The History of Silver

Silver mining is believed to have begun 5000 years ago during the ancient civilizations of man.

Second only to gold, Silver was considered by the Ancients to be an almost sacred metal and was therefore restricted in its use and access. In Ancient Egypt, Silver was considered the most precious metal given it was rarer than gold during this period. It was therefore used to depict the gods of the land such was its importance.

The unique shine of Silver as a metal is no doubt one of the reasons why Silver became a precious commodity and assisted in its prolonged history in coinage, medicine and jewelry which has sustained its status as a symbol of wealth and prestige.
So why has Silver remained among the most sought after metals in the planet. The answer lies in its wide range of industrial to medicinal properties that have enabled it to stand tall above almost all other metals.

Properties of silver:

  • Silver holds the characteristic of being so ductile that when stretched to the limit, will be finer than a strand of human hair.
  • It is also the most lustrous of all metals and also the whitest and can achieve the finest shine of any metal.
  • It is extremely corrosion resistant only tarnishing once in contact with Sulphur.
  • It also has antibacterial properties being able to break down bacteria’s cell walls.
  • Silver is able to endure extreme temperature ranges.
  • It has exceptional electrical conductivity properties

It is these evolving characteristics which have made Silver one of the most sought after metals throughout the ages.

Medical Properties

Silver has been used as an anti-bacterial agent dating back to the era of its discovery. In ancient Greece, Silver was used to control infections and spoilage. Evidence of this is documented in the works of Hippocrates, the father of medicine. He taught that Silver healed wounds and controlled diseases. He also claimed it as being the singular cure to ulcers. Silver’s medicinal use spread throughout to the deserts of the Middle East to the highlands in Europe. Silver was used to purify water as the vessels used for storage were cast out of Silver enabling the silver through its antibacterial capabilities to purify the water.

Evidence also exists of travellers putting Silver coins to water collected from streams for purification.
However, not only was this practice utilized in the past, today both the U.S and Russian space shuttles harness electrified silver and copper filtration systems among other applications in its water purification.

Silver as a Currency

Due to its wider abundance as compared to Gold, Silver was widely used in trade and was preferred as a form of currency making it the most widely used material for coinage in history.

The first silver coins were minted in Lydia, present-day Turkey, as an alloy of Gold and Silver in 564 BC. The coin was named the Lydian Trite.
But it was the coins in Greece, the Athenia Owl, that amassed popularity and influence and remained in circulation from 449 BC to 30 BC. The Athenia Owl was the earliest type of pure silver coins.

Ancient Egyptians also used Silver metal in coinage. The Silver Tetradrachm, was an Egyptian coin that was used between 305-283 BC. To the Egyptians, Silver was more precious than gold due to it being more scarce in their region.

The Roman Empire, from 15AD -37AD, had their silver Denarius.  This coin was common during this time and is referenced even in the New Testament of the Bible.

It was not until 1789, when the American constitution came into effect that Silver was legally recognized as currency in USA.  The first US mint was established in 1792 through the Coinage Act with the dollar defined as a weight of silver. The silver coinage was however abandoned in 1965 due to its increasing price with other nations following suit.

Silver in Industry

Despite its high price, Silver has stamped its presence in the industrial world with its unique technical proficiency. This has inhibited the use of other less costly metals. Silver is one of the best electricity conductors making it ideal for electrical appliances. Coupled with its non-corroding nature, it has found use in switches, multilayer capacitors, conductive adhesives and is used in coating for optical data storage media, including DVDs.

Another amazing application can be found in the Air Force C17 transport and the Army’s Apache helicopter where when alloyed with aluminum, produces the world’s strongest alloy, raising the bar of aviation engineering.

Silver has also found a home in the contemporary ‘green world’. In these times of high fossil fuel use which detrimentally affects our environment and the fear of global warming, Silver serves as a primary ingredient in photovoltaic cells that trap the sun’s rays used in solar technology which is a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

Silver’s growing use in nanotechnology as an anti-bacterial agent has ensured that we use less of the harsh chemicals that are harmful to our ecosystem.

It is also used in phones, plasma screens and computers only to name but a few in its endless application in industry.
Silver has innumerable applications in art, science, industry and beyond and remains a metal of endless possibilities in technological advances in the future.

With a look at history, it is clear that Silver has redefined itself over time, serving humanity in innumerable different ways now and in the future. With advancing technology, it is only a matter of time before we discover other amazing use for this ‘precious’ metal.

Silver truly is an element without substitution.