Thursday, December 9, 2010

Knuckle Busting

"Every silver linings got a touch of grey." Robert Hunter

I have always been a soft touch. The lady came in with a box of costume jewelry and some silverplate, all pretty much worthless. One or two small pieces of sterling, the silver standard that denotes at least .925 pure silver purity. Some funky old candlesticks.

She was out of work as was her husband and it was the end of the line. She said that she was a four time loser in the marriage department, he not being quite out of earshot. She had crazily left her job at Kaiser and now the cupboard was bare.

She needed $600.00 for some terminal deadline that I did not really want her to explain. I gave her two hundred bucks for the sticks. Two hundred bucks that I may never see again.

Sterling silver candlesticks are foil thin pieces of silver filled with a green plaster like packing material. Each segment is filled with the crud and it is a bitch to get out. My friend Tommy is bringing over a vise today so that I can have at it. The long tubes are almost impossible to clean out so they may go in the trash. It will be tough to get my money back, sap that I am.

This thing will induce me to grab some more of my own silver and take it down to the melt man. I hate to do it, being a purist, but times are lean.


Silver today is at a near record, post Hunt Brothers high. Twenty eight dollars and change. I might see about $17.00 per ounce from the refiner.

According to Wicki: Beginning in the early 1970s, Nelson Hunt and his brother William Herbert Hunt began accumulating large amounts of silver. By 1979, they had nearly cornered the global market. In the last nine months of 1979, the brothers profited by an estimated $2 billion to $4 billion in silver speculation, with estimated silver holdings of 100 million ounces. During the Hunt brothers' accumulation of the precious metal, prices of silver futures contracts and silver bullion during 1979 and 1980 rose from $11 an ounce in September 1979 to $50 an ounce in January 1980. Silver prices ultimately collapsed to below $11 an ounce two months later. The largest single day drop in the price of silver occurred on Silver Thursday, March 27, 1980. The Hunt brothers soon filed for bankruptcy.

It is crazy to me that raw silver melts for practically more money than I can get for finely crafted antique silver with hundreds of man hours in its manufacture. People are melting silver and gold like crazy right now. I wonder if one day the antique silver will reassume its rightful place in the aesthetic pantheon, that is if there is any left.

During the Hunt fiasco, tons of precious georgian silver were melted down, assigned to the forge bin of history and never to reappear. The same thing is being repeated all over today. I don't know where it is all ending up. Maybe in some chinese guy's radio.


Silver, especially 20th century silver, has been one of my specialties since I entered the antique business. I wrote for Silver Magazine for several years and consider myself somewhat of an expert. Silver literally courses through my soul. It is highly probable that my paternal grandmother Pesa Szkarlat's relatives were silversmiths near Warsaw, in the town of Wyszkow. Here is a picture of a pair of shabbos candlesticks I own signed Szkarlat. They are signed with the cartouche of Szmul Szkarlat from the late 1800's. The Szkarlat name no longer exists, at least in our family tree, essentially entirely vanquished in the holocaust. I believe that it means sapphire in the native polish, yiddish.

I feel somewhat cheesy melting silver. I try to only melt the most pedestrian pieces, because I love it so much. We are literally melting our discarded history. But in tough times, you have to do what you have to do.

I had a girl come in recently whose boy friend was in prison. I sent her directly to the refiner, not wanting to take a piece from a hapless soul and I think that he took advantage of her. I had weighed the silver. Much of the business is done on a handshake and there are unfortunately hands out there that one should not shake.

Psalm 12:6 - The words of Jehovah are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, Purified seven times.
Proverbs 3:14 - For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold.
Psalm 66:10 - For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us by fire, as silver is tried.


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