The City Miner

Raffi Stepanian spends his time walking the streets of the jewelry district in New York City collecting discarded diamonds, gems and scrap gold.  He actually cleans the dirt from sidewalk cracks, washes it in a gold pan and pulls out gold dust (see video)

This sounds far fetched but there is actually logic to what Raffi is doing.  Workers in the jewelry district working with precious metals and stones get covered in gold dust, have precious stones stick to their shoes and track these valuables  onto the sidewalk where they fall off.  Raffi just scopes up the valuables that are otherwise lost into the street.

Jewelry workers typically stand on mats that are sent in to refiners to recover gold dust from. The refiners extract the gold from the working mats because a fair amount of gold dust can actually be lost onto the floor.  They also process the sweepings from the floor of jewelry manufacturing businesses for gold and other precious metals.  Raffi has just extended the process that happens inside jewelry manufacturing and repair businesses to capture what is tracked out of the shops into the street.

With the price of gold these days, recovering gold dust can be pretty profitable.  The video shows exactly how Raffi does his job and the kind of money he makes.  It is very helpful for the aspiring urban gold panner.  

I'm not convinced Raffi's business makes sense in most cities. To get a meaningful quantity of gold and other precious metals requires that the businesses in the area work with gold and precious metals in sufficient quantities.  It's worth a shot though anywhere there is a concentration of jewelers that actually make anything.  

Gold Panning on the Streets of New York City

Copper Penny Hoarding by the Ton

A much more widespread, yet still little known, way of making money is to sort 95% copper US pennies from 95% zinc US pennies.  This Nightline segment features two gentlemen who do just that.  Mr Henry sorts out copper pennies with his autistic son Frank and together they have amassed several tons of copper in penny bullion form.  

They also find collector coins, tokens, dimes and other cool things in their penny bags.  The payoff will come when the government lifts the melt ban on pennies and they can be turned into other copper products to recapture the intrinsic value of the coins.  The best part is that there is no downside (other than the time spent-and they find it fun) because the pennies can always be spent in a pinch.

Also featured is a friend of mine who actually sorts and stores copper pennies on an industrial scale, tons and tons of pennies. He sells these bullion copper pennies by the 68 lb box and by the ton to investors seeking a hedge against inflation with a government guaranteed downside in the form of face value.  Since the copper ETFs don't actually invest in physical copper, copper penny bullion is one of the few ways to invest directly in physical copper instead of paper copper or copper futures.  

Sorting for Copper and Doubling Your Money

Getting More than Your Nickel's Worth

American 5 cent coins, commonly called Nickels, actually contain more than 5 cents worth of base metal.  The US Mint actually spends more than 5 cents just to buy the 75% copper and 25% nickel mixture that goes into the coins, plus finances the cost of processing, stamping, and distributing the nickel coins.  

Of course there are also a few silver nickels from the war years that are worth a lot more than the basic nickel.  There are also Canadian pure Ni nickels to find in circulation.

While it is currently a melt ban on nickels and an export ban to prevent enterprising people from buying every nickel in sight and sending them all to China to melt, eventually everyone in the know expects that the US Mint will change the composition of the American nickel and flood the market with a cheaper version (Canadian Nickels are now Ni plated steel for example). At that point everyone holding nickels, and some people are holding hundreds of thousands of dollars worth, will get a huge bump in value selling the unsorted coins for scrap metal.    

There is long  term profit potential in US nickels, but there is immediate upside in finding Canadian pure ni nickels and selling them since there is an immediate established market for Ni coin bullion.

A nice bonus of looking through nickels is the chance to find the elusive 35% silver war nickels.  Minted partly of silver to preserve nickel for the war effort (nickel makes great armor plating) silver war nickels sell as "junk silver" for a dollar or more each, depending on the spot price of silver. War nickels are easy to spot because they include a large mint mark (P, D or S) above the image of the building on the back of a Jeff Nickel.  They also tend to wear darker, kind of dirty looking, compared to CuNi nickels because of how sweat and air react with the manganese.

Saving Nickels Worth More Than A Nickel

Scrap Metal Collecting

Some enterprising people make a full time living collecting and recycling scrap metal.  Not only is scrap metal more and more valuable each year, but cleaning up scrap can improve the environment.

First, be sure you understand the local regulations.  It may be acceptable to pick up scrap from the curb, or it might be illegal.   

Advertising on Craigslist that you will pick up scrap can net large and small loads to take to the recyclers.  Providing bins to businesses for scrap metal is another technique used by many scrapers with success.  

You might decide that precious metals are the way to go. Precious metals can be extracted from electronics and off car catalytic converters. You don't have to process these items yourself to extract the precious metals, you can just sell the components to established markets.