Silver: History, Price & Why It’s Valuable


Understanding Silver as a Commodity
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In this guide to understanding silver as a commodity, we’ll discuss why it’s valuable, explain how it’s produced, and list the largest silver producing countries.

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Why is Silver Valuable?

Silver is a shiny white metal with several extraordinary characteristics.

See the current spot silver price .

It is malleable, pliable, and beautifully lustrous. Silver is also highly reflective and conducts electricity extremely well. It even kills bacteria.

All of these features make silver a valuable metal in a diverse array of industries including jewelry, electronics, energy, and medicine.

Yet these characteristics only scratch the surface of why silver is important in the global economy.

Silver is very rare and, along with gold and six platinum group metals, belongs to a group known as precious metals. For thousands of years, people have acquired silver as a store of value.

What Is Silver Used For?

Use of SilverDescription
Jewelry
Silver is beautiful, lustrous, and workable. It is, therefore, a popular choice in earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings. Most jewelry manufacturers use sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
Technology
Silver is used in a variety of technologies:

  • Electronics: Silver has excellent electric conductivity, which makes it a natural choice in printed circuit boards, switches and TV screens.


  • Solar: Ground silver powder is used to produce solar cells.


  • Catalysts: Catalysts help chemical processes occur. Silver’s unique chemical properties make it an important catalyst in the production of ethylene oxide and formaldehyde.


  • Brazing and Soldering: Silver is used to strengthen connections of pipes, faucets, ducts and electrical wires.


  • Ball Bearings: Silver electroplating helps strengthen ball bearings.


  • Medicine: Silver functions as a biocide and kills harmful germs.

Private Investors
Silver Money
Individuals and investment funds purchase silver to protect their portfolios against losses from inflation and market crises. Individuals can purchase silver bars, coins, or funds that invest in the metal.

How Is Silver Produced?

Silver mining began when ancient civilizations in Asia Minor first mined the metal over 5,000 years ago.

Almost 1,800 years later, the Greek Empire began mining silver as a currency, and during the height of the Roman Empire, silver became an essential trading commodity along the Asian spice routes.

The Spanish conquest of the New World in the 15th century, however, proved to be the most pivotal moment in the history of the commodity. Dramatic increases in silver mining in Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico occurred between 1500 and 1800 AD. These three nations accounted for 85% of the world’s production as the Spanish gained a foothold in the Americas.

Silver mining started in the United States around 1850. New discoveries there and in Australia, Central America, and Europe have bolstered recent production worldwide.

How Much Silver Has Ever Been Mined?

Production and reserves of silver are surprisingly limited, despite its long history of mining.

According to a report by the US Geological Survey, the estimated total amount of silver mined from antiquity through to 2001 at 1.26 million metric tons. Half of that was mined during the last 62 years.

More recent estimates place the total quantity mined in history at 1.5 million metric tons, which equates to only a 52 meter cube of the metal.

Silver Bars
Silver Bars by Sprott Money under CC BY 2.0.

Silver is rarely found in the Earth’s crust as a native element. Instead, miners usually find the element as a byproduct of mining for lead, zinc, copper, or gold.

World's Biggest Silver Producers map

Top Silver Producing Countries

Recent production of silver has declined as a result of a drop off in lead, zinc, and gold production.

RankFlagCountryAnnual Production (millions of ounces)
#1Flag of MexicoMexico186.2
#2Flag of PeruPeru147.7
#3Flag of ChinaChina112.4
#4Chile FlagChile48.1
#5Flag of RussiaRussia46.6
#6Flag of AustraliaAustralia43.6
#7Bolivia FlagBolivia43.5
#8Poland FlagPoland38.5
#9Flag of USAUnited States of America35.4
#10Argentina FlagArgentina30.0

Which Countries Have the Largest Silver Reserves?

Silver reserves are a measure of economically minable silver that’s in the ground. However, mining is an expensive endeavor, so the price of a metal determines whether it is feasible to mine it.

RankCountryReserves (in Thousands of Metric Tons)
#1Peru120
#2Australia89
#3Poland85
#4Chile77
#5China39

Where Can I Trade Silver?

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