Silver: An Important Player in World History

Silver has played a prominent role in history since as early as 5,000 years ago. Here’s a brief look at silver and its significance over the years.

Silver History

(Pixabay / Wild0ne)

3000 - 2500 BC: People began mining silver. In addition, the residents of modern day Turkey (“ancient Chaldeans”) created a process to extract pure silver from lead-silver ores. This was a precursor of today’s silver processing methods.

550 BC – 250 AD: The people of the eastern Mediterranean began making silver coins in 550 BC. In roughly 250 BC, the Roman Empire incorporated silver coins into their monetary system and, thanks to the vast reach of the empire, the coins spread far and wide.

250 – 1,200 AD: Spain was the predominant producer of silver during most of this time frame. Central European countries begin to give Spain a run for its money between 750 and 1200 AD. The Saxons began trading with silver coins called “sterlings.”

1200 – 1500 AD: China began using silver as a currency in 1279. By the time of the Ming Dynasty (beginning in 1368), silver was the leading currency. This continued until China’s last dynasty ended in 1911. Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World paved the way for mining in Central and South American countries, which became the source of the vast majority of the world’s silver through 1800.

1545 -1750 AD: Silver’s fame surged after the discovery of a silver ore mine in Bolivia—the largest silver deposit in the world. Many trade routes were opened during this period, and silver spread globally as the new “international currency.” Mexico and Peru became the largest producers of silver during this time.

1750 – 1900: In 1792, the U.S. adopted a gold and silver monetary system. In 1858, the gold rush had died down, but people began rushing for silver when it was discovered in Nevada. Silver took a hit in 1900 with the Gold Standard Act that tied the U.S. currency to gold alone instead of both gold and silver.

1900 to present: In 1934, President Roosevelt, attempting to stabilize the economy in the midst of the Great Depression, passed an executive order that capped private ownership of silver to 500 troy ounces per individual. In the 1960s, the government stopped using silver in the production of quarters and dimes. Notable business tycoons led the way in silver investments, including the Hunt Brothers who were ultimately charged with conspiracy for attempting to monopolize the silver market, and Warren Buffet who bought 130 million ounces of silver.

Today, sterling silver (92.5 percent pure silver) is used for silverware and jewelry. Jewelry can be solid or plated with a metal plating kit. Silver is used in batteries and in the automotive and telecommunications industries. Silver electroplating is used for industrial applications, including electrical connectors.

History of Silver [infographic]

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