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What Does $1,000 in Gold Look Like?

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With gold prices soaring, we asked a New York broker to show us a mere $1,000 worth of the noble metal.

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"I have to be honest, when you guys asked to see $1,000 worth of gold, we kind of laughed because these days, that's really not a whole lot."

So says Jose Caba of US Gold Buyers, a national gold buyer and refiner headquartered in New York City. With the precious metal currently trading at just below $1,500 an ounce, people all over the country are selling their gold en masse.

Caba explains that, as gold prices start to rise, the first ones to capitalize are those he refers to as investors -- people with gold bars, ingots, coins, and so forth. "The second group," according to Caba, "is the rest of America."

Once gold captures the general public's imagination, "we start to see dental gold, class rings, broken jewelry, that sort of thing," says Caba.

Of course, there are those who find themselves more than a bit delirious after catching the gold bug.

"I got a call from a guy who wanted to sell his grandmother's gold fillings," Caba recalls. "I said, 'Where is it now?' and he tells me, 'It's in her mouth, where else?'"

Caba politely declined.

So, what does $1,000 in gold look like? Check out the following seven examples all sourced at US Gold Buyers' Manhattan outlet.

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A GOLD WAFER

Gold is measured in troy ounces, as the town of Troyes, France, is where the unit of measurement -- roughly 10% heavier than a standard, or "avoirdupois" ounce -- was first used. With one-ounce gold bars, or "wafers" as they're referred to in the trade, selling for $1,500, $1,000 won't cover the whole thing. If you've got the cash, a gold bar – or bars, depending on your position in the income food chain -- can be purchased over-the-counter from merchants such as ATS Bullion, located in the lobby of London's Savoy Hotel.

Pictured here is a standard gold wafer, a single-ounce Pamp Suisse 24-karat ingot.

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GOLD ORE

According to Jose Caba, US Gold Buyers "has a few accounts" with independent gold miners who exchange pure gold ore for more commonly accepted forms of currency, like US dollars. "We get gold coming in from Alaska, Colorado, British Columbia," Caba says.

How regularly do the spoils of a gold strike arrive via FedEx? "It's not an exact science, finding gold in the ground," Caba explains. "When it comes in, it comes in."

For those prospectors with lower back problems, sciatica, or severe chiropractic issues, a pair of metal-detecting sandals may help. Hammacher Schlemmer makes a set with an anklet pack that vibrates, flashes, or buzzes when metal is detected up to two feet below ground.

Read more: Gold Rush! Mining vacations take America by storm.

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GOLD COINS

Carl Menger, the originator of the fundamental doctrines of Austrian economics, dismisses the "labor theory" of value, or value based on the amount of work that goes into a product or service. Goods acquire their value, Menger theorized, not because of the amount of labor used in producing them, but because of their ability to satisfy people's wants and needs. Take water. Menger wrote that the first pails of water are used to satisfy the most important uses, and successive pails are used for less and less important purposes -- making pail No.1 more valuable than pail No.16. But gold is money and water isn't because the market says so.

The coins in this photo represent a fair amount of money. The large Australian special edition coin is 10 ounces, meaning it's worth far more than the $1,000 it represented when it was first minted. The smaller coin, from the US, is a single ounce of pure gold.

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BARS OF MELTED GOLD

In his landmark book, The Power of Gold, Peter L. Bernstein, the late American economist and historian, says gold is useless as a metal for most practical purposes and that it originally held value as decoration and adornment for the wealthy ancients. When it was later minted and used as coins by the Lydians in 635 BC, gold took its first step from the concrete to the abstract, in terms of value. Bernstein says that, as an exchange medium, gold isn't much different from the four-ton stone coins used by the Micronesian people of Yap.

The gold "bars" in this photo are made from melted jewelry and other pieces mailed or brought to US Gold Buyers in New York. The spots of discoloration are impurities in the metal that have yet to be refined out of the mixture. Still, a tiny fraction of the bar, as indicated above, will equal about $1,000 in gold.

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DENTAL GOLD

Though it may not have the same cachet on the surface as a piece of gold jewelry, dental gold is worth the exact same amount as gold in any other form. Dental gold is not used much in the US anymore, but cash-for-gold outlets in the US still receive donations from dental schools that have old, unused gold filings in their inventory, or from individuals who are having dental work removed. Caba says Bolivians see gold in one's mouth as a status symbol.

Unlike certain other metals, pure gold is 100% non-toxic to humans, and can even be eaten without consequence. Aside from the effect it may have on your wallet, ingesting gold is something for your accountant, not your physician, to worry about.

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SOLID GOLD CHAINS

The American Museum of Natural History estimates that, worldwide, "the total amount of gold ever mined is 152,000 metric tons, only enough to fill 60 tractor trailers." Of that, the total amount of gold that has been refined in history could be made into a cube less than 70 feet per side.

(See Gold Investors, This Is How Your Golden Sausage Is Made.)

Most of the gold in the world, an estimated 70% to 80%, is used to make jewelry. Cecilia Gardner, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, says, "Gold has been recycled since ancient times. Once gold comes out of the ground, it never goes back in. It's used over and over again." Thus, experts say it's possible that the earrings you're wearing could actually contain gold once worn by King Tut.

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MIXED JEWELRY


It's hard to save your jewelry for sentimental reasons when you see how little of it can add up to $1,000.

Unless your jewelry has "collectors value," it doesn't matter if the style is outdated or the clasp is broken. Gold is gold, and yours will be melted down together with everyone else's. What's more, the gold in those hoop earrings you bought 20 years ago and wore once are worth more than you paid for them today.

Consumers should always get several estimates before selling, and, as Caba says, must "know exactly what they've got."

"Most people don't have jewelry scales at home," he explains. "But here's my little MacGyver trick -- 10 US pennies weigh exactly one ounce. So for 10 cents, you can know precisely how much gold you have."


(Photography: Brett Molé)
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