Sell Gold, Tuition’s Due

by

College tuition is coming due in December and I’m a good two thousand dollars short. We’ve done well for six and a half semesters, what with savings, extra jobs on the side, trips to the junkyard with scrap metal, and the occasional yard sale. The end of the year is always hard though. Real Estate taxes are due by the fifth, tuition is due on the twelfth, and of course there’s Christmas.

I’ve been saving this small one-eighth full plastic sandwich bag of gold for when the market reached peak. I waited until today. My mother called me in May. She had taken most of the gold she had to the Jefferson Coin Shop on Airport Road near the Greene County line. Her sandwich bag was about a quarter full and she garnered a little over a thousand dollars. Her insulin had doubled in price and no amount of gold she wore could bring down her blood sugars.

Jefferson coin shop has two locations. The one I went to is downtown, one block off the pedestrian mall, next to the main library. Parking downtown is awful, but the location is closer to home for me. I called the shop on Saturday and the man on the phone said they were downtown on Mondays. Most streets there are one way and the free two hour parking spaces are all parallel and filled most of the time. I was in luck. Someone pulled out, leaving a space open at the north end of the library.

Although I’d held it in my hand twenty minutes earlier when I left home, I dug around in my purse to make sure the bag of rings, bracelets, and miss-matched earrings was still there. I walked the half block to the old white brick building, read the sign to make sure the coin shop was among the tenants and pulled the door open. The business was to my left on the other side of a glass door with gold writing. A bell tinkled when I walked in. The shop was tiny, no bigger than a walk-in closet with two glass display cases. A woman and man behind the cases welcomed me.

“My mother sent me to you,” I said. “She told me you buy gold.”

“She’s right,” the man said. “Let’s see what you have.”

I took my plastic bag of treasures out and emptied it on top of the glass case. He took out a magnifying loop, one similar to the one my mother had when she was in the antique business. He picked up the first piece, a ring, held the loop to his eye and turned the ring around and around. “This one’s fourteen karat,” he said. He picked up another ring and was turning it when the door tinkled again. He looked up and excused himself, handing the loop to the woman. I turned and saw the Charlottesville police officer who’d come into the shop.

As the woman picked up each piece and looked at it, sorted the pieces in piles, I heard the conversation between the owner of the shop and the policeman.

“Here’s one of the counterfeit fives we’ve seen lately. They change the face on the bill, pretty smart.  If you’re not paying attention, you’re stuck with them.”

“People don’t usually look at the small bills.”

“Nope, just wanted to give you a heads up. Have a nice day folks.” The bell tinkled again as he left the shop.

“This one’s worn here, see, tarnished, the woman said, showing me the side on an earring. “Gold doesn’t’ do that.” She put the imposter in a separate place off to the side.

“I questioned whether this one was gold or not,” I said, holding up a huge gaudy Smoky Topaz set in yellow gold. I bought it at a yard sale for a dollar. As a matter of fact most of these were bought at yard sales over the years.” I don’t know why I felt it necessary to let her know they weren’t family heirlooms I was hocking for a few dollars, but I did.

“You can find some real bargains at yard sales if you’re willing to dig,” she said, as she continued to search for marks and sort in piles. “How about that?” She said holding up the Topaz ring. “This one is fourteen karat, and it’s heavy too.” When she finished sorting there were four groups, fourteen karat, ten karat, no mark, and junk.

The man came back over and took the unmarked pieces, scratching them on a stone. He then took a little plastic bottle of acid marked 14K and put a drop on each mark. If the mark disappeared, the item was not gold. If the mark faded, the piece was ten karat. If it stayed shiny, the piece was fourteen karat. He said I was in the lucky group today, mine were mostly of the fourteen karat variety.

He weighed and calculated, determining the value of my gold to be $791.20. He still needed to check four rings for karat weight, but wanted to make sure I was willing to sell at that price before he did more testing. I was fairly jumping up and down in the floor. My investment in the lot was well under one hundred dollars. He took the four rings left, scratched the inside bands with a knife and put a drop of the solution onto the scratch. If the rings were gold filled, the solution would bubble up green. All were real gold. I was disappointed by not seeing a reaction. I guess I should have been glad. 

“Tuition is coming due for my son,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” the woman said. “We have two in college right now and another to start in two years.”

The man shook his head. “We didn’t think about college when we were planning them. We wanted our children to be able to keep each other company, play together.”

“We thought having so many in diapers at one time was expensive,” she said. “We didn’t know expensive. I talked myself out of trying for the girl once I got home with the third boy. I didn’t have enough hands.”

“As parents, I guess we do what we have to do,” I said. “Somehow we find the time, the hands and the money to get done what needs to get done.”

As we talked, I felt like I was in the company of like-minded friends who understood and appreciated someone searching the nooks and crannies for a way to educate a child. It was easier for me to let go of the jewelry I hadn’t worn in years and collect the money to send to Ferrum for Ben’s last semester.

The man counted out seven, one hundred dollar bills, one fifty, four tens, a one and he pulled a quarter from his pocket.

“Didn’t you say twenty cents?” I asked.

“Yeah, but we don’t have change here,” he said.

“Wow, a coin shop without change,” I said.

“That’s what everybody says,” his wife said laughing.

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