08.18.20

Hi-Oh Silver

The characteristics, chemistry and compounds of silver are fascinating. And complex. Therefore, in the interest of entertainment, we’re opting out of the science part and giving you just the historical highlights of this highly conductive, reflective and precious metal.

  • It’s one of the metals of antiquity, meaning there’s proof prehistoric humans used it for any number of cool things. Tools, weapons, cutlery and the like.
  • Right off the bat, humankind saw its usefulness and value. All that was left was to give this shiny rock in the ground a name. In Old English, it was seolfor. In German, silber and in Dutch, zilver. In Latin (always the contrarian) it was argentum which explains why it’s listed as Ag on the periodical table. 
  • Moving past the prehistoric, by 4,000 B.C. the process of cupellation (the extraction of silver from other ores) brought an explosion of mining, trading and hoarding.

  • Up to and through the middle ages, the scramble for silver for art, jewelry, currency and silverware caused mine depletions in the Mediterranean, Central Europe and Scandinavia which both increased its value and sparked conflict between empires for possession.
  • But it was in 1492 that things got crazy. Europeans discovered the New World and for the next 300 years, 85% of the world’s silver came from Bolivia, Mexico and Peru.
  • Ancient Phoenicians believed it had healing powers and warded off evil spirits. Turns out they were half right. Because as far back as the 1830s it was used as a filling by dentists and in the 1960s, silver sulfadiazine was discovered as an effective antibiotic in treating burns and other wounds.
  • Before refrigeration, liquids (especially milk) were kept fresh and bacteria-free in silver-lined jugs. And when they weren’t chugging down a shot of whiskey, cowboys would toss a silver coin into their moo juice so it would last longer.

  • Malleable? You betcha? An ounce of silver can be pounded out to a single wire approximately a mile and a half long.
  • Before 1965, U.S. coins were 90% silver. By 1969 that dropped to 40%. And by 1970, our “silver money” contained exactly zero silver.
  • Due to its beauty and worth, it’s natural you’ll find silver in jewelry and silverware. But, due to its anti-corrosive, high conductive and reflective properties, silver is truly sil-versatile, and used as a key ingredient in photography, mirrors and stained glass, batteries, electronics, deodorants and detergents, solar panels, car engines and novelty explosives. In some South Asian countries, it’s even used as sprinkles on ice cream and cupcakes.
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