Golden Phonograph Records – Do They Exist, and Where Are They?

Golden Phonograph Records – Do They Exist, and Where Are They?

Way back in 1977, NASA launched its Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Both of them are now about 14 billion miles from Earth and, incredibly, both are still communicating scientific data back to NASA.

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Using Other People’s Money to Get Rich in Precious Metals

Using Other People’s Money to Get Rich in Precious Metals

“Using other people’s money to get rich” is a pretty appealing idea, isn’t it? That explains why the concept is so widely promoted in those “make a fortune in real estate” courses you see advertised around the country. You know what they are - they are big courses that are held in meeting rooms at roadside hotels. It costs nothing to attend them, then they try to get you to sign up for much more expensive courses that teach you to invest in real estate.

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Precious Metals Building Profile

Precious Metals Building Profile

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know that we like to offer advice on where to find platinum, silver and gold scrap in old factories. So we thought it would be interesting and informative to profile one such building - the old Tiffany manufacturing facility in Newark, New Jersey, that has now been converted to residential apartments. It is located at 90 Tiffany Boulevard - where else could it be?

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Amazing Things Magicians Believe about Precious Metals

Amazing Things Magicians Believe about Precious Metals

Abracadabra! 

Back in medieval times, alchemists tried to convert silver and base metals into gold. At the same time, magicians tried to use gold to help their clients ward off evil, attract love, or cure various diseases.

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What Role Does Copper Play in Determining the Value of Precious Metals?

What Role Does Copper Play in Determining the Value of Precious Metals?

Copper is a metal with many wonderful and useful properties. It is soft and malleable. It is also a “friendly” metal that can be blended with many other metals to form alloys.

What precious metals are most often mixed with copper? And when they are, how does that affect their value? Let’s explore that topic.

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A Brief History of Platinum

A Brief History of Platinum

Because platinum wasn’t used widely in jewelry or industry until about 100 years ago, it seems like a “new” precious metal. That’s not really true.  In about 700 B.C., Egyptian artisans were using it to make ornamental objects, like the famous and mysterious Casket of Thebes.  And at the same time, pre-Columbian artisans in South America were fashioning it into small trinkets. Those are only a few fascinating facts about this beautiful, tarnish-resistant, and durable precious metal. Here’s a quick timeline of its fascinating history.

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What Is the Mohs Scale?

If you’re familiar with precious metals, you already know that the purity of gold is measured in karats. But do you know that gold is also rated on the Mohs Scale, where it ranks very low?

But don’t start to worry about that low ranking of any gold you own. The Mohs Scale is a measure of gold’s hardness and scratch-resistance, not an indication of its dollar value.

But what is this other scale that is used to classify metals? Let’s explore.

What Is the Mohs Scale?

Mohs Scale Image Courtesy of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohs_scale_of_mineral_hardness

Mohs Scale Image Courtesy of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohs_scale_of_mineral_hardness

The Mohs Scale, which is sometimes called the Mohs Scale of Mineral Harness, was invented in 1812 by a German geologist named Friedrich Mohs, who was trying to create a system to compare the hardness of different minerals. He knew, for example, that talc was an extremely soft mineral. But was it softer than gypsum, another very soft mineral?

Because Mohs saw the value of having a way to compare the specific softness of different minerals, he decided that he could contrast their resistance to being scratched. When he tried to scratch talc and gypsum, for example, he determined that less force was required to scratch talc, so talc appeared below gypsum on his new hardness scale.

What mineral is at the very top of the Mohs Scale? As you probably guessed, it is the diamond, which is pure carbon, and extremely resistant to being scratched. It rates a 10.

Where Do Metals Fall on the Mohs Scale?

In other words, which metals are easiest to scratch, and which are the hardest? Here’s a rundown.

  • Extremely soft (rating of 1.5 on the Mohs Scale) - lead and tin
  • Very soft (2.5 - 3) - magnesium, gold, silver, aluminum, zinc, copper
  • Moderately soft (3.5 - 4) - iron and nickel
  • Moderately hard (4.5) - platinum and steel
  • Very hard (5 - 7) - palladium, beryllium, molybdenum, titanium, manganese, rhodium, uranium
  • Extremely hard (7+) - tungsten, chromium

The History of Hardness

For thousands of years, metals have been mixed together – alloyed – to create a harder metal. In ancient times, that quest for hardness led to the creation of bronze (a mixture of tin and copper), which was created to be a harder version of copper that could be used in weapons and tools. Later on, we have other alloys like brass, pewter and steel.

