The last time the world as we knew it seemed likely to end, Dan Tapiero thought about buying gold.
He didn’t tell his wife; they didn’t talk about things like that. In fact he didn’t tell anyone for a while. He just tried to figure out how he was going to buy physical gold as the financial markets collapsed at the end of 2008.
Mining stocks were not for him, and neither was buying gold on the futures exchange. That was financial gold, meaning it existed on account statements but was not tangible. He wanted the real thing, gold in the form of bullion that he could hold in his palms, smudge with his thumbs.
But Mr. Tapiero, a portfolio manager at several hedge funds over the last two decades, realized quite quickly that it was harder to fulfill his desire than he had thought. When he called up one bank he patronized in his day job, he learned it had a minimum purchase amount of $20 million worth of physical gold. Even at that amount, he could not have access to it; it would have to stay at the bank.
He didn’t want to buy that much, but he wanted to buy more than a bag of gold coins, or a bar or two. Most of all, he wanted to know that it would be stored someplace safe where he could get to it even if all of the banks suddenly closed for a while. “There was concern at that time that the system was frozen and you didn’t really know whether you were going to be able to have access to your money or to your assets,” Mr. Tapiero said. “And I started thinking, O.K., well, I’d like to own something that isn’t a number on a flashing screen.”
Investing in physical gold has had an image problem of late. After the financial crisis, it was seen by many mainstream advisers as something that crackpots coveted. They would buy it, store in their basements and know that their wealth was secure if the world — or at least the prevailing financial and political systems — ended.