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Wow, of all the amazing luck! I just met a visitor from a magical world. He was able to use his magic to establish common communication, and after a bit of talk he decided he wanted to bring some stuff from my world back with him, so we worked out a deal.

I went shopping and purchased a few hundred dollars worth of various goods, and he gave me a rather large pouch of gold coins in return, then departed. With the price of gold being what it is, I'm rich!

...maybe. The thing is, these are coins. Disks of what appears to be an alloy of reasonably high gold content, stamped with the image of some guy who I assume is a king on my visitor's world, and a bunch of what appears to be writing in some script I've never seen before. If I try to sell these to a gold dealer or a coin broker, it will almost certainly invite questions that I don't want to answer! Of course, I could always try the black market, if I knew how to find such an institution, but I'm a reasonably law-abiding citizen and I'd prefer not to have to deal with criminals. (Besides, even if I didn't get them stolen outright, I've heard that you tend to get a lot of the price taken out as various underworld-security fees, and I don't want that; I want to be rich!)

What strategy would allow me to turn the gold coins into the maximum amount of dollars with a minimal level of risk of anyone asking questions about where they came from?


Example (to demonstrate that question is not specifically about character action):

Two countries come into contact for the first time. Country A uses fiat dollars, country B gold coins. People from country A are unfamiliar with country B's coins. Recently country A has had an influx of tourists from country B who try to buy things with gold coins. When a merchant in country A sells goods or services to a tourist from country B, how would he go about exchanging the gold coins he receives for dollars?

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    $\begingroup$ Is this in the present day? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Oct 29 '15 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a cool question, but I feel like it might be off-topic because it is about the actions of a single character. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 30 '15 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ It's rare identifiable coins that will get you into trouble. $\endgroup$ – Jon Hanna Oct 30 '15 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ Take a hammer and pound the gold coins into unidentifiable nuggets. Gold is soft. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Oct 30 '15 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE I'd say this question is on-topic. The actions of this single character ("I") are really only here to add some context...the real question is about the exchanging of unknown currency. There are a number of popular questions that use the actions of a single character to add context to an otherwise generic question. $\endgroup$ – Seth Oct 30 '15 at 20:23

13 Answers 13

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Why the black market? You can just sell the gold and be done with it.

Disclaimer: The legality of the following will definitely depend on the country you're in. The laws I'm considering are those of the Czech Republic.

Where to sell

Where I'm from, goldsmiths routinely buy gold off of people. When I was having my wedding ring made, I was given the option to bring in old gold items for a discount, or just redeem them for cash. It's probably not the best price you could conceivably get, but it's reasonably fair.

Now, if you trade in too much gold, you might run afoul of laws against moneylaundering, but if you live in a big enough city, you could just distribute your treasure among multiple goldsmiths to be safe.

Concealing the origin

"So my buddies and I had the idea to make gold membership coins for our LARP club. We would have had them stamped with the face of a fictional character and inscribed with gibberish. Unfortunately we had a falling out and they wouldn't pay me for them, so I'm stuck with a literal bag of gold coins and nothing to use them for, and want to recoup my losses."

If a story like that doesn't seem sufficiently plausible, or if you're really paranoid someone might go and inquire whether you really had those coins made, you can try and destroy the coins. After all, you're just selling them for the metal.

Now, the melting temperature of gold is about 1050°C, which is well below what you can get in a blacksmith's forge (that you can easily build in your backyard) or from an oxyacetylene torch. If you have some skill in you, you could fashion the coins into rings for example, then smack them a couple of times with a hammer and sell them as jewels that got damaged in a work accident. Or you could come up with a story about a family heirloom and an improbable incident with a welding torch and just sell molten pieces.

Possible repercussions

If somebody official catches wind of what you're doing, you might be in trouble for tax evasion or such. To avoid that, after appropriately abusing the coins to the point they're no longer coins, you could make up a story about having found a hidden stash of damaged gold items from [insert war here] on your family land, pay the appropriate taxes and sell the gold.

One last way you might get into trouble is if the alloy is somehow exotic and one of the goldsmiths decides to take a closer look. Assuming it doesn't contain any alien or magic elements, you could probably just melt it down in a crucible and let the component metals settle, which will make the composition non-uniform.

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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon, which does not apply here. The coins would be foreign in any case and therefore not backed by any trusted third party. No known mint, no trust. The gold would have to assayed as for any non-coin precious metals. $\endgroup$ – Ghanima Oct 29 '15 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Daniel You don't know my life, okay?! $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Oct 30 '15 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to add some silver when you melt the coins so a scrap buyer will think it's 9 carat 'junk' you're recycling. 22 carat or better 'scrap' is unusual. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Oct 30 '15 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez I'm 99% certain assaying kits do not contain tests for "magic". $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Oct 31 '15 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Daniel This company was going to make the next WoW, they had all kinds of promotional gizmos cooked up including some real gold coins to give out in contests, but they totally neglected to budget for a game that didn't suck, and the game never saw the light of day. Raise your hand if you're a programmer and you find this unrealistic. Anyone? $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 1 '15 at 13:45
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You can buy an electric smelter for a couple hundred dollars. Melt the coins into small bars (1 or 5oz, for example), then sell the bars as scrap gold to a reputable precious metals refiner. They'll grade it and give you a price. Or, they'll refine it to .999 and send it back to you as standard gold bars, for a fee or sometimes for a percentage of the metal.

