Several years ago, a TV advert appeared on US cable channels such as "The History Channel" and ran for several years. It's an interesting example to walk through because it yields many opportunities for a "Critical Thinker" to wonder whether this is the deal it appears to be.
Sadly, the video got pulled from YouTube - but it was an advert from "National Collectors Mint" for a replica gold coin.
Let's walk through a transcript of it (yes, I typed it all in!):
(The final caption says that the price is $9.95 plus "s & h".)
So - what's not to love?
Let's carefully dismantle what is being said here:
Ah...so this isn't a "real" coin...well, fair enough - but it's an impressive copy - right?
Yes, it was.
The first time they did it for the public...the mint made other coins. But this one was never intended to be spent. The face value of $50 was just a fraction of the $800 it was worth when it was released. In fact, the price of one ounce of gold was close to that - so the value of the coin lay in what it was made of - not any particular collectors value. These are called "bullion coins" because they are a way for people to own gold.
So, to be clear - this is not some old coin that you'll be getting a replica of. The nickel that the gold coin got it's design from was around a hundred years ago - but the gold coin they they are selling us a copy of was first minded in 2006 and is still being minted at time of writing (2017).
No more so than other bullion coins. The law that was passed to cause the coin to be minted set a limit of 300,000 coins - but if they are still minting them today - it's not like the coin is rare. In fact, the government make Buffalo gold coins in a range of different sizes and denominations - and the same design has been used on various commemorative medals and so forth.
Yeah - the stopped making them for a short while. What actually happened was that the 2008 sub-prime mortgage crises drove investors to buy gold, which caused the mint to cease production for a short while. But the advert is implying that they stopped making them forever - which is certainly not the case.
The graph is very misleading. The bar on the left (labelled $1,049.50 is about seven times smaller than the bar labelled $3995 - giving the false impression that the price went up by a factor of 7, not a factor of less than 4. But this price is for the 2008 coin.
If you look on eBay most days, you can buy the real coin for around $1,380. The current market price for an ounce of gold is $1,290 - but if you want to actually buy some, you'll be paying $1,320 to $1,400 for various 1 ounce gold bullion coins or small gold bars.
So, no - this coin is not vastly sought after by collectors - it's actually nothing very special at all. It's a lump of gold who's sole value is that of the gold itself.
Well - this is all very interesting and exciting stuff...but we shouldn't forget that this is just a bunch of recent history...they aren't selling you a solid gold coin. They are selling you a "tribute copy"...whatever that means.
So "tribute copy"...not an exact copy. Not even close actually. They put the date on the wrong side of the coin and the words "UNITED STATES" are much further from the edge in their "copy" than in the original. What it is, is a pretty terrible copy. It's probably illegal to make good copies anyway because that would bring you afoul of the counterfieting laws - so even without looking, you'd know that this couldn't be a good copy.
This also brings us to the next point - "clad in fourteen milligrams of pure gold". Wow! All of that real gold!
I think here they are quietly hoping that most Americans have no idea how big a milligram is. They used familiar units - "ounces" when describing the real coin...but how much is a milligram? Wikipedia helpfully tells us that an adult housefly weighs 21 milligrams...so we're talking 2/3rds of the weight of a housefly. Gold is pretty dense stuff - so that's going to be a very small speck.
14 milligrams of gold would be less than a millimeter across...smaller than a pinhead.
Today, the price of gold was $42 per gram - so 14 milligrams is worth about 60 cents.
What we have here is a piece of metal, made to look somewhat (but by no means exactly) like the $50 Buffalo coin - but it's basically a chunk of worthless metal, with 60 cents of gold washed over it.
This is interesting - is it possible that they are trying to equate the $50 face value of the solid gold coin with a $50 price for the replica? This might be another way to try to confuse buyers into thinking that they are buying something of value here.
So - they expect us to believe that sometime during the week following the TV commercial, the price of gold would go up enough to force them to increase their price - the advert ran for years, and as far as I can tell, the price never did go up.
This is a piece of paper with a number on it and two signatures, it confirms that the coin has only 14 milligrams of gold on it and that it's a knock-off. I'm not sure why we'd care about that. It's interesting that the two people who signed it are both named a "Co-Director, NCM Board of Advisors" - which suggests that they are employees of the company. One weird thing though - I looked up Buchanan on Wikipedia and they have a sample of Ms Buchanan's signature. Here is the a snapshot from the TV advert (top) with Wikipedia's signature (bottom). I'm no expert...but...um...yeah.
Goldwater's signature looks like his usual one - but he's currently the director of National Collector's Mint.
It's far from clear to me why anyone would need a certificate of authenticity. Is there seriously going to be some debate about the authenticity of a poor/worthless knock-off? I doubt it.
This is another effort to convey to potential buyers that this is an object of such great importance that having a certificate of authenticity would be important.
Who would need 5 of these things? But it's interesting to note, that the REAL coin has a limit of 10 per household. If there really were such a demand for these replica coins - why would they spend so much mone advertising them?
Well - the advert ran more or less unchanged for many years - there really wasn't a hurry!
The final caption says that the price is $9.95 plus "s & h"...I bet they wanted a ton more money to ship it.
Basically, this thing was a fake - a total rip-off. The advert is not honestly presenting what they are selling to you. They can doubtless knock out these things for around a dollar each - and sell them for $9.99 ("plus s&h") - I'm betting that a very large slice of their costs were in the adverts.
National Collectors Mint have a less than stellar reputation - they were selling fake coins after the 9/11 attacks - that time they were fined for "engaging in false advertising and deceptive business practices" - but the $50 Gold Buffalo ads started just a few years later. Their modus operandii hadn't even changed very much. The 9/11 "coin" was "clad in 45 mg of pure silver"...currently worth around 81 cents.
You can still buy the knock-off gold buffalo http://ncmint.com/2016-buffalo-tribute-proof/ - the price on their website today is up to $19.95 - it looks like they add $7 for shipping and handling which is a lot for such a small item.
So - the next time you see a TV advert that seems too good to be true...do a little digging around. It's amazing what you can find out.