“We Buy Metric Gold…Other Systems Need Not Apply”

Throughout history, one of the reasons that some have resisted standardization of measurements systems has been the potential to cheat others out of their money. Going back to the days before the almost unilateral adoption of the metric system in all but three countries (the United States, Burma and Liberia, cough, cough) having a plethora of measurement systems meant confusion abounded and merchants realized that there was profit to be made out of that confusion.

While this certainly was true when various measurements had differing names, as in perhaps my “merkel” was the same as your “ibitz,” however, in other situations my inch and your inch might not be the same amount even though we were both using the same word—certainly confusing. Merchants routinely took advantage of people’s lack of understanding of these measurement systems to give them less than they thought they were paying for. In fact, some buyers carried around their own calibrated weights Lady Justicejust to ensure others weren’t taking advantage of them. Remember, early weight systems relied on balance scales, unlike today. It’s also not an accident that the “scales of justice” refer to just such a trust being upheld.

Unfortunately, our U.S. customary units continue to perplex. Let us consider the ounce. As I’ve gone around talking to people about the project, one of the things that I’ve asked them is “How many ounces do we have?” At first, some people look at me quizzically, then I go on to hopefully illuminate that in the United States we currently have two different ounces: the avoirdupois and the Troy. The avoirdupois ounce is the one that we use on a routine basis. However, even this is complicated because the avoirdupois ounce represents both a weight (16 ounces in a pound) and a volumetric (8 ounces in a cup) measurement. (By the way, I’ve come across some really horrendous pronunciations of avoirdupois, including the Merriam-Webster online dictionary—which surprised me. Having taken some French in college, the pronunciation that I use can be found at this link http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=avoirdupois.)

Most people use the avoirdupois ounce every day of their lives without realizing that that’s what they’re doing. Now let’s move on to the Troy ounce. It is a measurement that is used almost exclusively for weighing precious metals. So, for all those folks who have responded to the “We buy gold” come-ons, how do they know they’re getting the right amount of money if they don’t even understand the measurement system being used?

So, here’s how it breaks out:

1 Avoirdupois Ounces equals to 0.911458333452 Troy Ounces (from this site http://www.unitsconversion.com.ar/)

So the Troy ounce is actually slightly less than avoirdupois ounce.

However, a gram is a gram is a gram. So if we all go metric we get out of all this ridiculous “which ounce are we talking about?” business and then you just have to worry how accurate this guy’s (or gal’s) scale is.

If it were me in this gold-selling situation, I’d insist that the measurement be in grams (most scales can switch back and forth) and compare a couple of different people’s scales. (The right kind, of course. Your kitchen scale is not precise enough for this task.) Yes, they should be calibrated but when was it last done on that scale? And while you might not think a gram is that much when you’re weighing flour in your kitchen, when we’re talking gold, we’re talking about $50 a gram.

Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you—and not just financially.


7 thoughts on ““We Buy Metric Gold…Other Systems Need Not Apply”

  1. Here in the UK our retail trade are very adept at exploiting the confusion between metric and imperial measurements.

    Confectioners quickly adopted prices per 100g instead of per 1/4lb for loose sweets (candy) as they could charge the same price for a lesser quantity. Same for petrol (gas) stations who adopted price per litre quite readily in place of per gallon as the headline price was much lower and small increases in price almost go un-noticed.

    Contrast that, if you will, with the change to pricing fruit and veg by the kilo instead of the pound. Because the price per kilo was 2.2 times more than the price per lb there was great resistance by traders at the time (just search for Metric Martyrs). Many traders continued (and many still do) to price their produce per lb because it makes their prices appear cheaper than the guy along the street pricing (correctly) as per kg.

    One thing to bear in mind is that it is the government’s duty to determine which units are legal for trade – not traders. It’s also the government’s duty to enforce the legislation, unfortunately this is something which the UK government often does not deem to be important, despite the implications for consumer protection.

  2. Sorry. The troy ounce (31.103 g) is greater than the avoirdupois ounce (28.350 g). And there are 12 troy ounces to the (obsolete) troy pound, I think.

  3. Hi, not only is the troy ounce bigger, it’s a considerably easier. 480 grains to the troy ounce versus 437-1/2 to the oz avdp.

    4800/4375 (or vice versa) is the relationship.

    Technically, the ounce apothecary is a different unit, but it is also 480 gn. It is divided differently (granum (1/480, scrupulus (1/24), drachma (1/8), then uncia).

    The troy pound is 12 ozt. or 5,760 gn., accounting for the old saying that a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold. Gold is weighed in the lighter (significantly) troy pound. The troy pound remains a legal trade unit in the United States of America, though it isn’t as commonly used anymore with the skyrocketing prices of precious metals since about 2006.

    You could still legally sell a troy pound of gold in a newspaper, on eBay, or at a coin show.

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