“Every cloud has a silver lining” goes the old saying. This week, Tidbits digs deep for the facts on this shiny metal.
• We get the word silver from the old Anglo-Saxon word seolfor. Silver’s atomic number on the periodic table is 47, which denotes the number of protons found in the nucleus of its atom. Its symbol is Ag, which is short for Argentum, from the Sanskrit word argunas, translating to “shining.” The name of the South American country of Argentina has similar roots, from the Spanish adjective meaning “silvery,” because the natives gifted the Spanish explorers with silver objects when they landed there.
• The first five metals to be discovered were gold, copper, bronze, silver, and lead, with the discovery of silver dating to around 4000 B.C. Earliest evidence of silver mining dates back to 3000 BC in Turkey and Greece. These ancient people even developed a refining process of heating the ore and blowing air over it, causing other base metals such as lead and copper to oxidize and separate from the silver. Archaeologists have dug up treasure in Israel from around the same era, which included silver hoop earrings. Some ancient civilizations believed that silver contained healing powers, and could bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits.
• According to Greek mythology, the goddess Artemis rode a silver chariot through the sky. This daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo was the goddess of the hunt, forests and hills, and the moon and carried a silver bow which she used to shoot silver moonbeams to Earth.
• Mexico is the leading producer of silver, with a history of mining dating back about 500 years, when Spanish conquistadors conquered southern Mexico and began setting up mines. Peru, China, Chile, and Russia follow Mexico in silver production. Serious silver mining in the United States began with the discovery of Nevada’s Comstock Lode in 1858 near Virginia City. Close to $306 million of silver was extracted from the area between 1859 and 1992. Nevada is now the second-largest producer of silver in the U.S., behind Alaska, which is home to the nation’s largest silver mine. Idaho ranks third in production.
• Silver is not usually the primary product that companies are mining. Because it’s present in many naturally-occurring minerals, such as gold, copper, lead, and zinc, it’s often mined as a by-product of these minerals. Silver constitutes just 0.05 part per million of the Earth’s crust.
• The art of photography can contribute its success largely to silver. Early photographers used silver nitrate, a combination of silver, nitrogen, and oxygen, on their photo plates. The compound reacted to light by turning black which enabled photographers to capture a moment of light. Silver is still vital to the process today, with 9,000 metric tons of the metal used in that industry every year, nearly half of all annual silver production.
• Metals that are ductile are capable of being drawn out into wire or hammered into very thin sheets. Silver is the second-most ductile metal (after gold), with a single ounce of silver able to be drawn into an 8,000-foot-long (2,438-m) wire. Malleable elements are those capable of being hammered or rolled. One grain of silver, just 0.065 grams, can be rolled into a sheet 150 times thinner than a sheet of paper.
• In at least 14 different languages, the words “silver” and “money” are interchangeable. The ancient Lydians, who lived in what is modern-day Turkey, were the first to use silver as money around 700 B.C. The Greeks soon followed suit. Before 1965, U.S. coins consisted of about 90% silver. The Kennedy half-dollars minted in 1964 were 90% silver, but those made from 1965 to 1969 were just 40% silver, and by 1971 there was no silver in the coins. Only those in special collection sets contain any silver, including those struck for the nation’s Bicentennial. Today, a 1964 Kennedy half-dollar is worth about $5.50.
• The U.S. minted its first silver dollars in 1794. The most familiar of the country’s dollar coins, the Morgan Dollar, produced from 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921, was composed of 90% silver and 10% copper, as were most U.S. silver dollars dated 1964 or earlier. Contrast this with the Eisenhower dollar (1971 – 1978) and the Susan B. Anthony dollar (1979 – 1981, 1999), which contained no silver whatsoever!
• Because silver is the most reflective element, reflecting 95% of the visible light spectrum, it’s used in mirrors, telescopes, and microscopes.
• What makes sterling silver sterling? Contrary to popular belief, it is not solid silver, because pure silver is too soft for items like jewelry and tableware. Sterling consists of 92.5% silver, with the remaining 7.5% copper or occasionally other metals to strengthen the silver. Silver-plated items are manufactured from another type of base metal such as copper, nickel, brass, or pewter, thn coated with a very thin layer of silver.
• Silver tarnishes when it’s exposed to air because it reacts with hydrogen sulfide found there, forming a black sulfide layer. It will tarnish faster in locations high in humidity and air pollution. Chemicals found in lotion, hairspray, perfume, and deodorant will also accelerate tarnishing, as well as serving eggs and onions in silver dishes. Wearing silver necklaces with wool clothing also hastens the process.
• It’s easy to clean silver jewelry by lining a glass container with foil, adding hot water, and two tablespoons of salt and baking soda. Leaving the pieces in the dip for about five minutes will help make tarnish disappear, followed up by rinsing with water and drying with a soft cloth.
• In the medical world, silver has strong antibacterial properties, and is a powerful natural antibiotic. It’s often used in ointments, in bandages, and in the dressing of wounds. Some naturopaths use it to treat colds and flu, and sinus and lung infections. It was once used by dentist to fill cavities.
• The phrase “born with a silver spoon in their mouth” refers to having a high social position or wealth from birth. However, due to silver’s medicinal qualities, it was believed that children fed with silver spoons were healthier than those fed with wooden or pewter spoons, further contributing to the phrase’s origin.

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