Wise Men With Fat Wallets

Sean Brodrick By Sean Brodrick,

Commodities

It’s Christmas season. That means it’s time for presents. And I don’t mean Nintendos, hoverboards and toy drones. Nope, I’d like to take a step back from the commercialism that has overtaken this holiday and talk about the original gifts of Christmas. I’m talking about gold, frankincense and myrrh – the gifts of the Magi.

You can still buy all three today. I have links for you below, as well as the fascinating stories of the first Christmas gifts.

Gold

Everyone knows gold, right? But do you know why the Magi, also known as the three wise men, gave Jesus gold? It’s not because gold was expensive. It’s because gold represents eternity. It lasts forever.

As for expensive… after four years of a grizzly bear market, gold looks cheap to me. That doesn’t mean it can’t get cheaper. And no matter what, it makes a memorable Christmas gift.

Gold jewelry is always a hit with the ladies. (At least, my wife seems to like it.)

And if you favor coins, you can buy them online with minimum hassle. I’ve used both APMEX and the Royal Canadian Mint to buy coins before. For Oxford Club Members, we’ve lined up exclusive deals with GovMint.com and Asset Strategies International Inc. Both are vetted leaders in the precious metals sector.

If you prefer something closer to home, the U.S. Mint has a bullion dealer locator. The mint checks dealers against the Better Business Bureau for complaints, but it does not certify them. So, as always, proceed with caution.

I could quote you the price of gold on the COMEX, but I prefer to deal in reality. A 1-ounce gold American Eagle was recently listed at $1,172.69 on APMEX. There’s a discount if you buy 10. So, it depends on how much of a big spender you want to be. Remember, there might be shipping charges as well.

You might find gold American Eagles and gold Canadian Maple Leafs in short supply this holiday season. Almost as though they were scarce. Hmm… it’s almost as if there is a bull market being suppressed by the exchanges.

Well, I won’t go down that particular road. Onward to frankincense!

Frankincense

Frankincense is a tree resin with a woody, fruity smell. It’s used in Catholic Masses. What is that white smoke you see coming out of a thurible in a Catholic Mass? That’s frankincense. And a thurible is the metal “boat” on a chain that a priest waves around. See how much you’re learning today?

Frankincense was probably one of the gifts of the Magi because of its use in religious ceremonies. It symbolizes divinity.

Back in its heyday, frankincense was as valuable as gold. It came from the region surrounding the fabled lost city of Ubar.

For centuries, Ubar was thought to be a city of myth. It was called the “Atlantis of the Sands.” But it was a real place – a large octagonal fort with 10-foot-high walls and eight tall towers. Scientists rediscovered Ubar in modern Oman using satellite imagery.

How did Ubar get “lost” anyway? Changing weather patterns spelled doom for the fabled city when a limestone cavern underneath Ubar dried up. The cavern collapsed, and the earth swallowed up the city.

Interestingly enough, satellite imagery – the same technology that found lost Ubar – revolutionized how we look for new oil deposits. But back to frankincense…

Frankincense is harvested from Boswellia trees. The bark is cut, allowing resin to drip out. It then hardens into “tears,” or small beads. The Boswellia is so tough it can grow out of solid rock. That is probably handy in a desert environment.

Back in Jesus’ day, frankincense wasn’t just used for religious smoke. It was also medicinal. In a way, frankincense was an early biopharmaceutical – very expensive and highly sought after for health purposes.

Today, you can buy frankincense oil by the milliliter on Amazon. But if you’re looking for something even more high-end, you might want to spend $19 to get a pound of basic frankincense tears on MySpiceSage.com.

There’s also really high-grade frankincense. The Sultanate of Oman buys most of the primo stuff. You can buy superior-grade Omani frankincense for $119.60 per pound.

Myrrh

Myrrh is mentioned throughout the Bible – particularly in the Old Testament. Scholars argue about which particular type of myrrh was given to baby Jesus. We’re not going to get into the weeds on that one. (After all, in the weeds is where we find Moses. Ba-da-bump!)

Anyway, myrrh is the saplike resin produced by a variety of thorny gum trees (or giant shrubs; there’s another battle we’re not getting into).  You can find these trees growing in Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and across the Arabian Peninsula.

Myrrh is in the same plant family as frankincense. When the bark of the tree is cut, resin escapes in “tears.” The resin hardens quickly, becoming glossy and turning an amber color. Myrrh is used for incense and for embalming the dead. Its oil is also used as a pain reliever.

It is myrrh’s use in funerals that probably put it on the gift list of the Magi. It’s a premonition of Jesus’ death and eventual resurrection.

Myrrh is flammable, and that quality made it popular in religious ceremonies. So popular that the ancient bull market in myrrh sent prices soaring. But then the people of Judea and Egypt discovered flammable, oily bitumen bobbing up in big chunks from the bottom of the Dead Sea. Bitumen was substituted in funeral ceremonies on a wide scale, and the price of myrrh crashed.

You know bitumen by another name – oil sands. It’s the stuff that helped make Canada an energy-exporting dynamo.

So what does myrrh go for today? Surely something as useful as myrrh must be costly, right? Nope! You can buy myrrh from India for $12 a pound.

Or, you can pay a lot more for myrrh essential oil from Egypt. That’s 16.6 ounces for around $300.

So, to tally all that up: An ounce of gold, a pound of frankincense and a pound of myrrh would cost you about $1,200, plus shipping. And you can spend even more if you want to spring for the really good stuff.

The gifts of the Magi had something in common: They were classic. They stood the test of time. That’s a darned good guideline for gifts, even today.

Happy holidays,

Sean