SILVER: HISTORY AND USES
Silver is one of the most major of major precious metals, second in acclaim only to gold, it's big sister in the pantheon of desirability.
The usage of silver came into being sometime between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Although it may have been even earlier - records vary. Certainly we can go back to the early Egyptian period and the time of the Sumerian Civililisation. Silver mining was a very dangerous business in those far off days. The problem was that silver is found while mining for, and so is mixed with, lead. And often the lives of the early miners lasted for only 2 or 3 years. Lead poisoning was not diagnosed as such in the early days - though the poor slaves who were actually doing the mining must have had their suspicions about the very high death tole.
The convenience and use of silver in the coinage of the world has always lent great respectability to the commodity. And, of course, created a consistently high demand. Tragically, many a beautiful silver dinner service has been melted down to provide coinage for the troops.
The great beauty of silver, its malleability and long (almost permanent) shelf-life makes it ideal for decorative work. Although the cost and value has varied enormously over the years, it has always had a great 'investment ' value. In general the metal value has declined. Though in this writer's opinion it remains a good investment even now (2004), despite a blip upwards in price these last 12 months. The relative cost of mining the metal has gone down as firstly more locations have been found around the world and secondly modern mining methods have reduced the labor content of exploration and mining. Other products have also become available, particularly very cheap plastics which can be used where silver may once have been preferred.
It is very interesting to note that the current value of silver bullion is now approximately 2% of the value 500 years ago! It's a bargain, as well as a commodity of great beauty.
The areas where silver is mined are found all over the world, but some of the main producers are: The U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, Bolivia, Russia, Australia and Germany.
Whereas the traditional uses for silver, in coinage, jewelry and silver flatware, are still important, we also need to remember that there is a very large silver content, mixed with lead, in pewter. Photography, medicine and the production of toiletries are all important these days, and also make use of this most magnificent of metals.