What is Silver?

Silver is an interesting metal. The soft, white lustrous properties of silver and it’s many attributes have all helped to make silver a desirable metal for thousands of years. Silver’s chemical symbol is Ag which comes from the latin name argentum. It’s atomic numbfer is 47.

Silver has long been valued as a precious metal and is still used today for making various items from tableware to fine jewellery. We continue to use silver today for it’s conducting properties in electrical conductors and contacts. It is also used in mirrors and as a catalysis in chemical reactions. Until recently silver was widely used in photographic film, it is now in much less demand due to the rise of digital photography however the price of silver is still at an all time high.

In it’s purest form silver is considered too soft a metal to make things. This drove the search for a metal that could be mixed with silver to give it the strength needed while retaining it’s beauty. Early on it was found that when mixed with a small amount of copper the silver became much stronger. Over the years many metals have been used to create silver alloys, some of which are far more resistant to tarnishing and others are more resistant to firescale. Today the search for the perfect blend is still ongoing. Over the years various purities of silver have been used and settled upon as standards. Some examples are listed below:

• 99.9 % Is considered pure silver.

• 98.0 % Was used widely in Mexico between 1930 and 1949.

• 95.84 % Was the standard for Britannia Silver produced between 1697 and 1720.

• 95.0 % Was used by the French, 1st Standard.

• 92.5 % This standard is known as Sterling Silver and is denoted by the Lion Passant hallmark.

• 90.0 % Was used in the USA for coins.

• 87.5 % Was used in the former USSR.

• 83 % Was used in Scandinavia.

• 80.0 % Was the German standard after 1884.

Silver compounds have Anti-Ceptic effects on some bacteria, viruses, algae and fungi just like some other metals like lead and mercury, however silver is not Anti-Ceptic to humans. This fact has seen silver compounds used in various items such as clothing, silver impregnated material helps combat odours by keeping bacteria and fungi at bay. Silver bottles have been used in the past to store consumables such as wine and vinegar as it prolongs their life considerably. Silver coins were once used to keep milk from going off. Today in hospitals you will find that a lot of catheters are made of silver as the metal helps to stop infections caused by bacteria.

Silver is also a fantastic conductor for heat, you commonly find that the handles of antique silver tea or coffee pots are insulated using ivory or bone. Some items actually use this property to their advantage, meat skewers are inserted into large joints drawing the heat from the oven into the joint for even cooking.

The native form of silver is more often than not an alloy, usually found with gold and in ores containing sulphur, arsenic, antimony or chlorine. The principal sources of silver are ores of copper, copper-nickel, lead or lead-zinc. These ores are primarily found in Mexico, Australia, Chile, Peru, China, Poland and Serbia. Both Mexico and Peru have been mining silver since 1546 and are still the major producers of the world.

Antique Silver

With our knowledge and expertise we’ve put together a number of short articles relating to silver. here you will find information ranging from the techniques used by silversmiths to knowing your hallmarks. Whether you’re a first time buyer keen to learn a bit about your first purchase or you need to know how to clean and care for your new piece, we’re here to help. Choose an article below or contact us if you need to know more regarding your silver.