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Modern Day Treasure Hunting: Finding Gold and Silver at Garage Sales

Married, father of two. Enjoys helping people navigate the tricky world of personal finance, as well as writing about lifestyle/travel.

How to Find Gold and Silver

If you buy and collect gold and silver, chances are you are also a frugal person. That means you like to get the best value possible. By finding underpriced gold and silver at yard sales, garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores, you can make a quick profit or add to your growing hoard.

Silver and gold have been viewed as treasures throughout the centuries, which means that you, too, can become a modern-day treasure hunter. Part of this is viewing yourself as a rogue agent because the key to finding gold and silver at garage and yard sales is to be smart and sneaky.

This article will teach you three important things - to be prepared, be early, and be cool - focusing on garage and yard sales because thrift store staff are trained to spot valuable items, and flea market sellers generally know what they are doing. Feel free to write them on your hand before heading out each morning.

Be Prepared

Finding silver and gold at garage sales is not easy. Basically, the only time you will find it is if the seller does not know what they have. For our purposes, being prepared means studying the most common markings for gold and silver.

Gold is usually always marked plainly, with a 24k, 14k, or 10k, and most people know what they have when they see it. Sometimes gold is instead marked with a number denoting the purity of the gold. If you see a 585, that means the gold is 58.5% pure, or 14 karat. If you see 999 or .999, that is pure 24-karat gold. These are the most common markings to look for, as they are the ones that are generally missed by uninformed sellers.

Silver, on the other hand, is less common, which means more people are likely to undervalue what they have. The Internet is full of stories of people buying 14-karat gold chains for 25 cents, or a heavy sterling silver bowl worth $500 for a buck. Remember, pure silver (.999) is supposed to be marked as such. Other purities include sterling (92.5%, .925 or 925), and other numbers such as 900, .900, 800, .800, etc.

It is essential that you learn how to spot silver-plated items, which are generally not worth your trouble. Some will say ‘silverplate,’ but others will use abbreviations such as EP for electroplated (EPNS, for example, means electroplated nickel silver). is a comprehensive guide to American, British, and world silver hallmarks (symbols or markings used by known manufacturers of sterling silver products). It is a good idea to print out some of the guides and keep them in your car, or better yet, bookmark the site on your smartphone for on-the-go access.

It would be a good idea to invest in a loupe, which is a small eyepiece magnifier used by jewelers. This will help you identify and locate markings that are almost invisible to the naked eye (please see point three about using one of these at a garage sale).

Watch out for sterling silver forks, knives, spoons, bowls, and trays, as well as unmarked gold and silver chains as well.

Be Early

This is pretty self-explanatory. There will be others trying to do the same thing, and you have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat the old pros.

Obviously, you won’t be able to arrive early to every sale, so spend some time each week reviewing the classifieds, including online sites like Craigslist or any online classifieds your town might have. Make a note of any sales that specifically mention jewelry. Note the times that they open, and try to prioritize your route. If you use a smartphone, it is helpful to plot each sale on Google Maps with the start time, making them easier to find when you are driving around in the dark.

Many buyers will ring a doorbell before the sale starts, even as early as 6 in the morning, especially if they see sellers milling about or setting up. If the sale hasn’t started yet but you see people, use your own judgment as to whether you can get an early look at their inventory. If the ad says no early birds, respect their wishes.

Look out for yard sales in wealthy neighborhoods. You are more likely to find nice stuff and people who throw out valuable things. Also, ask if they have any broken jewelry, which may get the seller to show you items they didn’t think were worth selling.

Be Cool

If you happen to find your dream score, a one-ounce gold chain marked simply 585, you must remain calm. While the item may be worth well over a thousand dollars, you are about to pay two dollars, which can cause your face to redden and your palms to sweat.

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Part of being cool is being discreet. You want to make it to the jewelry table first, and get your hands on anything gold or silver colored. If there are many items to go through, you want to avoid drawing undue attention to yourself, but you must also make it known that you are looking at the table and others can have a shot when you are done. By pulling out your loupe, you are alerting the seller that you are up to something, so don’t be surprised if they realize their own mistake and jack up the price.

If your seller figures out their mistake, you should be prepared to pay more. Always know the current spot prices of silver and gold, and offer a fair price.

Now You Know!

While some may say it is unethical to buy something you know is underpriced, many more believe that it is fair game. Chances are if you are reading this, you feel like a modern-day treasure hunter, ready to fly into a yard sale under the radar, and are less concerned about ethical dilemmas that come from buying gold and silver at garage and yard sales.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


richman on December 22, 2012:

Good info. I usually drive by those garage sales but I will be stopping in more often now.

monicamelendez from Salt Lake City on July 16, 2012:

Very interesting! I don't think there's anything wrong with paying the price that's marked on an item.

marriedwithdebt (author) from Illinois on December 14, 2011:

I linked this Hub back to yours, Brittany. This was actually written before I learned about the benefits of Hub linking so I had none, not even to my own. Thanks

marriedwithdebt (author) from Illinois on December 13, 2011:

Thanks MT - that makes me want to do another Hub on what to do when you find it (how to get the best price for them). There is a company called Treasure Hunter's Road Show - maybe they are coming to your town soon. They can appraise, but they will try to buy from you at the lowest price possible.

If you have antique gold and silver, it can often be worth more than the spot price of gold and silver. Items like sterling flatware sets, trays, etc.

Thanks for stopping by.

Shasta Matova from USA on December 13, 2011:

This is an excellent hub - Voted up. It would be useful to know what to do with all the loot once we find it.

Many of my things are probably not worth anything, (potential antiques) but I don't know how to go about getting them appraised to know for sure.

marriedwithdebt (author) from Illinois on December 13, 2011:

Thanks Brittany, that would be nice.

Brittany Kennedy from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on December 12, 2011:

This is an excellent hub! If you don't mind, I am going to link to it in my hub about garage sales. Voted up, useful, etc.

marriedwithdebt (author) from Illinois on December 07, 2011:

Getting up early is my main problem too. I have a cup of coffee, then procrastinate, then go. All the good stuff is gone by the time I get going. All that's left is weird interactions with people ready to close up.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on December 07, 2011:

So this is why my brother goes to all those yard sales. The little devil. He could have clued me in.

My biggest problem would be getting up early. I'm a night person. What about getting there as the last customer of the day and buying what's left at a really low price? Might be a good idea if the sharks left anything behind.

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