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Kiplinger’s Lays a Not-so-golden Egg
(February 9, 2010) The February 2010 edition of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine featured an article, “Make a Buck off a Sagging Dollar.” Unfortunately, the accompanying full-page color photo, supposedly of a gold bar, is a fake.


Page 31 of the February 2010 edition of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, featuring a picture of a not-gold bar to introduce the 4-page article “Making a Buck off a Sagging Dollar”.

“Know your source” is the first rule when you’re looking for gold, a lesson that is graphically illustrated by Kiplinger’s in their February magazine. The article teaches about gold stocks, gold funds, alternative investments, and the pitfalls of lazy art direction.

“Make a Buck off a Sagging Dollar,” by Andrew Tanzer, lays out some strategic alternatives for investors who would like to reduce their exposure to the vagaries of the US dollar. The article leads off with a full-page illustration of a shiny yellow bullion bar captioned “Gold, one of the best antidotes to a falling dollar, has been on a tear lately.”

The article goes on to make a positive case for gold. Mr Tanzer writes:

“Consider gold an insurance policy against the further degradation of the dollar. Central banks can print money, but not gold. That’s one reason that India and other developing countries with bulging foreign-exchange reserves are diversifying out of dollars and buying some gold.”

The idea that you can’t print gold is certainly proven by examining the picture of the shiny yellow bullion bar. The photo shows a bar with the weight stated as “100+oz,” and the fineness as “999+” – dead giveaways that this is no gold bar. Gold bullion bars of that size always have stamped on them their exact weight to two or three decimal places, and the fineness is almost never expressed with a plus sign.

Silver bar

A Johnson Matthey silver bar, completely un-retouched, and having the usual nicks and blemishes. Weights on these common bullion 100-ounce silver bars are expressed as “100+” ounces, and weigh at least 100 troy ounces. If a silver bar happens to be 1/100th of an ounce overweight, that amounts to about 15c at today’s silver prices.

In fact, Kiplinger’s illustrated their article with an altered photo of a 100-ounce silver bullion bar poured by the refiner Johnson Matthey. On the image, the Johnson Matthey name and location has been removed from the familiar JM oval-within-oval logo, leaving only the phrase ‘assay office.’ A yellow tint was added to mimic gold’s color.

Not many readers are likely to notice this photographic fakery. After all, who has ever actually seen a 100-ounce gold bar except a handful of bullion dealers and investors? On the other hand, the 100-ounce silver bar by Johnson Matthey is a common item, owned by tens of thousands of silver investors around the world. Its tinted presence, represented in a national publication as gold, may lead to confusion, mischief or even fraud.

It certainly may be of interest to international refiner Johnson Matthey, which produces that exact same 100-ounce .999 silver bar. They might even object to having their product digitally altered and then used to falsely represent a gold ingot in a national magazine.

With all this in mind, on January 5th I emailed this note to Kiplinger’s:

I enjoyed the strategies for hedging our declining dollar in Andrew Tanzer’s article ”Making a Buck off a Sagging Dollar.”

However, I couldn't help but notice that the full-page color picture on page 31, ostensibly of a ‘gold bar,’ is in fact an altered and re-colored picture of a Johnson Matthey silver bullion bar.

I hope that your readers who are considering buying gold bullion are more careful than your photographer was.

-Richard Smith, CEO,, Phoenix, Arizona

The same day, I received this reply:

Thank you for your recent email. I have sent your message on to our editors and art director for their attention.

We value all our readers and are always happy to hear from you. Should you have any further comments please do not hesitate to contact us…. All of us at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance wish you the very best of the new year.

Office Manager
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

At this point, I assumed that the Kiplinger’s editors and art director would recognize that they had been misled (or perhaps, swindled) into accepting a digitally altered image of a silver bar, and presenting it as gold in a national magazine of good reputation. I had no doubt they would run a correction in the next issue, pointing out that the photo they ran was not of a gold bar at all.

For the rest of January, I received no contact from Kiplinger’s. And then, last week, the March edition came out – with no published correction, and no mention of the fake gold bar that appeared in their previous issue.

I was flabbergasted – how could they ignore this? How could their editors and art director not realize that they had a problem?

As with so many questions today, the answer was found on the Internet.

A Google search on the phrase “stock photos gold bars” will bring up hundreds of pictures of gold bars out there available for commercial use. These images, and photos on every subject under the sun, can be found on countless websites displaying their photographic wares, images that can be ‘rented’ for advertisements or business use.

Probably the largest and best-known site in the field is that of Getty Images, founded in 1995 to digitally archive their available photos and other media “to help communicators around the globe to tell their story.”

Amidst the massive archive of images on the Getty website, I found the source of the bogus gold bar photo - image # 72797396, entitled “Gold ingot on weight scale,” and attributed to photographer David Muir.

With this discovery of the exact same gold-tinted image on the Getty site, the puzzle was solved. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine had decided not to bother with the hassle and expense of photographing a genuine gold bar, instead settling for a plausible-looking substitute they found on the Internet.

And after publication, when they received my note (and probably others like it) pointing out the error, I can only imagine that their art director spoke with editor(s) about the matter, they all considered the source of the ‘gold’ photo (Getty Images), noted its title (Gold ingot on weight scale), and were thereby 100% satisfied that it must in fact be a picture of a gold bar.

Chalk it up to complacency and group-think on their part. At any rate, that’s the story so far. So, is there a moral to this story?

For Kiplinger’s, the moral is simply that you shouldn' t believe that each of the millions of stock photos that you find on the Internet has been vetted by its vendor for accuracy. And just maybe, you should pay closer attention to reader mail.

And for the rest of us, it just goes to show that real gold is scarce, and that you should beware of accepting substitutes. Gold funds, ETFs, gold contracts, gold options and derivatives, even pictures of gold on a website or in a national magazine, may not always measure up to the real thing.

Want to see the real thing ? Here's our photo of a genuine gold bar:

True Gold Bar

A photograph of a genuine Pamp Suisse gold bar, gross weight 100.124 troy ounces, fineness of 99.50%. Because a variation of as little as 1/100th of an ounce is worth over $10 in gold, weights on large commercial gold bars are expressed exactly, to either one-hundredth or one/thousandth of a troy ounce.

Yes, it cost us $105,000.00 and some change to obtain this bar so we could take this picture. However, we are offering it to Kiplinger's free of charge (the photo, not the bar). Permission is hereby granted to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine to use this picture at no cost to them, with or without granting us a photo credit, should they ever again need a gold bar image.

Richard Smith, CEO


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