Detroit News columnist lauds Tapper's Gold Exchange

Neal Rubin trusts Tapper brothers

From The Detroit News:

Here's an unappetizing thought from the fast-growing field of buying little bits of gold. Robert Esshaki of Southfield Gold & Diamond Exchange says he usually won't take gold that used to be part of somebody's smile, because "it's all full of the bone of the teeth."

Here's an even less appetizing thought: fraud abounds.

That's not to suggest you can't trust Southfield Gold & Diamond Exchange or the 13 outlets of Tapper's Gold Exchange, first cousin to the well-known Tapper's Diamonds and Fine Jewelry. I know the Tapper brothers personally, and I would trust them with my spleen.

Some of the sell-us-your-unwanted-gold business, however, involves dropping precious metals in an envelope and sending it to someone whose ad you saw online. You wouldn't send an envelope full of cash to DTE Energy, and you know what cash is worth. With gold, you're only guessing, and you're taking it on faith that a guy named Boris at a mail drop in Miami will acknowledge receipt of your grandma's brooch, assay it accurately, and send you a check that's not drawn on the Left Bank of the Au Sable.

That's a lot of faith, and we haven't even started on the customers.

"There's a lot of fake merchandise these days," says Esshaki, sitting in for the owner behind a wide pane of bulletproof glass on Northwestern Highway. "I feel bad for the people who come in, because the people they're buying it from are crooks."

When the price of gold spiked to $850 in the 1980s, bandits were gold-plating silver coins and passing them off as pure. Gold crested at $1,577 an ounce this month before dropping back to $1,500 or so, and Esshaki says now the bandits are gold-plating silver or even copper jewelry and stamping it 14K.

If a fellow approaches you in a strip mall parking lot and offers you cut-rate gold treasures, stuff him in an envelope and send him to Boris.

On the other hand, says Steven Tapper, there has never been a better time to take an inventory of your sock drawer.

"Most times, people don't know what they have," he says. By the time somebody checks, it's the next of kin. The Tappers' Gold Exchange locations all date from August 2009 or later, a yardstick in itself for the growth of the industry. "We've been doing this, really, all our lives," he points out, but the recession made it trendy.

Tapper's keeps some of the more unusual pieces for resale, but most items sit for the required nine days, a state fail-safe against stolen merchandise , and then report to the smelter.

The price varies by weight and purity. A 14-karat gold chain actually contains only 58.3 percent gold; for 10-karat, it's 41 percent. Consumer advocates have reported mail-order prices of as low as 18 percent of the actual value, while 50 percent would be a gleefully high return. Feel free to shop around.

Tapper says the chipper stories he's hearing from customers are beginning to outweigh the sad ones about layoffs and tuition bills. He's seen everything from gold dentures to flatware to heirlooms nobody ever liked enough to wear.

One thing he hasn't seen, blessedly, is a gold crown yanked directly from a customer's mouth.

"That would be extremely creepy," he says. "Thanks, but no thanks."

Posted on 5/16/2011

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