Because I have a small element collection, I occasionally troll eBay for interesting metals.
Recently, I’ve noticed people selling “copper bullion”.
This, for those of you not up on precious-metal terminology, is a contradiction in terms. Bullion (”No, not the little cubes you put in hot water to make soup.“) is, by definition, precious metals. Gold, silver, platinum, palladium; a metal that’s rare enough that it can be used as a reasonably portable means of exchange in its own right, not just struck into coins that can be used to purchase goods worth far more than the coins’ intrinsic metal value.
(It occurs to me that this may be the heart and soul of the copper bullion scam. Just charge as much per ounce as the metal is actually worth per pound, and wait for some Modern Jackass to take the bait.)
What people are trading for $3.85 a pound on the base metal markets may or may not be .999-purity “fine” copper, but it’s actually quite easy to buy very pure copper from engineering suppliers, or indeed your local hardware store. You generally have to pay more to get copper that’s been alloyed with something else.
Today, the price of copper has risen enough that many small-denomination copper coins are now worth more intrinsically than their face value. I’ve got a roll of fifty of the old, now withdrawn, Australian one-cent pieces here; it weighs about 132 grams, which at $US3.85 a pound makes this “fifty cent” roll worth about $AU1.15 right now.
That’s still not a lot, though, and the notion of selling copper as bullion remains silly. There’s no real market for it. If you go into one of those heavily-armoured shops that buys and sells gold and silver bullion and try to sell them a slab of copper, they’ll laugh and send you on your way.
Precious-metal prices always rise whenever one or more of the world’s great economies are in bad shape, so the USA’s current enthusiastic attempt to commit economic suicide has created a big spike in gold and silver prices. As I write this, gold is worth around $US970 per troy ounce, and silver’s around $US19. As recently as 2000, gold was worth less than $US290 per troy ounce, and silver was around five bucks an ounce.
One troy ounce of copper, at the moment, is worth about 26 US cents.
Even if you’ve got a tonne of copper, it’ll still be worth less than $US8500 at the moment. $US8500 worth of gold currently weighs six-tenths of a pound.
And yet… there are people selling “copper bullion”. EBay’s rotten with ‘em at the moment.
I just did a “completed items” search for “copper bullion” on eBay, and turned up one 1055-gram bar that went for $US34.05 ex delivery (value at $3.85 per pound: $US8.97), a one-pound bar that went for $US18.51 (and is now worth, that’s right, $US3.85), and an overstruck US copper penny (you could still see the ghost of “ONE CENT” and the Lincoln Memorial through the crudely-restruck eagle and “1/10 TROY OUNCE .950 COPPER”…), which sold for $US3.25.
If that penny was genuinely a tenth of a troy ounce - which sounds near enough - then the 95% copper content in it might actually be worth as much as 2.5 cents now.
And on it went. Before I got too depressed to go on, I found at least one successfully-sold “MASSIVE!! 3 KILOS .999 Fine Copper Bullion Bar/ Ingot”… for $US140 plus delivery.
It’s worth $US25.46.
I did like the little ingots (available in copper and silver!) stamped with an image of Martha Mitchell holding a telephone, though.
Even if you decide to get in on the ground floor by buying a hundred of the one-troy-ounce “Australian Copper Bullion” ingots currently on offer on ebay.com.au, what you’ve actually just bought is 6.86 pounds of copper, worth less than $US27.
As I write this, the eBay Buy It Now price for one of those packages of a hundred little ingots is $AU350 - about $US340 - plus delivery.
So even if the price of copper rises by a factor of ten, you won’t have made your money back, unless you manage to find yourself a greater fool on whom to unload your zillions of little copper bookmarks.
I have a nice 25 by 15 by 250mm offcut of copper bar - I bought it from this seller, now on OZtion instead of eBay. It’s great for demonstrating eddy-current magnetic braking, with a rare-earth magnet. But it weighs 827.5g, which is 26.6 troy ounces - ninety-three dollars and ten cents, at the $3.50-an-ounce “bullion” price!
I also bought a bunch of 3.5-inch copper boat nails a while ago. (Copper’s used for boat nails because it won’t corrode, and you can drive work-hardened copper nails through wood with no trouble; when I annealed one of the nails, though, I could bend it with ease.) I’ve given a few of the nails away, but have about 950 grams of ‘em left, and I think they’re quite pure copper.
The copper in the nails is worth only about eight bucks at the current spot price, and they cost me about forty Australian bucks delivered - but if I melted them down into fancy little ingots and sold them for $3.50 a troy ounce, they’d bring me well over a hundred dollars!
Heck, I’ve got a whole box of old CPU coolers, many of which have solid copper heat sinks! I’m a MILLIONAIRE!
(Oh, and I wrote the title for this page before I discovered that at least one eBay seller actually is selling “lead bullion“. Oy.)
This scam’s a weird one, though it’s apparently been around for a while; Google for “copper bullion” and you’ll find quite a lot of exceedingly dodgy Web sites trying to get you to buy the stuff. (One of the sites I found also linked to one of those “run your car on water” sites that always show up in the Google ads whenever I write about how you can’t run your car on water.)
The scam would also appear to be quite well-known among people who spend a lot of time trading metals on eBay.
With any luck, this blog post will save at least one person from blowing their kids’ university fund on vastly overpriced copper door-stops.