So in many cases, the aim in creating alloys has been to add hardness to a metal that was already in widespread use. In other words, most modern alloys have been created to improve their rating on the Mohs Scale.

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How the Romance Factor Can Distort the Perceived Value of Gold

There are more legends about gold than about all the other precious metals put together. Here are just a few of the legends and myths that have exerted such a hold over people over the centuries, in roughly chronological order . . .

"King Midas with his daughter" from "A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, illustrated by Walter Crane.

"King Midas with his daughter" from "A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, illustrated by Walter Crane.

  • In ancient times, it was said that King Midas could turn anything into gold, just by touching it.
  • In medieval times, Alchemists could turn any metal into gold - at least they were trying to do so.
  • In the sixteenth century, Spaniards believed that El Dorado, a mythical golden city, existed somewhere on the Amazon River. Its myth drew Spanish explorers to South America.
  • In the nineteenth century, Edgar Allen Poe wrote “The Gold Bug,” a story about a man who is bitten by a mysterious gold bug. He then goes searching for hidden treasure. The German composer Richard Wagner also wrote his four “Ring” operas about a horde of magical gold.
  • In the twentieth century, Ian Fleming wrote Goldfinger, a James Bond novel about a gold-loving millionaire who wants to contaminate the gold in Fort Knox. And J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a wildly popular series of books that center on the return of a golden ring.

The Power of Myth and Romance on Gold Prices

No other precious metal is the subject of so many legends – certainly not platinum, cadmium, silver or palladium. That could explain why emotion has a bigger impact on the valuation of gold than it does on the valuation of any other metal.

For example, here are some emotional factors that can affect the price of a particular piece of gold jewelry . . .

  • Does it come from an earlier historical period of great interest, like the Roman Empire or the age of King Arthur?
  • Was it once owned by a king or queen, a movie star, or by someone else who was famous?
  • Was it designed by someone famous?
  • Is it part of a group of similar items like a set of gold-plated cutlery, and therefore more valuable?

Variable factors like those can have a big impact on the pricing of any gold item, and help explain why the valuation you get for any gold item can fluctuate so much from one dealer to another. That is why you need an objective party like Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners to help you understand the actual value of any item or quantity of gold that you have on hand.

Please give us a call at 800-426-2344 to learn more.

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The Mystery and Mastery of Gold Refining

The Next Time You Recycle Gold-Plated Items, Thank Luigi Brugnatelli

The art of modern electroplating was discovered in 1805 by an Italian chemist named Luigi Brugnatelli. In essence, he was tinkering with early battery technologies that had been discovered by his friend and compatriot Alessandro Volta. (Volta’s name, as you probably guessed, is the basis of the English word “volt.”) Brugnatelli noticed that quantities of gold could be deposited on silver items when they were immersed in a battery-like bath of electrolytic fluid. And he was off and running.

A portrait of Luigi Valentino Brugnatelli (1761-1818), the father of gold electroplating, from "Cenni su la vita di L. V. Brugnatelli" Biblioteca di farmacia (1836 gen, Serie 2, Volume 5)

A portrait of Luigi Valentino Brugnatelli (1761-1818), the father of gold electroplating, from "Cenni su la vita di L. V. Brugnatelli" Biblioteca di farmacia (1836 gen, Serie 2, Volume 5)

If you do a search for Brugnatelli’s name online, you will find a lot of biographical information, including an excellent history of his life on the website of Artisan Plating, a company that specializes in high-quality plating. (Artisan Plating is like a mirror image of Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners. It specializes in applying lavish layers of gold and other precious metals to other metal surfaces, while we are a precious metals refinery that extracts them.)

Here are some highlights from the life of Brugnatelli, which we have adapted from the information on the Artisan Plating website and other online sources. We’re telling you his story because it could help you understand more about the value that could be found in the gold scrap and gold-plated items that you might own.

In 1805 . . .

Brugnatelli was the first person to use the process of electroplating. He applied a layer of gold to silver plates. For some reason, Napoleon’s French Academy of Sciences didn’t like the discovery or report on it in its publications. The Academy, which was the leading scientific organization in Europe, also stopped other scientific journals from reporting that Brugnatelli had discovered electroplating.

Until about 1845 . . .

