Cashing in on treasure

Precious metals and antiques roadshow stops in Roseville
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Kevin Cayer carefully unwraps an old tea set, pulling out each piece from the cloth wrapping. He attends a precious metals and antiques roadshow in Roseville Tuesday hoping to make a sale. The tea set is more than 100 years old, passed down through generations to the women in the family. The name “Abby” is inscribed on the teapot. “Abby is my wife’s grandmother,” Cayer says. “When her mother died, nobody wanted to take the silver so we were stuck with it.” As Michael Archer, a representative of Ohio Valley Gold and Silver Refinery, inspects the pieces, he notes the items are silver-plated, which his company refrains from buying because these goods often end up sitting in a warehouse indefinitely. “I wish this was silver because it would be a neat set,” Archer says. Cayer leaves the small room in the Courtyard by Marriott looking slightly disappointed. But that’s just how it goes sometimes at an Ohio Valley Gold and Silver Refinery roadshow, which came to town Tuesday and runs through today. The popularity of shows such as “Antiques Roadshow,” “Auction Kings” and “Pawn Stars” means everyone thinks that rusty junk in the attic could actually be worth a pretty penny. “Because of these shows, we probably see more garage sale (items),” Archer says. People bring in their treasures for evaluation — some go home with loads of cash, some go home empty handed. Some items turn out to be rare and highly collectible, while others are better off sold at a garage sale. “The exciting thing is we bring it to you guys,” says show manager Nate Shafer. “You don’t have to worry about selling it. We try to make it convenient for you.” Ohio Valley Gold and Silver Refinery, a division of Treasure Hunters Roadshow and Associates, buys pre-1965 coins, pre-1934 paper money, gold, silver, platinum, jewelry, historical documents, sports memorabilia, dolls, trains, watches, war items, fine art, comic books, pre-1965 toys and more. While this division specializes in gold and silver, last year they bought a black 1959 Gibson guitar for $300,000. The company also paid $100,000 for a 1960 Les Paul guitar. Another time, they bought a vampire killing kit for $10,000. A letter written by George Washington to his wife’s doctor brought $30,000. A bad economy incentivizes people to sell old items gathering dust in their garage, Archer says. Plus, previous generations didn’t get a lot of passed-down goods from relatives because people didn’t have as much stuff. But our generation does. A few years ago, his company had 10 teams on the road. Now, they have about 75 teams who spend three weeks a month hosting roadshow events. A team visits three locations in one month. The record high prices of gold and silver — caused by the down economy — means similar companies have sprung up across the United States. And the bad press has followed. Ohio Valley Refinery has been accused of scamming customers by undervaluing items. Its parent company, the Springfield, Ill.-based Treasure Hunters, is named in a trademark lawsuit by an affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service, the station behind “Antiques Roadshow.” On the first day of the local event, seven people stop by within the first two hours, but then attendance dries up for a while. One man brings in a 1901 signal cannon from a U.S. Navy boat but “chickened out on selling,” Shafer says. Anthony Pizarro stops by with a plastic baggie full of coins and jewelry. About 20 years ago, gold went for $300 to $400 an ounce. Now, gold costs about $1,400 an ounce. Silver has doubled in the last year to $29 an ounce. Representative Dustin Barton sorts the coins, looks for dates and counts each coin’s worth. He weighs the gold and determines two rings to be costume jewelry. “‘S’ is for San Francisco, right?” Pizarro asks, as Barton examines one of the coins. The “S” stands for where the coin originated, giving an indication of how many were minted that year — which is partly what makes a coin valuable, or not. Older coins tend to be more valuable because fewer were made, but that’s not always the case. Pizarro leaves the roadshow with $440 in his pocket. He also brings in a BB gun, but turns down the $20 offer. The roadshow guys say they enjoy the variety of what they see, including when an elderly woman brought in a pair of pre-1940 walrus baculums — also called oosiks or penises — from a bar in Alaska. She wanted $12,000 a piece and they gave her $10,000 each. Sometimes, though, the guys enjoy the personal stories they hear more than the items they see. At one roadshow, a man in his 80s brought in a Japanese katana sword from World War II. He had killed a man with that sword. “He got teary eyed and said it was time to sell it,” Shafer says. “You can tell it was something very emotional.” The old man walked out with an extra $1,500 in his wallet, leaving the sword behind. Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- Ohio Valley Gold and Silver Refinery Roadshow When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today Where: Courtyard by Marriott, 1920 Taylor Road in Roseville Cost: Free Info: ---------- Items purchased by Ohio Valley Gold and Silver Refinery These are some of the antiques and collectables bought by the company in the past few years. George Washington letter: $30,000 Johnny Cash’s bed: $30,000 Cast iron bank: $5,500 Civil War sword: $6,500 1960 Les Paul guitar: $100,000 Vampire killing kit: $10,000 Cartier pocket watch: $4,500 Civil War pistol: $40,000