The story of silver dates back to our earliest recorded histories. Along with gold and copper, silver was one of the first metals used in ancient civilizations. Silver mining began over 5000 year ago in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and Egypt. These early mines (or lodes) were a valuable resource for the civilizations that grew and flourished in the Near East and eastern Mediterranean. As early mines began to be depleted around 1200 BC, new discoveries shifted primary silver production to Greece’s Laurium mines. In about 100 AD, Spain became the leader in silver production. The Spanish mines provided silver to the Roman Empire and the Asian spice routes that were developing during this period.
New major discoveries during the middles ages saw mining begin in several European countries, with most in eastern and central Europe. However, no single event in the history of silver rivals the importance of the discovery of large deposits of silver in the New World. The sheer quantity coming from the New World mines reinvented the role of silver. With its control of most of the New World mines, Spain again became the world leader in silver production, and between 1500 and 1800 over 85% of the world’s silver came from Spanish mines in Bolivia, Peru and Mexico.
In the nineteenth century, the United States began to produce significant amounts of silver from new discoveries in the Sierra Nevadas. The largest and most famous strike in 1859 at the Comstock Lode in Nevada helped make the US the world’s largest silver producer until about 1900.
The period between 1876 and 1920 saw incredible growth in both technological innovation and exploration worldwide. Spurred by new discoveries in Canada, the US, Africa, Mexico, Chile, Japan and other countries, silver production soared. During this less than 50-year period, silver output increased over 170%, from 80 million troy ounces annually to over 190 troy ounces annually.
Over the last 100 years, new technologies have also contributed to large increases in silver production. Major advances in the mining and extraction processes have led to improved techniques to separate silver from ore and the ability to quickly process larger volumes of silver-bearing ore. These technological advances are more important than ever as high-grade ore deposits throughout the world are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Mystery and Lore
Looking back at every major early civilization, we find that beliefs in silver’s mystical and metaphysical properties are woven into the threads of religion, rituals and daily life. Egyptian, Tibetan, Roman, Aztec, Native American and many other cultures cherished, worshiped and searched for silver because of its healing and protective properties.
Just as many early cultures considered gold the metal of the sun, silver was thought to be the metal of the moon. Like the moon, silver is reflective in nature, and is said to have an innate ability to mirror one’s soul, bringing the wearer of silver jewelry a sense of self-awareness, calm and balance. Some have also believed that silver allows us to tap into the moon’s positive energy, protecting us from negativity.
Silver has long been thought of as the metal of emotions, love and healing. Its close ties to the moon are said to enhance its ability to foster loving relationships and lasting romance. Silver has been said to help the wearer lead a more spiritual life, and was commonly used by early civilizations where people lived in close harmony with the earth. Early Tibetan, Aztec and Native American cultures crafted silver jewelry set with gemstones and crystals, thereby resonating and strengthening the powerful healing and protective properties of each.
The first documented use of silver for the prevention of infections dates to ancient Greece and Rome. During the Middle Ages, silver was commonly used to disinfect water and keep food from spoiling during storage. It was also used to prevent infection in burns and wounds. As late as the 19th century, sailors routinely put silver coins in barrels of water and wine to keep the liquid pure. Pioneers making the long covered-wagon journey across America did the same.
Folklore throughout Europe credits silver as being an antidote to many illnesses and a defense against mythical creatures. Of note, silver was believed to be a repellent and weapon against vampires. It was also widely accepted that the only way to kill a werewolf was with a blade or bullet made of silver.
The popular tradition of giving a defined gift to mark a particular wedding anniversary began several hundred years ago in the Germanic area of medieval Europe. The “Silver” anniversary has always been an important celebratory milestone for married couples and was first marked centuries ago with the giving of a silver garland. While the tradition has evolved and commercialized over the years, silver continues to be the gift of choice for a 25th wedding anniversary.
With its rich history and lore, there’s no doubt that silver’s value transcends well beyond its monetary worth. In addition to its intrinsic worth, many people find value in the rich and varied mythological, religious and spiritual aspects shared and cherished across a myriad of cultures for thousands of years.