(NEW YORK) -- Gold prices are so high now -- over $1,500 an ounce -- that consumers are cashing in anything they've got that has gold in it, including teeth, bridges, crowns and other dental work.
"I've seen them pop the gold right out of their mouth," says Dave Crume, president of the National Pawnbrokers Association and executive vice president of Wichita, Kansas pawnbroker A-OK Enterprises.
"It's a little awkward," he admits, "but I've see them take out a tooth."
The gold-selling trend, which started picking up steam two years ago, has become only stronger now, as new ways have arisen for customers to unload their gold. It can be sold via mail, the Internet and Tupperware-like "gold parties," such as Premier Gold Parties, where a group of friends meet to sell their gold in a home setting.
In Texas, a seller can pick up dinner and sell her tiara at the same time: most of the 50 locations of Gold & Silver Buyers, the state's biggest precious metals buyer, are inside or alongside supermarkets. So great is the volume of their business that they do their own smelting -- an added efficiency that translates, according to president Larry Gray, into better prices paid to customers. Items sold have included a platinum surgical implant, discovered in the cremated remains of a loved one.
Nationwide, the incentive to sell is strong. The U.S. economy remains soft; unemployment remains high. Even people not in need of extra money, says Crume, are selling now to avoid missing what they perceive may be the market's top.
Prices paid for gold jewelry vary widely. "They're all over the board," says Crume. "One place will pay you $100 for what you've got; another will pay $1,000."
But in the past three months, says Crume, prices have begun to converge.
"It's true whether you're selling to a jewelry store or to a pawnbroker," he says. "The market's getting more competitive -- a benefit to the consumer."
In the past, sellers were getting "maybe half the market price for scrap gold. Now they're getting more like 70 or 80 percent."
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