Because Brugnatelli’s big news had been hidden, two cruder ways to plate gold onto other metals remained in widespread use. One – the more common and the more poisonous – was a process that used gold leaf and mercury to deposit layers of gold onto heated surfaces. Another was called water gilding, in which the object to be gold plated was immersed in a solution of gold chloride and water, with no electricity used. That technology could deposit only a thin layer of decorative gold.

In about 1839 . . .

Henry and George Elkington, two English scientists, independently discovered gold electroplating and started to use it commercially. At about the same time, Russians starting using it too. According to the Artisan Plating website, the process was first used in Russia to apply gold plating to metals that would be used in cathedral domes. The size of those electroplating tanks must have been pretty big!

After 1850 . . .

Tank electroplating became the method of choice for applying layers of gold onto silver and other surfaces, replacing the use of processes that exposed people to noxious mercury gas.

Brugnatelli finally had his day, even though he was not around to see his electroplating discovery gain almost universal application.

If Brugnatelli Were Alive Today . . .

He would sputter to see the way that gold sputtering targets are now used to apply thin, yet durable, layers of gold onto other metals. The thick layers of gold that he liked to apply to other metals are now nearly a thing of the past, at least in the way eyeglass frames and other items are coated with gold.

If you have gold items – especially gold-filled older items such as eyeglass frames and jewelry that is more than about 40 years old, they could contain valuable quantities of gold that are worth recycling. So do your used gold sputtering targets. To learn more, call us at 800-426-2344.

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Can You Still Stake a Claim to Riches by Prospecting for Gold?

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold
...
                     -“The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service, 1907

Photo of modern gold prospector panning for gold to send to Specialty Metals for smelting and refining.

You remember the great gold rush of 1849. Gold fever gripped America. Tens of thousands of adventurous young men called Forty-Niners headed west to pan for gold in the rivers of California and up north in Alaska and the Yukon. Historians will tell you that gold was one of the forces that impelled the western expansion of our country.

When I think about that era in American history, several thoughts come to mind. First, I reflect that only a handful of those Forty-Niners were rewarded with great riches. But I also recall that most of those fellows were armed with pretty rudimentary equipment, like the small baskets they used to pan for gold in rivers and pickaxes that they used to dig gold granules from rock faces and river beds.

Isn’t there a chance that modern equipment of some kind will let today’s amateur gold-hunters scoop up some of the gold that the Forty-Niners left behind 160 years ago?

Modern Prospecting Equipment

It turns out that a number of companies are now making and selling prospecting equipment that the Forty-Niners could only have dreamed of back in their day. Can this equipment make you rich? It seems possible, but I think that the real point of prospecting today is probably to engage in a fun and exciting hobby – sort of like looking for gold with a metal detector, only more adventurous, since prospectors go to remote locales, not beaches or city parks.

What kind of modern equipment can you buy? Here’s a selection that you’ll find online at The Rosewind Mining Company:

  • A Jobe gas-powered gold vacuum ($424.95) – This small 15-pound vacuum includes a six-foot vacuum hose and a tool that lets you suck silt and sand out of streambeds and crevices. It gathers the silt in a large plastic tub, where you can take a close look for gold nuggets.
  • The Gold Cube Deluxe Gold Concentrator ($379.95) – This device uses G-force technology to separate the gold from silt and sand and other gold mining concentrates. It processes up to 1,000 pounds an hour of gold-bearing material.
  • Sand scoops, tweezers, magnifying glasses, pickaxes, and panning kits (prices vary) – Low-tech is fun. The panning kits could be great for keeping your kids busy while you vacuum in the big nuggets that will pay their college costs, right?
  • Gold Pokes ($4.59) – They’re traditional cowhide pouches that Forty-Niners used to carry their nuggets around. They make a big fashion statement at a very low price.
  • Claim signs ($1.75 - $4.70) – You’ll want to keep these on hand in case you want to stake a claim. Even if you never find gold, they are great conversation-starters.
  • 12-volt pumps ($22.95-$99.95) – These little honeys, powered by car batteries, can move a lot of water or gold-bearing silt from one place to another. You can also buy cables that let you power them right from your car’s power outlet.
  • Prospecting gloves, sunglasses, hats and other apparel (prices vary) – With the right purchases, you can create just the right prospector look for yourself. The hats have big brims and fabric that covers your neck, so you won’t get sunburned when you’re out there for hours pulling in millions of dollars’ worth of gold nuggets.

