Opal buyers came in all shapes, sizes and characters. At the peak of Mintabie’s glory days there was not a day go past without a stream of buyers calling in to our camp. These buyers were of all nationalities.
Some were called “Peanut buyers”. This name referred to a buyer with limited capital. In general, they were the pickiest of all the buyers as they had to make every dollar count.
Other buyers were only interested in extremely large parcels and often they took the shortest time to reach a decision.
The many Chinese buyers contained the full spectrum from “peanuts to parcels”.
Some buyers were after a particular type, size or colour of opal rough as they had a specialized market.
In our partnership I did a lot of the selling. When we divided our opal I kept my share of the rough and so could sell Robert’s or Kim’s opal without being emotionally involved.
I was also classing (Sorting rough opal into grades and sizes and putting a suggested price on these lots and as a parcel) for quite a few other miners.
Some of the more regular buyers would drop in to our camp and ask if we knew who had a parcel. Not once was I asked how much a parcel was classed at and not once did I volunteer a parcel’s value.
I became quite good friends with several of the buyers and still visit, or see, many of these buyers, anywhere from Hong Kong to Tucson (U.S.A.) or a visit in my shop. I think we all experienced an incredible period in the history of Mintabie Opal Fields, and it cemented a bond shared by those who experienced it.
This is how a typical opal sale went.
A car would pull into our camp. If the buyer was Chinese he would leave his engine running and honk the horn. When we came out he would shout “Any Opa” (This is what many chinese called opal). If we nodded he would turn the engine off and come inside. If we had no opal he would say. “Next time you have Opa save for me.” And drive off.
Once inside the buyer would sit at the table. The curtains would be drawn and the table covered with a sheet of black vinyl. A desk lamp with a bright 100 watt bulb was beside the buyer. We would have our parcel divided into several different grades and sizes. Starting from the best the buyer would look through. The opal was displayed wet and a spray bottle was handy at all times On an average this stage would take about ten minutes.
The buyer would then ask the price The normal response was an audible sucking in of the breath and a shake of the head. A favorite of the Chinese was “too green!” if the opal was red or” Too red!” if the opal was green. The buyer would then go through the parcel again, as if he had not seen it the first time. He would then say “OK boys, what is your bottom dollar?” We would give him an adjusted price and normally would be offered something below that.
If it was somewhere near or over what we had in mind, we would accept. If not, I would just start putting the parcel away. Quite a lot of the time the response would be “Wait minute! I lookie again.” A higher offer would be offered and the deal done.
We had a pair of Chinese opal buyers that were regular buyers. They drove up from Coober Pedy once a week. What they didn’t know is that we had a distinct advantage in the selling process over them. Kim (Although he was Korean) could understand a little Chinese. This particular pair of buyers would discuss the parcel in Chinese. Kim could generally figure out the price they were willing to pay, or how high they could go. He would stand silently in the corner and aid my negotiating process with hand signals and eye brow lifts. Consequently we generally got the price we wanted and sometimes an even better price. Many years later, one of these buyers was telling me that he always thought I was a tough negotiator who always got top dollar. I had to let him know our secret and he smiled quietly with a knowing expression on his face.
If a new buyer came to Mintabie our asking price would be quite a lot higher. We had our regular buyers and knew pretty well how much they could pay. We also knew the type of opal the regular buyers were looking for. A new buyer was fair game, as we could always fall back on the stream of regulars. It was amazing how much some of these new buyers paid. It was not surprising they were not seen again. I am sure they had no idea what to pay for the opal rough (A future article will deal with buying an opal parcel)
Perhaps the most interesting experience I had was with Arthur, a Greek opal buyer. He was a regular, who could buy any size parcel and was always after the larger ones. Arthur had become a friend, and always dropped in to our caravan for a coffee on his frequent visits. This particular visit was early in the morning and after coffee he went on his way. We had no opal for sale and went to work. When I came back for lunch I felt something under the table with my foot. I reached down and lifted up a brief case. Opening the case I saw it was completely full of bundles of fresh $50 notes. I have no idea how much money there was, although it would have been well over $100,000. Realizing it was Arthur’s I drove all over Mintabie trying to find him. Eventually I did and handed him his brief case. With an intense look of relief he thanked me profoundly. He had no idea where it was as he had visited many camps before he realized it was missing.