A History of Silver

By Tim Lambert

Ancient Silver

From Ancient Times silver has been used for jewelry and for eating and drinking vessels. People have been mining silver since at least 3,000 BC.

Silver was also used for coins. From about 400 BC silver coins were used in Greece. The Romans had a silver coin called a denarius. From the 8th century AD, the Anglo-Saxons in what is now England made silver pennies. A pound weight of silver was melted to make 240 pennies. There were 240 pennies in a pound until 1971. However, in the 8th century, a penny was a large sum of money (4 or 5 pence would buy a sheep).

In 845 the Vikings raided Paris. The French king paid them 7,000 pounds of silver to leave.

In the early 16th century silver was discovered near the city of Joachimsthal in what is now the Czech Republic. Silver coins were made, which were called Joachimsthalers. Later they were called thalers and our word dollar is derived from that.

Modern Silver

Both the Aztecs and the Incas made jewelry from silver – until they were conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century. The Spanish looted the New World of precious metals. The Spanish used forced labor to mine silver in Bolivia. Many of the Indians who were forced to work in mines died there. During the 16th century, 7.4 million kilograms of silver were shipped to Spain.

Once when a child was christened it was traditional for the godparents to give a silver spoon as a gift (if they could afford it!). However, a child born into a rich family did not have to wait. He or she had it all from the start. They were ‘born with a silver spoon in their mouth’.

In 1743 a man named Thomas Bolsover discovered a way of plating copper with silver. This silver plate was, of course, cheaper than silver and was very popular for things like candlesticks and teapots.

Silver was found in Nevada, USA in 1858. As a result, there was a silver rush. In 1859 Henry Comstock discovered silver in California. Today silver is often used in photography and dentistry. Silver is also used in batteries.

Silver is the state metal of Nevada. The chemical symbol for silver is Ag from the Latin word for silver, argentum. Argentina also gets its name from silver.

Last Revised 2024