Keep Our Phone Number Handy While You Pan for Gold

As a modern prospector, you have another advantage that the Forty-Niners never dreamed about. It’s your cell phone. You can use it to call America's best gold refiners, Specialty Metals, at 800-426-2344 and arrange to send us samples of the bright shiny stuff you’ve been pulling in.

Have a fun time if you decide to take up the prospecting hobby, and good luck.

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The Mystery and Mastery of Gold Refining

Gold has a richer and more fascinating lore than any other precious metal does. In legend, King Midas turned objects into gold, just by touching them. In medieval times, alchemists attempted to turn base metals into gold. The Spaniards invaded Latin America, and destroyed several civilizations, just to obtain it. In ancient Sumeria, Greece and Egypt, royals were adorned with gold jewelry when they were buried. The composer Richard Wagner wrote his four “Ring” operas about gold that was stolen from the Rhine River. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote novels about a magical golden ring. And then there’s the fact that when modern people want to marry or celebrate their love for each other, they do so by exchanging gold rings.

17th Century engraving showing the process of smelting and refining gold. We’ve come a long way since then at Specialty Metals!

17th Century engraving showing the process of smelting and refining gold. We’ve come a long way since then at Specialty Metals!

Surprising Facts about Gold

If you’d enjoy learning more about gold, visit “Gold Fun Facts,” a page that was created by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Here’s a sample of some of the information you will find there:

  • The total amount of gold ever mined is estimated to be only 152,000 metric tons. That’s only enough to fill 60 tractor trailers. Every year, 907 million metric tons of iron are mined - 6,000 times the total amount of gold produced throughout all of history.
  • More than 90% of the world’s refined gold has been mined since 1848. (Remember the Gold Rush?)
  • 78% of the gold that is mined every year is made into jewelry. Another 12% is used in electronics, medical applications, and dental work. The remaining 10% is used in financial transactions.
  • Gold is so malleable that one ounce can be beaten into a sheet that measures 100 square feet.
  • The "Hand of Faith," a 60-pound gold nugget, is currently on display in the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. It was discovered in Victoria, Australia, in 1980.

Time to Create a Legend of Your Own?

If you have items on hand that contain quantities of gold, why not contact a top gold refinery like Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners to find out what it is worth and claim its hidden value? Call us at 800-426-2344.

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Georgius Agricola (1494-1555), Father of Modern Metallurgy

If you’re involved in mining, smelting, refining – or any process that has to do with metals – you’re using techniques developed by a Georgius Agricola, a German scientist who is often called the father of metallurgy. His book, De Re Metallica (“On the Nature of Metals”) was published in Latin in 1556, a year after he died. Georgius described techniques of mining and smelting in such a practical way that the book remained a standard handbook for nearly 200 years.

This guy was ahead of his time. In fact, all of us in the metals business are still doing a lot of the things that he wrote about, including . . .

16th Century Mining Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas 'De re metallica libri XII'

16th Century Mining Woodcut from Georgius Agricolas 'De re metallica libri XII'

  • Smelting ores to extract the metals they contain.
  • Finding veins of precious metals like gold and silver in rock and underground.
  • Separating gold from silver, lead from gold or silver, and silver from copper.
  • Surveying mine sites and safely digging mine shafts.
  • Selecting the right tools and machines to extract ore from mines.
  • Extracting, crushing and washing ores from mining concentrates.

Some Trivia about De Re Metallica

Agricola’s real name was Georg Bauer, which means “George Farmer” in German. But he used the name Georgius Agricola – which means the same thing in Latin - when he published his book. Back in the sixteenth century, Latin was the language of scientific discourse.

In 1912, the first English edition of De Re Metallica was published in London. One of the translators was none other than Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer who later became president of the United States. You can still buy a copy of his translation in a modern edition from Dover Books.

If you’re involved in mining or recycling precious metals, Georgius Agricola still has some lessons to teach you, even though he died way back in 1555.

It’s all part of the colorful history of precious metals recycling. Thanks for joining us for this little history lesson today.

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What Is a Troy Ounce?

When it comes to measuring and weighing things, people seem to like to make things as confusing as possible. Got a liquid to measure? Then you can deal with quarts, liters, fluid ounces, pints, Imperial gallons, cups, half-cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, and the list goes on and on. Want to measure a piece of land or a road? You’ve got miles, kilometers, acres, feet, yards, square yards.

Image of a scale showing how troy ounces are used in recycling and refining of precious metals like gold and platinum by Specialty Metals.

When it comes to weighing metals that you would like to refine by using a precious metal or gold refinery, things also seem odd, because the weight of precious metals is usually given in something called the troy ounce (oz t).

