Silver in its pure native form (elemental silver) is actually quite rare in nature. Native silver usually occurs mixed in ores with other metals. Gold on the other hand is often found in its pure elemental form in nuggets on varying sizes. Silver can therefore be considered somewhat more rare and precious than gold.
The first known efforts by man to mine silver from the earth occurred in Anatolia, in the country presently known as Turkey. The ancient Egyptians also found richer than average silver deposits in the gold they mined. They eventually learned how to separate the two precious metals, and refine the silver into what was known to them as “white gold”. By the year 2500 BC, the Chaldeans were purifying silver from ores of lead they mined. This is generally a more efficient method of refining silver, and led to a flood of silver across the ancient world. Another ancient culture prominent in silver’s history was the Greeks, who discovered rich deposits of silver near ancient Athens. These discoveries eventually led to the infamous Larium mines, which produced silver for hundreds of years.
Silver was an invaluable metal to ancient peoples. Its malleability and durability lent to the widespread use of silver as money, art, and jewelry. Silver, like gold, is considered a noble metal – it will not readily react and will never rust. Naturally, these properties led to peoples ascribing a variety of supernatural and mystical powers to silver. In modern times, we know that silver can eventually develop a blackish surface tarnish if exposed to sulfur. However, it is only since the industrial revolution that there has been sufficient sulfur in the atmosphere to tarnish silver.
Ancient civilizations were laden with religious and mythical beliefs, and as such, silver came to be associated with various gods. Silver and gold were believed to be favored by the gods, who kept the metals shiny and rust-free. Silver also has unique anti-microbial properties, which were recognized even by ancient peoples who had no knowledge of modern medicine and biology. People observed that wine stored in silver vessels remained drinkable longer than containers of other materials. The Romans knew that dropping silver coins in water storage containers would mean fewer soldiers would become sick after drinking. Silver powders and tinctures were applied to wounds because it was known to prevent sepsis. It was also noticed that spoiled food and drink would often turn silver drinking cups and silverware black on contact, which led to the widespread custom of using silver in dinnerware. The probably didn’t know that the reason the poisoned food blackened the silver is because many spoiled foods contain high concentrations of sulfur. The common belief was that silver had supernatural powers, which explained these properties. These mystical properties of silver are further expressed in supernatural literature . Silver is believed to be harmful and potentially lethal to vampires, and one needs a silver bullet to shoot down a werewolf.
Silver is the most reflective of all metals, and this led to the common use of silver in mirrors. Silver’s reflectivity and color also led to its frequent association with the moon. Women are also often associated with the moon, and over time this has led to silver being linked to everything female. Silver is commonly used in magic and ancient shamanistic rituals, where it is attributed with all sorts of powers. Generally, it is seen as a beneficial substance, which strengthens the effects of magic, and protects and focuses the silver wearer. Silver is also believed to reflect harmful energies and spirits.
In more modern times, silver has found a myriad of roles in industry. Silver can be found in electronics, solar panels, photographic film, batteries, medicines, and countless other products crucial to modern living. It has been used as currency in coinage since ancient times. The ancient Greek silver drachmas, for example, were popular trade coins that spread through the entire Mediterranean region. Other ancient cultures in India, Persia, South America and Europe used silver coinage.
Silver has been used for coins instead of other materials for many reasons:
- Silver is easily traded (liquid), and has a low buy and sell price spread.
- Silver coins and bars are fungible. That is, one unit is equivalent to another unit of the same measure.
- Silver is an easily transportable physical store of wealth. Precious metals like silver and gold have a high value to weight ratio.
- Pure silver can be divided into smaller units without destroying its value. It can be melted and re-melted into various forms and measures.
- Pure silver coins and bars have a definable weight, or measure, to verify its legitimacy.
- Silver is durable. A silver coin will not rust away.
- Silver has a stable value. It has always been a scarce and useful metal.
Despite the attempted demonetization of silver in the last century by government and banks, silver bullion, commemorative, and circulation coins are still minted today. They are popular among collectors and investors who desire a store of wealth they can physically control, which acts as a hedge against inflation. Silver’s investment demand has rapidly increased in the last several years as the governments of the world continue to inflate their currencies. With its myriad of industrial uses and growing investment demand, silver may one day be valued as equal or even higher than gold.