There is an unwritten rule in financial circles as old as civilization itself: when times are tough, people turn to gold.
Times are tough, and the gold business has never been better
This week, gold continues to flirt with the magic number of $1,800 per ounce, actually topping that price briefly on Tuesday. Compare that with a spot price $644 per ounce just five years ago.
"Everything that goes up doesn’t stay up and everything that goes down doesn't stay down," said dealer Harlan J. Berk at his shop in Chicago’s Loop. "Gold has been going up. Silver has almost doubled."
Visitors to Berk’s shop can browse a full array of one ounce coins from around the world: Pandas from China; Kangaroos from Australia; Buffaloes and Eagles from the United States. Last week, Berk said one customer, on the telephone, purchased 300 Krugerrands from South Africa.
At current prices, those 300 coins were worth nearly half a million dollars.
And it is not just a buyer’s market. Ever since the frightening events began two weeks ago on Capitol Hill, followed by the turbulence in the world financial markets, stores from gold dealers to pawn shops have seen a steady stream of customers, hoping to cash in on the sudden value of the gold they already own.
"We buy everything from 600 B.C. to next week," Berk said, adding that with the information available on the Internet, customers are usually very well informed."
His son Sammy said he has seen it all.
"We get gold coins, bars, bracelets, rings, even teeth," he said. "You have a lot of people who have had gold for a while. And they see it at this price and they don't mind taking a profit."
The elder Berk has been a dealer in coins and precious metals for decades. But even he seems to marvel at the direction the precious commodities have taken.
"I once moved $40,000 worth of silver, and I used a hand cart," he said. "Today, $40,000 worth of gold? I need a hand."