Silver is an element that is considered a precious metal due to its valuable properties and history as a currency, store of wealth and decorative metal. The following are the basic characteristics of silver.
Material PropertiesSilver has valuable material properties as follows.
Highest of any metallic element
Highest of any metallic element
Very high for most wavelengths of visible light. Less reflective than aluminum for violet and ultraviolet light.
A noble metal that is resistant to corrosion and oxidation in moist air.
Ductility & Malleability
Soft, ductile and malleable but less malleable than gold.
Industrial UsesSilver is an important industrial material that is used in solar panels, semiconductor devices, circuits, electrodes, capacitors, antennas and other electrical components. It also has specialized uses in mirrors, photographic equipment, medical instruments, medicine, filtration equipment and as a disinfectant agent.
Decorative ItemsSilver is used to produce jewelry, silverware and other high value decorative items. It has been used for these purposes since antiquity due to its lustrous appearance, high value and malleability.
AbundanceThe abundance of silver in the Earth's crust is about 0.08 parts per million. This is more abundant than gold, platinum or palladium but far less than base metals such as tin or nickel.
Native MetalDeposits of pure silver as a native metal are far more rare than gold. As such, most silver is produced as a byproduct of the refining of other metals such as copper, gold, lead and zinc.
LusterSilver is extremely reflective such that it is unusually lustrous when polished. The characteristic white metallic shine of silver is a well known color name such that other white metals such as aluminum are perceived as being a silver color.
Metal of AntiquitySilver is one of the seven metals of antiquity alongside gold, copper, tin, lead, iron, and mercury. These were the only known metals before the 13th century when arsenic was discovered. This can be compared to the 86 metals known today. It is unknown how or when silver was discovered. In Ancient Egypt, silver was more expensive than gold until around the fifteenth century BC because its native form is more rare.
CurrencyThe earliest known coins produced by the Kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor around 600 BC were made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver. This appeared to set a precedent that has survived to this day as gold and silver coinage are a common feature of history. For example, the Ancient Greeks, Roman Empire and to a lesser extent the Byzantine Empire produced massive quantities of silver coins. Coins containing silver continued to be used throughout the middle ages and modern-era as an active currency. For example, circulated US quarters were a 90-percent silver alloy until 1965. Silver coins are still produced today by many nations and often serve as collectables or investments as opposed to a circulated currency.
BullionSilver is produced in standardized high purity bars, ingots and specialized coins that are used as a store of wealth and emergency currency. These are packaged into investment products that can be used to invest in silver or speculate on its price. The other precious metals sold as bullion are gold, platinum and palladium.
FoodSilver is poisonous but its pure metallic form is sometimes used in small quantities as a food coloring or decorative element based on the argument that it can't be digested. Again to be clear, many silver compounds are extremely poisonous. Nevertheless, silver is often used as a novelty or traditional food additive. For example, silver foil known as vark is used to decorate Asian desserts such as the Indian dessert kaju katli. Silver has no known purpose in the body.
CultureSilver is surrounded in a large number of myths, stories and has symbolic meaning in many cultures. For example, silver is often awarded as a prize or metal in sporting events such as the silver medals of the Olympic Games. In popular culture, silver bullets are portrayed as the only defense against werewolves, witches, vampires and other monsters. There are theories that this originated in the middle ages but more likely originated with the 1816 fiction Tales of My Landlord by Sir Walter Scott.
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ReferencesDrake, Pamela L., and Kyle J. Hazelwood. "Exposure-related health effects of silver and silver compounds: a review." The Annals of occupational hygiene 49.7 (2005): 575-585.Andreas Brumby et al. "Silver, Silver Compounds, and Silver Alloys" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2008.
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