Gold prices steadily rise, luring some to pan river

Ron Fischer of Fruita shows a small amount of gold he found while panning.

Gold prices are driving some people north to Alaska, or at least the Pacific Northwest, and others to businesses where precious metals are the stock in trade.

“It’s called no confidence in the dollar,” said Teresa Mays, owner of the Hedge Company, 300 Main St., in Grand Junction.

The price of gold rose Tuesday to $1,287.83 an ounce, marking a high point in gold’s advance over recent years.

“My experience is that when gold goes up, our dollar is worth less,” local jeweler Peggy Page said.

A jittery economy and political distress have people going through their jewelry cases in hopes of turning unused or out-of-fashion jewelry into cash, while others are turning to rusty steel in the form of gold pans to find ways to shore up their finances.

“Each time the gold price goes higher, we notice a rush on the rivers,” said Ron Fischer, a gold prospector from Fruita. “Now that the gold is going to double in price, I believe we are going to see trouble on our claims.”

The price has him and other “gold bugs,” as they’re known in the prospecting world, abuzz.

“I’m ready to pack my bags” and head to gold country, Fischer said.

Others are ready to part with paper to get gold without leaving the comfort of home.

“A lot of people are buying,” Mays said, estimating her customer base has grown by about 10 percent in the last six months.

It’s not just gold that is attracting buyers, Mays said.

“Another interesting trend is that I’ve been selling a lot of silver,” she said. “It’s become a replacement” for people who can’t afford gold.

Mesa Jewelers owner John Kelly said he has bought gold from customers for the 20 years he’s been in business, but when he advertised the service in January, “It was going gangbusters, and it’s only now starting to slow down.”

It’s possible the supply of unwanted gold is drying up, Kelly said.

Not only can the owner not be present when the gold is assayed, the prices tend to be low compared to the amount of money that a more direct sale can garner.

On the other side of the transaction, Kelly said jewelry buyers, except in special circumstances, won’t see the higher prices of gold reflected in Christmas purchases.

“All of our Christmas merchandise already is purchased,” Kelly said. “We never mark up for current prices.”

Gold, in any case, accounts for a smaller portion of the price of most jewelry, less than the diamonds, Kelly said.

Buyers who order special or custom jewelry for Christmas gifts, however, are likely to pay more based on current prices, Kelly said.

High gold prices have pushed customers into some creative ways of handling gold, Page said.

Her Page-Parson Jewelers, 444 Main St., recycled a customer’s grandmother’s wedding band into a new piece with the original material.

“It’s kind of neat,” Page said.

Other customers have taken a look at the price of gold and decided to get what they can from unwanted jewelry, said Zane Thompson, owner of ABC Pawn, 2729 U.S. Highway 50.

“I’m seeing a lot more” gold coming in, Thompson said. They can turn something laying on the sock drawer into cash, and that’s the most important thing.”

Similar desires are sending some people into the outdoors to find gold, or perhaps other valuable minerals.

The Bureau of Land Management has noted an increase in gold prospecting along the Dolores River on the Uncompahgre Plateau in the Gateway area, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.

Colorado gold, however, can be difficult to pan. It’s generally so fine that prospectors call it “flour” as opposed to “pinhead,” which is self-explanatory, said Wayne A. Peterson of Durango, Colorado’s state director of the Gold Prospectors Association of America. “Pickers” are chunks of gold that can be picked up with two fingers as the scale of nuggets goes up.

Page has seen her own evidence of new interest in gold prospecting.

“We had some people come in with nuggets that they panned for, and they paid for (jewelry repairs) with nuggets,” she said. “Just like the old days.”


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