A View From the Rostrum with TW Gaze’s Elizabeth Talbot: ‘Much more to gold bars than just their value’

Diss, Norfolk. Elizabeth Talbot of T.W. Gaze and Sons ANL-141103-134659001
Diss, Norfolk. Elizabeth Talbot of T.W. Gaze and Sons ANL-141103-134659001

When I began my career in 1985 it seemed sovereigns always sold at auction for £60 - 65 and half sovereigns for £32 – 38; the gold market was stable for an extended period and valuations were easily predictable using a very static formula.

In early 2014, whilst particular features such as date and condition impose marginal differences on values and gold prices fluctuate to reflect the more erratic financial climate, a sovereign sells at auction for a current average of £220.

Meanwhile, I began my 30th year in the profession with a career first: I was instructed to value a gold bar.

Until last month my concept of bullion had been influenced by heist movies such as Ocean’s 11 and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or even coloured by clichéd cartoon images.

Upon my arrival in the high security location I was expecting to see a legendary foil-wrapped chocolate-chunk; instead, I was presented with a shape that resembled a sad-looking chocolate slab that has been compressed on a hot day and put in the fridge to “revive”!

My initial reaction? I have to admit to being disappointingly underwhelmed.

The “kilobar” (1000g) is the world’s most widely traded small gold bar.

It transpires that most have a flat “international” shape such as the one I inspected, but traditional kilobars in the shape of a “brick” are still available, notably in Europe.

The gold purity for these is normally 99.5 per cent, 99.9 per cent or 99.99 per cent.

However, having had my interest in the subject whetted I have been intrigued to learn subsequently that standard, innovative and unusual gold bars manufactured around the world can be grouped into a total of 55 categories!

They vary in terms of shape and weight and their design often reflects the culture of the country manufacturing the gold; for example “twin-coin” bars from Thailand, “Yin-yang” bars from Japan, “bone” bars from Brazil and “boat” bars that are made in Thailand, Hong Kong and China.

The traditional boat shape has been used for silver and other Chinese coinage as far back as the Han dynasty (206BC – 220AD), but many shapes of gold bars are relatively modern releases such as“model” bars.

For example, in 1991 LG Metals (South Korea) issued a traditional range of gold model bars in the form of pigs (a symbol of wealth), toads (good fortune) and turtles (longevity).

I now begin to understand the allure of accruing one’s wealth in easily storable, transportable (and relatively modest-looking) pocket-sized packages; and whilst I note that a 1kg bar of chocolate contained in a distinctive purple wrapper is currently being marketed at £9, the value of that one kilobar I was privileged to handle? £25,430!

n Elizabeth Talbot is partner & co-owner of TW Gaze and BBC antiques expert.