That's how you'd get the best price for the gold. Pawn shops and 'cash for gold' places won't typically offer you the best prices.

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    $\begingroup$ Plus, and this is important, you declare your income from the sale and pay taxes. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 11 '16 at 15:23
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In order of increasing profit:

Cash For Gold!: CFG shops will offer 10¢ on the dollar for gold, if you balk they'll up it to 20¢. If you still kick they'll "call the manager" and offer a maximum of 40¢ on the dollar.

Black Market: The "black market" will offer you 50¢ on the dollar — yes that's right the black market is more honest than the CFG places.

Goldsmith / reputable jewelry shop: A reputable shop will offer you the market price for the gold and might wave the assay fee on the chance that the coins are valuable/rare.

Coin Dealer: A coin dealer will recognize these as rare coins and offer you above market price, all you need is a good story: "My grandfather bought these coins from an old man in Crete during the war, he said they came from Atlantus"

and of course your best option:

Ebay: You best option is to sell them on Ebay: " Buy gold rare gold coins from the lost city of Atlantis!!! ACT NOW!!

being rare and unidentifiable makes the coins worth more than their weight in gold.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that placing the merchandise on an auction site will garner the most interest, which includes people asking you where they came from. And it also allows for people that really, really know their stuff to catch you up in a lie or to believe that there is possibly something malicious or dangerous at work. $\endgroup$ – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 30 '15 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree. The dealer will know they are not from any known country or notable private issue, and will treat them as generic bullion rounds. As for CFG, the report I read said they gave a kinda-OK price if the first offer was turned down. Maybe it varies by jurisdiction? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 30 '15 at 6:17
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: I'd expect it to vary by market conditions rather than by jurisdiction. Unless the price of gold is legally controlled, of course, in which case that jurisdiction will have quite an effect. If a CFG store finds that it's located in a place where people want to get rid of gold fast and cheap, they'll offer a low price. If the price they offer is too low then they won't get any gold. It's only dishonest if they lie to you about the quality of what you have, or tell you they're offering you bullion price when they aren't, or anything like that. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Oct 31 '15 at 17:27
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Any gold dealer or pawn shop will take them. Just say they are a family heirloom from an old country that were passed generation to generation. That will explain the strange appearance. I don't think the buyer will care much as long as you show them a picture ID and you complete the necessary paperwork.

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    $\begingroup$ However, gold dealers often also trade in rare coins, so they are likely to be coin experts (or have one on staff). I'd think if a coin expert sees a whole pile of coins she's never seen before, and they're not in any of her catalogs, that's going to pique her curiosity; attention you don't want. $\endgroup$ – Nate Eldredge Oct 30 '15 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ Often, but not always. Just just go to one that isn't. $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White Oct 30 '15 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ any gold dealer or pawn shop? How fast can they test and satisfy themselves that the gold content is as implied by the density? If I were the buyer, I would be worried about cheating using lead and tungsten in the alloy. $\endgroup$ – gus Nov 2 '15 at 2:23
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A basic strategy would be to melt the coins down, then sell the gold itself. A bag of gold coins doesn't sound like such a massive quantity of gold that you'd bring attention to yourself selling the melted product (or a derivative such as jewelry), so that's probably a better bet than trying to deal with the coins directly.

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    $\begingroup$ When I had some jewelry custom made, I learned that I could supply metal I already owned. So, get some jewelry made and bring the coins to be used for it. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 30 '15 at 6:26
  • $\begingroup$ And then sell the jewelry ? $\endgroup$ – Mawg May 11 '17 at 11:48
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I've been to a coin shop that bought coins but cared nothing about what it was: it just goes straight into the scrap bin, to be melted!

I've seen "rounds" that have novel designs rather than being official issued coins. The stated alloy is not trusted (if it says anything) but after testing they fetch the same price for metal.

You'll have no trouble selling them, and don't need to explain anything: buying gold one may get (e.g.) "1 ounce rounds" without caring what pattern they ship you. You may have gotten these novelty fantasy coins as generic.

You could try selling on eBay or other site as a novelty fantasy coin, or as generic gold.

I agree with @grandmasterB, the places that advertise cash for gold are scams. Describe your hero learning that based on expose reports you can find, and then calling around town to find who paid "spot price", and online places like BullionDirect.

Try buying and selling for real. It can be a good part of your savings.

