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The ultimate guide to silver

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From the Archives : Originally published May 27th, 2016
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Category : Gold and Silver


Thinking about investing in silver? Here's your essential guide to the history, culture and science of one of the most remarkable metals known to man.

 The Periodic Table lists elements in order of atomic weight. At 47 on the table, silver is represented by 'Ag' from argentum, the Latin description for white, shiny metal.  Silver is one of the seven so-called 'metals of antiquity' which mankind identified and found uses for thousands of years ago.  First mined around 3,000 BC in a region now part of Turkey, silver was originally refined by the process of 'cupellation', which uses high temperatures to oxidize and remove base metal impurities.  Because of its resistance to oxidation and corrosion, silver was known as a 'noble' metal, a group which includes gold and platinum.  Soft enough for early craftsmen to work into intricate patterns, silver was ideal for making ornate objects. In fact, it can be stretched into wire thinner than a human hair.  Adding to the attraction of silver as ornamentation, it is one of the most lustrous of all metals when polished.

 As well as its long association with jewellery, silver has been used in the manufacture of cutlery and tableware since Roman times.

 Sterling silver was invented in the Middle Ages. It contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals (usually copper), giving it hardness and strength for use in functioning objects.  Because silver is durable, stable and intrinsically valuable, it possesses qualities that make it ideal for use as money.  Made from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold, the first coins are said to have been invented in ancient Lydia (modern-day Turkey) around the 7th century BC.  In reality, gold is too rare and simply too valuable for everyday transactions.  With the discovery of a silver mine near Athens, the ancient Greeks became the first people to use silver coins extensively.  In Britain, a pound coin originally weighed one troy pound of silver.  In Spanish (plata) and French (argent) the word for 'money' and 'silver' can be interchanged; the Indian rupee derives from the Sanskrit wordmeaning 'wrought silver'.  Huge deposits of silver were discovered in Spain's South American colonies in the 16th century, accounting for the lion's share of world production for around 300 years.  The discovery of silver in the Bohemian town of Joachimsthal led to the production of Joachimsthalers, large silver coins that became known as thalers, daalders, and ultimately dollars.

 The last Australian circulating coin made predominantly of silver was the 1966 round 50 cent decimal piece. Due to the rising cost of silver, its bullion value became higher than its face value, which resulted in its withdrawal. Three of these coins make a full ounce of silver.


 Although silver does occur naturally in pure form, it's mainly found in silver bearing ores with copper, copper-nickel, lead, and lead-zinc.  The giant Comstock Lode, the richest silver deposit in American history, was discovered in Nevada around 1857.  It's estimated that there is roughly 15 times more silver in the Earth's crust than gold.  The top five producers of silver by country today are Mexico, Peru, China, Australia, and Russia. Annual average global mine production is reported at about 670 million troy ounces.  Because it is the best thermal and electrical conductor of all the metals, silver is found in countless electronic and modern technological devices.  Silver has antibacterial properties, which means it is a useful ingredient in wound dressings and water purification.  Silver is an important constituent in photovoltaic cells and thus in demand for the proliferating number of solar energy panels.

 The majority of silver is today accounted for by these and an extensive list of other industrial applications, including batteries, bearings, brazing, soldering, inks, printing, and automotive industries, which underpin global demand.


 The gold/silver ratio describes the number of ounces of silver required to purchase a single ounce of gold. Throughout the 20th century the ratio averaged about 50:1.  When oil executives Nelson and William Hunt attempted to corner the market in 1980 by acquiring vast amounts of silver, rising prices drove the ratio down to 17:1. Seeking safety in gold at the start of the 1991 Gulf War, investors pushed the ratio up to 100:1.  Sometimes referred to as "poor man's gold", silver nevertheless has a reputation as an effective store of value which has retained its purchasing power over long periods of time.  The price of silver reached its all-time high of nearly US$50 in January 1980. After slipping back toward just US$4 in 2001, it again tested US$50 in April 2011.  In theory, at least, silver is counter-cyclical to other asset classes, experiencing greater investment demand during events such as the Global Financial Crisis. In better economic times, say its proponents, more demand can be expected for industrial applications.  History shows that the price of silver is more volatile than gold and that this can offer shrewd investors the opportunity to "buy low and sell high".  Accredited by the London Bullion Market Association, The Perth Mint refines and fabricates bullion bars and coins for investors in 99.99% and 99.9% pure silver.


Data and Statistics for these countries : Australia | China | Georgia | Mexico | Peru | Russia | Spain | Turkey | All
Gold and Silver Prices for these countries : Australia | China | Georgia | Mexico | Peru | Russia | Spain | Turkey | All
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