1/20 12K G.F. (this is one of the most common marks)
  • 1/10 12K Gold Filled (The "12K" can be substituted with 10K, 14K, 18K etc.) (1/10 of the piece is gold weight).
  • 12KT G.F. (The "12" can be substituted with 10, 14, 18 etc.).
  • 20/12  — This is shorthand for 1/20 12K Gold Filled (you will also sometimes see 14/20, 12/10 etc.)
  • Gold Filled — (same as "G.F")
  • 14K Rolled Gold; 14K Rolled Gold Plate; R.G.P.; 1/30 R.G.P.; 1/40 R.G.P.  – all of these markings stand for "Rolled Gold Plate" which is usually, but not always 1/30th or less solid gold.
  • ¼ 14K Shell — This means ¼ of the metal weight of the item is solid 14K gold. (The "14" can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.)
  • 1/5 14K Shell  — This means 1/5 of the metal weight of the item is solid 14K gold. (The "14" can be substituted with 10, 12, 18, 24 etc.)
  • Guaranteed 10 Years; Guaranteed 20 years; Warranted – seen on watch cases. This means the watch is supposed to have a thick enough gold layer to last 10 or 20 years of normal handling before wearing off. Gold weight values – but the 20 year watches are usually at least 1/10 10K gold by weight.
  • 1/20 14K G.F. Sterling Silver — This means that instead of a base metal, the gold layer is wrapped around solid sterling silver. Common on pieces from the 1940's and 1950's and also in new studio jewelry.
Mixed Metals
Occasionally you will encounter jewelry that is made of Solid Gold and another precious metal. This jewelry will often be marked with a gold fineness mark and a fineness mark for the other metal (e.g. Silver, Platinum, Palladium).
The example below is a U.S. Marine Corps Ring. The Marines emblem on the ring is solid 14K Gold. The remainder of the ring is sterling silver. The ring is thus marked 14K and also .925, which is the numerical marking for Sterling Silver (925/1000 silver).