What Is a Troy Ounce?

First, let’s point out two strange facts:

  1. A troy ounce is not from Troy. The name “troy ounce” might refer to the city of Troyes, in France, where it might have been used to weigh metals in medieval times. But nobody is sure.
  2. A troy ounce is not an ounce. A troy ounce weighs in at 480 grains, whereas a standard ounce weighs less, 437.5 grains.  So a troy ounce is bigger than a regular, standard ounce.

What Are the Specifics?

Let’s get metric. One troy ounce weighs 0.0311034768 kilograms (kg), or 31.1034768 grams (g). To look at it a different way, there are about 32.15 troy ounces in one kilogram of a precious metal that you’re going to refine.

Confusing, right? Well, not really, if you just remember that the troy ounce is the standard unit of measure that is applied to precious metals on the London Fix and other exchanges. Once you get used to thinking of precious metals in units of troy ounces, that unit of measure will become as familiar to you as the quarts that you use to measure your milk. When you recycle your precious metals and learn about how much money you can realize from every troy ounce that is extracted from a pile of gold-bearing printed circuit boards or a lot of 500 platinum-rich catalytic converters, it’s one unit of measure that will stick in your mind.


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A Fast, Fascinating History of Metals like Gold and Silver

How can we say that metals have a history? After all, they have always been around, right? But that’s not exactly true. In fact, only a handful of metals have “always been here” because they are found in their pure state in nature. All other metals were discovered, then refined or smelted, by people over the past thousands of years. So metals really do have a history.

We owe thanks to Allen W. Cramb, a metallurgist who has created a fascinating history of metals and posted it online. You really should read it for yourself. For today’s post on the Specialty Metals Refiners and Smelters blog, we’ve taken the liberty of offering this quick summary of Prof. Cramb’s history of the discovery or development of metals.

Shown: the golden funerary mask of King Tut, which Specialty Metals, one of America's best gold refiners, would never recycle and refine! We turn scrap, not treasure, into profits.

Shown: the golden funerary mask of King Tut, which Specialty Metals, one of America's best gold refiners, would never recycle and refine! We turn scrap, not treasure, into profits.

Gold, about 6000 B.C.

Stone-Age man found gold in its pure state in nature and began to fashion it into jewelry and ornaments. 

Copper, about 4200 B.C.

Early Egyptians and other early civilized people found copper deposits, recognized the metal’s malleability and usefulness, and started to use it in implements, weapons, and jewelry.

Silver, about 4000 B.C.

Silver – also found in nature in small quantities – was used in jewelry and gold alloys. But silver use surged in about 2,500 B.C., when early metallurgists found ways to smelt it from minerals through the application of heat. 

Lead, about 3500 B.C.

Lead is rarely found in nature – most often it must be extracted from ores. Unaware of its poisonous nature, early Egyptians used it to create metallic-looking makeup. At about the same time, Romans began to make lead pipes for plumbing. 

Tin, about 1750 B.C.

Tin is not found in nature but in about 1800 B.C., tin smelting became common in Asia.  

Iron, about 1500 B.C.

In the earliest days, iron was found only in meteors and was rarely used.  But by about 1200 B.C., smelting iron from minerals had become common and iron was used in a variety of implements and weapons.

Mercury, about 750 B.C.

Mercury, also called quicksilver, has been found in tombs dating back to about 1600 B.C. By about 750 B.C., it came to be widely used in plating technologies and as an addition to gold and silver alloys.

Cadmium, 1817 A.D.

Cadmium was first extracted from zinc carbonate by a metallurgist named Friedrich Stroymeyer.

Aluminum, 1825 A.D.

This now-common metal, not found in its pure state in nature, was first smelted by a scientist named Christian Oersted in 1825. Twenty years later August Wöhler, another scientist, began to produce the metal in significant quantities. 

Beryllium, 1828 A.D.

Wöhler extracted beryllium by using potassium to reduce beryllium chloride in a crucible.

Chromium, 1859 A.D.

Wöhler was there at the birth of yet another metal. According to Allen W. Cramb, Wöhler did it by “melting chromium chloride under a fused salt layer and attracted the chromium with zinc.”

If you’re a gold or silver refiner or work with metals in other ways, today’s post could be something you want to print out and post by your desk as a reference. Who said that the history of metals is dull? Not us! It’s as bright and fascinating as precious metals themselves.

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