Tales from The Pawn – All That Glitters

For most people, if you ask them about pawn shops, they’ll imagine something like the store from the TV series, “Friday the 13th” where everything sold is cursed. Or the shop from Stephen King’s “Needful Things.” Also cursed. 

In reality, very little sold in pawn shops is cursed. Avoid the monkey’s paw, and you’ll be fine. To help illustrate the more interesting side of pawn shops, and to share stories from pawn shop owners, we’re starting this erratic series of … (cue scary music):

tales from the pawn


 A question was asked: Pawn shop owners, what was the best reaction you have seen out of someone that tried to sell you something that was completely worthless?

A common answer was about fake gold.
chocolate coin

“Having worked at a pawn shop before, I can say there are plenty of amazing stories of customers and their antics. Usually the best stories revolve around jewelry. This one woman came in with a big gold-colored ring and wanted to get a few hundred dollars for it. Picking it up and looking at it I could tell it was super fake, and I tried to explain that to her. She wouldn’t buy it because “the street vendor told me it was solid 14kt.” I went and picked up our huge earth magnet and put it near the ring, and it shot right to it. I explained that solid gold is not magnetic.

She was stunned, and couldn’t believe that she had spent like $200 for it.”




“I was a gold buyer when gold was close to $2000 ounce.

This couple was selling some jewelry and coins and the wife goes, “What do you think my ring would be worth? Just curious.” I immediately look at her husband. He turns around and goes outside.

I tell the wife, “Look, even if you wanted to sell it, I couldn’t give you close to what you would want for it.” She insists I test it out and give her a price.

I reluctantly pull the magnet out and sure enough, the ring sticks right to it.

She looks at me in disbelief, “The diamond is fake too I suppose.” I tell her, “It would be more expensive to set a real diamond this size into this setting than what this setting is worth…”

She takes the ring back, calmly. We finish the transaction, I give her her cash, and she leaves. In front of the big windows she points at her husband, waves her arms around, then throws the ring at him and gets in the car.”


The takeaway here is that most people don’t know anything about gold. I know I didn’t. I’d seen characters on TV bite something to see if it was real gold, but I had no idea what they were looking for when they did that. Maybe to see if the gold foil came off and exposed the chocolate underneath.

In reality, biting gold isn’t the most reliable way to tell if it’s real, even though it looks cool. So how do you verify gold?


#1 Look For The Hallmark
Nearly all real gold is stamped with a hallmark that notes the karat weight of the jewelry, like 10K or 14K. This stamp is usually found on the clasp of a necklace or bracelet, or on the inner band of a ring. Since the purity of American-made gold jewelry is measured in karats, there will be a stamp on these pieces with a number followed by the letter “K”. The number simply indicates, in parts per 24, how much of the metal is actually gold. For example, a mark of “14K” means that it is 14 karat gold and that 14/24 (just over half) of the metal is gold. By the same token, 24K would be 100% pure gold.
#2 Nitric Acid Test
Another method how to tell real gold is with a nitric acid test. If you are dealing with strictly scrap gold, you can use the nitric acid test to test if gold is real. Please note that it is not advisable to use this test on jewelry that you plan to keep or that has aesthetic value for resale. To perform this test to check if gold is real, make a light, tiny scratch on the item using a small nail file. Choose a spot that is not noticeable if possible. Use a dropper to apply a small drop of nitric acid to the scratch. If there is no reaction, then the piece is probably made from real gold. You are most likely dealing with another metal or even a gold-plated item if you see green. Gold-over-sterling will leave a milky substance when nitric acid is applied.
When nitric acid comes into contact with real gold, no chemical reaction occurs. However, nitric acid does react with other common metal alloys such as sterling silver, copper, and zinc. If you witness a light greenish colored reaction, then your gold engagement ring is not made of real gold. Be sure to read the instructions and take all necessary precautions before dealing with the acid. Notably, nitric acid is hard to come by because it can be explosive under the right circumstances. However, you can invariably find it at most chemical supply houses or on eBay.

#3 Liquid Foundation Test

This way to test gold at home is not as reliable as some, but it is a good way to know if gold is real or fake. Apply liquid foundation and powder to your forehead. Rub your gold jewelry across the area. If a black streak is left behind, it is more likely than not that the piece is gold. Another version of this is to rub the gold across the forehead of anyone who has low iron. If the gold is real, the hemoglobin in the blood will rise up and make this black mark on the skin. This only works, however, if the person’s iron is low in their blood, such as someone with mild anemia. I would not recommend forcibly lowering a cherished co-worker’s iron level to save money on testing equipment.  Because, laws.
#4 Heaviness Test and Magnetization Test

Drop your gold item into a jug of water. Gold is a heavy metal. Real gold should sink. Any piece of “maybe-kinda” gold jewelry that floats is likely fools’ gold or fake gold.
The magnet test is also a good test to determine if gold is real or fake. If your gold item is attracted to a magnet, it is definitely not real gold. Still, this doesn’t mean that there is no gold in your item, just that it is not made with a substantial amount of gold.
Have any stories you’d like to share about your pawn shop experience? Let us know.