Stuff Made of Silver

(photo credit:
(photo credit:

Shiny things

I'm a bit of a magpie. I like shiny things, and I suspect I'm not alone -- the glint of silver has been hypnotizing people for millennia; more abundant and useful than gold, silver has been hoarded and admired by kings and paupers alike. As coin, silver fulfilled an important function for trade in the history of commerce; but as adornment, it has always been coveted.

On the Periodic Table of Elements, silver (Ag) is 47th. I must admit that even after a moment of reflection this means nothing to me. I wish it did; I'd like to be enchanted by the knowledge that the atomic weight of silver is 107.8682 (107 what ?). What does interest me, though, is that the English word comes from the Anglo-Saxon seolfor (go on, say it out loud; isn't it a great word?). And if you're into the Latin classification, the chemical symbol, Ag, comes from the word argentum -- which leads us to Argentina, and the history of the South American continent explored and exploited for its rich metal deposits.

According to the Silver Institute, the price of silver has quadrupled since 2000 due to investor interest in the market (it reached $20 per troy ounce in the first half of 2008, before settling back to $16, but is holding firm at that price). If this needs a little context, the price in 1950 was 75¢ and the annualized inflation rate in the US between 1950 and 2008 was 3.85%. Sterling silver must have a content of at least 92.5% of the metal, and so any old sterling silver you have lying around has risen in value considerably. Hang on to it.

I just like silver because it's shiny, however. I also like white gold, which is an alloy of gold and silver, but I can't afford it. Silver jewelry is cheap, though (rather than coins or pure silver, the applications of which I'll get to in a minute), so it might be worth your while collecting all your old bits and pieces and melting them down (the melting point is 961.78°C or 1763.20°F, so don't try this at home, folks, and certainly not in any of your wife/mother/BFF's best cookware).

by Chelle from
by Chelle from
looks kinda grubby, doesn't it?  But the numismatists freak out if you polish your old coins, as it detracts from their worth.  from
looks kinda grubby, doesn't it? But the numismatists freak out if you polish your old coins, as it detracts from their worth. from

Applications of silver in science and technology

Since pure silver is the best conductor of electricity and heat that there is (that we know about, yet, at any rate), it is used in some circuit boards, in soldering, and for electrical contacts when all these need to be as efficient as possible (such as any found in NASA projects, for example).  So don't throw away your old shuttles or Apollo landing craft, either.  (Crews are hired to strip old space craft of all valuable metals and alloys, if you're wondering what they do with them.)  

Pure silver is also the best reflector of light known, too, although mirrors made of silver need a protective coating to prevent tarnishing, which I suppose interferes with the reflectivity.  For a review of the technical specifications of the reflective silver coating see this great article about the Gemini Observatory.  (Astronomical telescopes usually use aluminum mirrors with a coating of silicon dioxide.) If you're wondering, as I was, whether the Hubble Space Telescope used silver -- well, it doesn't.  It was manufactured with a "reflective coating of aluminium 65 nm-thick and a protective coating of magnesium fluoride 25 nm-thick" (see this article).

Silver cadmium and silver-zinc (silver oxide) batteries are high capacity options -- nickel cadmium batteries used to be standard on satellites, but Ag-Cd is lighter.  Cadmium is a heavy metal, like zinc and mercury, though not as toxic.  Silver oxide batteries can be found in missiles and submarines, as can mercury, since toxic waste is the least consideration in a torpedo, after all.

In photography, silver nitrate can be found in some films (remember those?) and photographic papers; again, silver's reflective qualities are key here, and as any older photographer knows, getting the chemistry right when developing prints is the trickiest part for us lesser mortals (sorry; I used to date a photographer who was insufferably smug about all things photographicalistic ).  

The most interesting instance of silver in science, though, is using silver iodide to seed rain clouds. As well as inducing rain, though, precipitation can also be suppressed -- silver iodide (AgI), along with dry ice and liquid nitrogen, will be used to seed clouds in China during the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. When smaller quantities of the three agents are used to freeze water in clouds, smaller ice particles are formed which evaporate before they reach the ground (larger particles thaw as they fall and hit us as rain). 

Shiny, shiny things

Silver is most accurately described as being a transition element (rather than a metal).  I don't really know what that means (I hope there isn't a quiz on all this at the end!) but I like the figurative connotations of transitional states for an element closely aligned with the moon (silver/moon, gold/sun) in literature and lore. Neat.


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sbeakr 7 years ago

This is an awesome hub! I also have Shiny-Thing Syndrome...your informative history/trivia mine is worth its weight in...well, you know. One of the most interesting tidbits I've read in a while.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Thanks for reading, sbeakr, and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it!

bingskee profile image

bingskee 7 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

i love shiny things, too. other than gold, silver truly had become a fascination to many. in our country, the young had once a fad where all the fingers had silver rings on it. i think there are still some who do that.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

It was the same here, too. Thanks for coming by, bingskee.

Pete Maida profile image

Pete Maida 7 years ago

Thanks for the education. I'm going to look around the house for silver.

jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines

Don't we all love shiny things?

Thank you for this informative hub!

emohealer profile image

emohealer 7 years ago from South Carolina

A great way of simplifying a very complex subject and brushing lightly on the little tidbits. I Love the silver and the shiny, don't wear or buy anything but, not because it is inexpensive rather because of its conductivity and reflective properties (and it looks pretty) Thumbs up, Thanks!

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Hope you find lots, Pete!

Jill -- thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Emo -- thanks very much for your comment.

Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Teresa, I didn't know about pure silver being the best reflector of light known, always learning something new :-) As to the silver iodide solution to prevent rain, didn't they use that already in 2008 Olympics? I think I heard something about it, not sure though.

Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines


I'm not one for blings and I only own two "silvery" accessories, a watch and a "bruised" silver bracelet which I recently cleaned using toothpaste. :D

frogdropping profile image

frogdropping 7 years ago

Teresa - this was great, for me at least, because I adore silver jewelry. Not that I'm dripping with it, I guess I mean silver is and always will be my preference.

Silver is a far more beautiful metal than some realise. Shiny too :)

2patricias profile image

2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Interesting Hub, and I have to tell you about our knowledge of chemistry.

A couple days ago Tricia and I (Pat) went to a Damien Hurst show. A lot of his art is based on medecine, but in the first room we entered there was a huge copy of the Periodic Table of the elements on the wall.

Tricia stared at it for a few minutes and then asked me, 'which room are we in now?'

She is short sighted and has lost her glasses, so I guess she has some excuse.

Anyway, by comparision you, Teresa, are a scientific genius.

pgrundy 7 years ago

What a fascinating hub! I love silver, much more so than gold. I have an antique silver ring that is two snakes with ruby eyes entwined on my right second finger, and a celtic knot silver ring on my left ring finger. Great info and good stuff, thanks. :)

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Teresa, I used to work in a jewellers that specialised in silver, and I've seen (and cleaned!) more of the stuff than I care to think about. I thought I knew a little about silver, but now I know a good deal more! Thanks for the interesting hub.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

Our favorite is antique Georg Jensen pins and other silver. I only wish they weren't so expensive.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Hey, Teresa: yes, I think the Chinese have been playing with rainclouds for some years, now. Haven't they heard of Bell's Butterfly? LOL, thanks for coming by, mujer.

Cris -- thanks for the great tip -- I'll try toothpaste on my silver, too. Is the watch a Rolex?

Frog, green and silver go together well. Nice fashion sense!

2Pats -- too funny! I know how she feels, though; I'm always getting lost, now. . . maybe instead of a "roadmap" W should have found us a poster with the periodic tables on it. . .

Grundy-Girl -- your rings sound lovely. I have some old silver rings, too; but my aunt had a ring made in white gold which I guess is my favorite, now.

Amanda -- isn't cleaning it a chore! Bet you were sick of the sight of it after a while. I worked in a bar in Glasgow that had a hammered copper counter. I had to clean it every morning, and it took ages. . .

Ralph -- thanks for the great links -- Jensen's work is gorgeous, I saw several brooches I'd love, except for the fact they are all $1500!

Duchess OBlunt 7 years ago

Well done! Your Hub made learning a little about silver an interesting thing instead of a painful thing. Great lead in to the subject, very catchy.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

Thanks, Duchess; I appreciate your comment.

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

You did a wonderful job breaking down the properties of silver Theresa. I especially enjoyed the etymology of the word silver. I prefer silver over gold as gold, at least to me, seems tacky. Thank you.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor Author

You're not alone, dohn -- lots of folk (me included) seem to prefer silver over gold. Thanks for coming by!

Suiiki profile image

Suiiki 7 years ago from City of the Newly Wed and Nearly Dead

I remember once, I was 16 or so, I was shopping for school supplies with my mum. We passed a row of notebooks that had shiny, reflective surfaces with interesting designs in the shiny-ness. I immediately picked one up, lost all conversation, and exclaimed "Shiny!"

My mum cracked up laughing and started calling me "Michelle Magpie" from then on. Everyone in the store stared at me and yes, I did wind up buying one...or five...(Such things are reasonably priced at back-to-school time, and they were shiny, after all.)

Nemingha profile image

Nemingha 7 years ago

An unusual and interesting hub, thanks.

shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 7 years ago

Very informative hub! Thanks.

rongould profile image

rongould 7 years ago

Mmmmmm, shiny!

Great hub! LOL!

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Super info on silver, Teresa. I have always loved silver stuff like an old fruit bowl and a tray that have been in the family for yonks! And other odd bits and pieces. Nice to learn all the stuff about silver too. I have some very old negatives that shine a bit silvery now.

Thanks for all the info.

Love and peace


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Never did care for gold as much as silver and am a big collector of it in many forms. You taught me a few things here in this hub!

kartika damon profile image

kartika damon 7 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

very informative - love your profile and I did major in English at the University of Iowa - it is a wonderful major! Kartika

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

I find silver so much more appealing than gold. My antique silver jewelry never fails to get compliments. Lots of Najaho made from the 1920s-1940s are among my favorites. Enjoyed the hub!

jewellery channel 6 years ago

great hub Teresa...

Jude 5 years ago

I just stumbled upon your hub and enjoyed how well it was written and that you researched even more specific applications for silver.

I like the grungy coins. It gives them what I equate to a wood patina. Saw all the old Canadian coins and thought that there might be a connection. Now that I live so far away from my birthplace.

Silver does, indeed, have an undeniable appeal for me despite my Chinese heritage and its value on all things gold-the more pure the better.

Keep up the great content. Being involved in the industry myself, I can honestly say, it was a refreshing read.

john000 profile image

john000 5 years ago from Superior, Arizona

This is quite a good hub!

"Crews are hired to strip old spacecraft of all valuable metals and alloys, if you're wondering what they do with them."

I never thought of space vehicles as large pieces of jewelry!

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