Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Very Thank You" - The Story of Mr. Chang's Gold

The following is an excerpt from a 2002 speech given by coin shop owner, Burton S. Blumert, titled "The King Doesn’t Like Gold, Never Has, Never Will – Unlike Mr. Chang".

The last small rally that gold enjoyed carried it to $306 per ounce (it has since fallen back to $290). One of the reasons given for the run-up was that new money was pouring into gold from Japan and China.

We don’t get much reliable information about those markets but I’ve experienced very strong inclination among Asians towards gold.

Which reminds me of my favorite Chinese customer, Mr. Chang.

I don’t remember when he first became a customer but it had to be a decade before 1974. He barely spoke English, and I’m not even sure he was legally in the US. He worked in food service at United Airlines, and his wardrobe was Shanghai c.1930.

We didn’t have much in common. His English was primitive and my Chinese non-existent.

The only thing we shared was his interest in gold and my desire to sell it to him. In those days we were prohibited from selling anything that could be considered a bullion coin. That didn’t matter to Mr. Chang.

There was only one coin he would buy and that was the US $20 Liberty Head coin. He was familiar with it from China and to him the Liberty $20 gold coin was gold and gold was the Liberty $20 gold coin. Any other gold item might as well be counterfeit.

Through the years I saw him almost monthly. He brought his paycheck, would negotiate price, and then decide how many coins he wanted. (The $20 Liberty cost about $50 each.) I would give him change against his check.

Originally, I was amused that he came with his own balance scale. It was made of bamboo with a plate at one end and a weighted rock at the other. It was designed to balance the $20 Liberty. If a coin failed, it was either shaved or counterfeit.

After about a decade I became annoyed with his scale. "Mr. Chang, when in heaven’s name will you trust me and not need a scale?"

He considered the scale just part of doing business, but he got my message and was embarrassed. Although his scale was present for the next purchase, I never saw it again after that.

In those days it wasn’t easy getting information about the gold price. There was no US market and the London AM and PM fixings were sometimes available on the radio but it often required seeking the financial pages of the Wall Street Journal to learn the value of an ounce of gold.

Mr. Chang followed the price very closely. He would call almost daily, and ask, "Wuddah prica London gol?"

Upon getting the information he would respond: "Very thank you," and that was that. There was never any doubt about it. It was Mr. Chang on the phone.

Then we didn’t hear from Mr. Chang for months.

"Has anyone heard from Mr. Chang", I asked? I was sure he was ill or worse.

Then one day there he was. "Wuddah prica London gol?"

I had answered his call and asked, "Mr Chang, have you been ill? We’ve missed hearing from you."

Dead silence.

How in heaven’s name did I know it was him, he wondered. Gold dealers are amazing, with wondrous perceptions. I guess he believed that every customer said, "Very thank you."

Mr. Chang retired. I don’t know if he had social security checks coming in, but his gold coins provided for his retirement. He came in as regularly as when he was a buyer. Only this time with one or two gold coins to sell. As he came in the front door, I noted he had coins in his hand, wrapped in tissue paper. He pretended he might be buying to keep me honest, but of course I knew that was not the case.

Then we learned from one of his old Chinese cronies that Mr. Chang had passed on. In fact he had gifted several coins to the friend who gave us the sad news. We dearly missed Mr. Chang, although "Very thank you" had become a part of the language in our office.

Some year or two later a young Chinese woman, whom I later learned was Mr. Chang’s grand niece, came in. She was an accountant and evidently had found Mr. Chang’s check stubs with Chinese characters on them breaking down how he had spent each check.

She was convinced there were gold coins some place and wondered if we were actually storing them. It was clear that she was not part of Mr. Chang’s inner circle.

She left rude and angered.

As if rehearsed, my employees looked at me and in unison we all said: "Very thank you."


Burt Blumert died on Monday after a battle with cancer. He was a friend of Ron Paul, a coin shop owner and the publisher of You can read a few touching stories about Burt here.



Piripi said...

What a great story!

Burt Blumert said:

"For 50 years as a dealer, we never stored customer metals.

At Coin Shows and Hard money Conventions, we shouted the message to all, "Take delivery of your metals."

Most listened, but just as there is a new audience for the Three Stooges every seven years, there are always fresh victims who will surrender their gold and silver for a piece of paper."

Smart guy.

Anonymous said...

That piece by Jason Hommel was excellent too.

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