DEFINITION of 'Silver'

Silver, a precious metal, is an element commonly used in jewelry, coins, electronics and photography. It has the highest electrical conductivity of any metal, and is therefore a highly valuable substance. In many global cultures and religions, silver is used in traditional ceremonies and worn as jewelry during important occasions.


While the majority of press is given to price movements of gold in the global marketplace, silver is also viewed by many to hold key importance in understanding the potential movements of commodities markets, and of the overall marketplace as well. This is due to the fact that many buyers and sellers trade silver based on global-macro trends.

Investors and traders buy silver through commodities markets. Common commodities markets for precious metals exist in Japan, London, mainland Europe and the United States. Individuals can buy silver in bars, coins and bullion.

History of Silver

Evidence of the first silver mines dates back to 3000 B.C. in Anatolia, a site in modern-day Turkey. By 1200 B.C., much of the silver mining in that part of the world shifted east to Greece, as ancient Greek civilization expanded. In 100 A.D., Spanish silver mines fed the Roman Empire's economy.

Silver's popularity increased in the years 1000 to 1500, thanks to improved technology, more mines and better production techniques. The quest for silver and other precious metals gave rise to Spanish fleets that sailed all over the world seeking wealth and new lands to conquer. Silver production in the United States peaked in the 1870s with the Comstock Lode in Nevada, and by the end of the 19th century, humans produced more than 120 million Troy ounces every year. One of the most obvious ways humans used silver was in the minting of coins.

Silver Coins

In the early 1960s, supplies of silver in the United States dwindled to all-time lows. Therefore, the U.S. government decided to stop using silver in its coins after 1964. Any American dimes, quarters, half dollars or dollar coins with a date of 1964 or earlier contain 90% silver. If the price of silver is $20 per ounce, these silver coins are worth approximately 14 times their face value in the precious metal content alone. A silver dime is worth $1.40, whereas a silver dollar is worth $14 at a $20-per-ounce price.

Silver Prices and Statistics

The per-ounce price of silver reached highs in the early 1980s of more than $20 per Troy ounce, before dipping back down in the 1990s. By 2014, the price rose to around $19 per ounce for the year.

In terms of mining, humans excavated more than 27,300 tons of silver in 2015. China, Mexico and Peru mined the most silver in that year. Around 1,100 tons of silver came from the United States. Most of the world's silver production in 2015 came as a byproduct from lead-zinc, copper and gold mines.