So what do you do with a cardboard box full of silver stuff -- teapot, candle holders, serving dishes, trophies -- that's been sitting in the garage for over twenty years, tarnished beyond belief, when you have no idea what it's worth or who might want to buy it?
That was my problem when my wife, who's been doing most of our pre-spring garage cleaning, told me "You've got to do something with your mother's silver. It's been taking up space for too long."
Dutiful husband that I am, I picked up the box from the floor of the garage, walked into the carport, and laid it on a stack of firewood.
I figured that this would show my wife that I was in the process of dealing with the silver -- which for the past month or so consisted of me glancing at the box as I got into my car, thinking "I've got to do something about that stuff one of these days."
This time my procrastination, which usually lacks a cause other than sloth, actually had a reason behind it.
I was mystified by the silver. I vaguely understood that there was "sterling silver" and lesser varieties, but didn't know the caliber of the box contents. They were so tarnished, it was hard to make out any inscriptions on most of the items.
I toyed with the idea of donating the box to Goodwill. As I'm about to describe, that would have been great for Goodwill and bad for me, so sometimes procrastinating pays off.
A couple of days ago our local newspaper, the Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal ran three full page ads in Section A with a "Buying -- 4 Days Only -- instant cash for all..." headline.
Part of the "all..." was sterling and silver.
My wife, who pays a lot more attention to ads than I do, tore out one of the pages advertising the Anderson Carter Tira & Associates Estates Buyers event at the Shiloh Inn. She handed it to me along with the name and address of a pawn shop in our area that also buys silver.
My mission today, and I had no choice but to accept it, was to find the best price for the silver. This was in line with the Anderson Carter advice in their ad:
"We are confident our buyers will beat most legitimate offers! How to test us: Take your valuable items to other dealers before bringing them to us. Have them give you legitimate written offers... We believe the buyers we have chosen will beat most legitimate written offers."
But when I got to the pawn shop, the guy who evaluates silver wasn't there. I think this was my first time ever in a pawn shop, so I did appreciate a new experience.
Carrying in the plastic container that my wife (correctly) thought would be a classier container for the silver pieces than an old cardboard box with mouse droppings on the bottom of it, I empathized with the woman at the counter who apparently was retrieving some items that she'd pawned.
Times are tough. I was impressed with how polite the proprietors of the pawn shop were, and how neatly it was organized. I was tempted to do some shopping, then remembered that my mission was to make some money, not spend it.
I then headed to the Shiloh Inn on Market Street. It was an appropriate setting for the "Instant Cash for All" event, not too seedy, yet definitely not upscale. Getting off the elevator on the second floor, clutching my plastic box, I was met by a blue-jeaned twenty-something guy who asked what I was wanting to sell.
Demonstrating my sophistication, I said "Um, some silver, not utensils, you know, um, silver..." He rescued me with "flatware." "Yeah, flatware, that's it. I've got some silver flatware."
The guy ushered me down the hall. Each hotel room had a sign taped to the door designating the sort of stuff being assessed within: jewelry, gold, etc. I was told to sit behind a table in the silver room, put my things on it, and then wait for someone to look them over.
He walked in after a minute or two. After inspecting the bottoms of the pieces, for signs of "sterling silver" I figured, he said "Wait here. A buyer will be with you soon." Apparently I'd passed the first stage of silver purchasing, which made me feel hopeful.
The next buyer guy was more thorough. He went through the items carefully, putting most of them on a desk blotter and setting a few of them off to the side. When he was done, he told me that I could put the non-blottered items back in my box, because they weren't silver.
He then proceeded to weigh each of the approved items on a scale. While he did this, we chatted about this and that. I told him how my mother used to bring out her silver set for company, and then I'd have to help her clean it the next day, which now seemed like a lot of work, given that I have trouble even putting things in the dishwasher.
When he was done weighing, the buyer wrote down a number on a piece of paper and handed it to me. "This is what I can offer you," he said. Yeow. I was surprised. Not at all what I expected. But of course, I had no idea what to expect.
Not wanting to wait a couple of days to show my stuff to the pawn shop silver guy, I decided to accept this offer. My "OK" soon brought me to the room next door, where some crisp cash was counted out and put in front of me.
Getting home, I told my wife that I'd gotten rid of the silver.
I asked her, "How much do you think they paid me for it? Take a guess." "Twenty-five dollars," she said. (Later I learned that this was how much she got thirty years ago for some silver-plated items that belonged to her own mother.)
I opened my wallet and started to count out the money that had been given me. "FIve dollars," I said. "That's it?" "No, there's more." I pulled out a twenty. "Twenty-five." Then, with a smile, I took out a hundred dollar bill. "One hundred twenty-five."
"Wow," my wife said. "I didn't think it was worth that much." I took out another $100 bill. "Two hundred twenty-five." And another. "Three hundred twenty-five." She was roundly shocked by the time I got to "Seven hundred twenty-five." Obviously neither of us had kept up with the price of silver.
This was free enterprise at its best (or worst, depending on your view of capitalism). Almost certainly, I got screwed today. But I was happy to be taken advantage of. So a buyer and a seller both went away happy.
Meaning, I'm pretty sure I could have gotten even more for the silver pieces if I'd either bargained with the buyer, or taken the silver to some other reputable potential purchasers. However, I had no idea how much the silver was worth, and I also had no idea where else I could try to sell it locally, other than pawn shops.
And it could be that my wife's theory is more or less correct: that large-scale buyers of precious items like Anderson Carter Tira & Associates can pay a decent price for stuff because they have closer connections with the end purchaser, eliminating a middle man that a pawn shop would have to deal with.
Regardless, the deal is done. I did some Googling before writing this post. I couldn't find any serious complaints about Anderson Carter Tira & Associates.
There was some confusion in Virginia a few years back, when it was discovered that an obscure provision in state law prevented "breeze-into-town" buyers from doing their thing. Some people also challenged the accuracy of their scales, but later they were found to be accurate.
Commenters on a blog post about a Houston Anderson Carter event were mostly negative, but that's typical on the Internet: complainers are more likely to share their views than satisfied customers. (Here's another story from a Connecticut newspaper.)
My impression, based mostly on my personal experience, is that these folks are good at what they do and provide a useful service. If you've got something really valuable to sell, it'd make sense to get quite a few serious appraisals of it.
However, for people like me who have a mouse-poop ridden box of old silver sitting around in the garage that a spouse says "Must go!", a selling opportunity like the one I took advantage of today is terrific.