Or at least interview someone who's done it, more in-depth than this quick note.

The deleted message from the kook gave me a thought though: what if contact had been made before? An alien script can't be typed into Google, but an image search might find others like it, posted on an auction site from another like yourself!

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Depending on your legislation: Claim they were the property of a deceased relative. Pay applicable inheritage taxes. You're legal, and there is a good reason why you can't answer questions. "Yep, they're weird. But surely the metal value ..."

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How much did you get?

For relatively few money, you could grind them up (much less energy expensive than melting) and then go directly to the companies where goldsmiths etc. go with their scrap metals (can't remember how they are called).

They do not ask questions, can't see what it formerly was, and you don't have to deal with another intermediate place that wants to rip you off.

An alternative would be to just go to some trustworthy (swiss?) bank and sell it there. They often ask surprisingly few questions, and give surprisingly good prices. They even ask so less questions that some people managed to sell them gold plated tungsten bars...

But first of all you should make sure that you magic partner did not rip you off and give you something that only looks like gold. Or maybe it is something that looks like gold and is unknown here and worth thousands of times more (hey, its from another world after all)

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    $\begingroup$ Gold is soft enough that I don't think "grind them up" sounds very practical. What would you grind them up with, anyway? In any case, if I didn't screw up the math, it takes only about 200 kJ/kg to heat gold from room temperature to its melting point and then make it melt. For comparison, heating water from room temperature to boiling takes about 335 kJ/kg (and actually boiling it away would take a whopping 2270 kJ/kg on top of that). Assuming a reasonably efficient electric smelter, it should literally take less energy to melt a kilogram of gold than it takes to boil a liter of water. $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Oct 30 '15 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen: I think the math is off by a factor of 1.5 or so, but the ballpark is right. There are scrap metal shredders that work similar to the shredders people use in their office to shred paper. Those work even better with soft materials like gold (btw. if they are usual coins, then they are likely only 99% gold anyways) and I am sure it takes less energy since the energy will mostly get converted into heat... $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Oct 30 '15 at 22:25
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If you sell these coins to various merchants, then unless they have a direct use for them, those merchants will need to find a way to sell the coins to others. They'll probably just say that they bought them off of a customer.

Come to think of it, you're effectively one of those merchants. Just tell the truth: you traded for them off of a traveler who didn't have anything else to pay with at the time, since it seemed like a good deal, and they'd make a nice souvenir even if they turned out not to be real gold. Or whatever other fluff you like that is ideally true, but still emphasizes that you aren't the go-to guy for this stuff.

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Go to Vegas

I'm not sure if this true in the real world, but I've read a couple of stories in which Las Vegas hotel/casinos will change gold into chips for a slight premium and with few questions asked. The idea being to cater to people from other countries that might not have legal tender, or have some other reason to use gold instead of some other form of currency.

Go to Vegas, change your gold, lose some money at the casino so they are happy, then cash out your new riches and go home.

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The fastest place to sell coins would be at a coin shop or pawn shop. They are waiting for people to bring that stuff in. They are not concerned with where you got them. They want to own them. You don't have to know anything at all about what you are selling. They're business is researching values of items. It doesn't matter if you know what you have.

That being said, what I just described is the worst possible idea for a person selling something. A few minutes on Google could be the difference of unknown amounts of money.

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    $\begingroup$ Assume he can't possibly do better than gold value because they're from an unknown alien world that he can't or doesn't want to prove exists. How much worse than gold value is he likely to get? Also, please don't post multiple answers; you can edit your answer (can he? do you have to have a certain number of rep points?) - Though since your other answers aren't really relevant to the context of this question you should probably just delete them. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Oct 30 '15 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ From the isotope ratio? Having an unnatural isotope ratio would in fact be expensive to acheive or rare, if anyone cared and found it valuable. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 30 '15 at 6:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Random832 Yes, you can always edit your own posts. $\endgroup$ – Blacklight Shining Oct 30 '15 at 23:39
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You could try to go legally. Claim that you found the coins on some expedition. An appraiser may value them extremely highly since the language is unknown and the alloy suggests a high level of technology. People might think that you have found some rare historical artifact.

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    $\begingroup$ Claim you found them on an expedition? That's just INVITING the questions! $\endgroup$ – Blacklight Shining Oct 30 '15 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ Go on an expedition first. You'll be able to pay for it afterwards! $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Feb 1 '16 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ Although depending on what country you are, they might be claimed by a national museum or something who believe they belong to the country they were found in $\endgroup$ – colmde Apr 12 '16 at 13:52
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Write a novel/series of books that is of high enough quality that it will become mainstream. Ensure it has a character who resembles the face on the coins, and is a ruler in that world - preferably likeable. Work with a production company to get an episodic TV series made about the book(s) - involving sex and gore, to ensure popularity.

Sell the coins as limited edition collectables.

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