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History of Silver

3000 B.C. The beginnings of deliberate attempts at silver mining.

2500 B.C. The first recorded sophisticated method for processing silver is the cupellation process, carried out by ancient Babylonians to extract silver from lead-silver mines.

1600–1200 B.C. After the decline of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations, the focus of silver production shifted to the Lavrion mines near Athens. These mines provided silver to the dying Greek culture.

550 B.C. The first silver coins were minted in the eastern Mediterranean region.

269 B.C. The Roman Empire adopted silver coins as part of its monetary system and used them as an international means of payment.

206–220 B.C. During the Han Dynasty, the silver coin was accepted as part of China’s official currency, but was restricted for the purposes of the royal family.

8th century After the Moorish conquest of Spain, silver mining was temporarily stopped. Spain was the dominant processor of silver during the first 1000 years A.D.

750–1200 In Central Europe, several silver mines were found in what is today’s Germany.

775 Silver coins known as “sterlings” were issued in the Saxon kingdoms. 240 of them were minted from a pound of silver, the weight of which was probably about equal to the later troy pound.

1279–1368 During the Yuan Dynasty in China, silver bars were widespread and used as a means of payment. During the Ming dynasty, silver bars became the chief means of payment and this lasted until the end of the last Qing dynasty in 1911.

1492 The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus was a major milestone that led to the establishment of large mines in Mexico, Bolivia and Peru About 85% of the world’s silver production was mined from these mines between the years 1500 and 1800.

1545 Silver was discovered in Cerro Rico de Potosí in Bolivia and the local silver mine is considered the world’s largest silver deposit. Mining reached its peak in 1615.

1500–1600 The famous “Piece of Eight” or 8 reales coin was the most common silver coin of the late 16th and 17th centuries in Spain. As trading spread all over the world, this coin became the first global currency. Pieces of eight were circulating until the end of the 19th century.

1500–1800 Mexico and Peru represent about 85% of global silver production, estimated at 70,000 to 150,000 tons. According to some estimates, about 40% of this production went to China.

1792 Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the US Treasury, proposed the adoption of a monetary system based on gold and silver.

October 15, 1794 The first official silver dollar was made.

1858 In Nevada, a silver mine was discovered that caused equal excitement in the United States as the California gold rush had ten years before.

1862 The US Congress passed the first Legal Tender Act authorising the use of paper notes as a medium of exchange for all public and private debts except taxes. However, this did not apply to special provisions requiring payment in gold or silver.

1873 The Coinage Act deprived the silver coin of its function as the sole tender.

1875 An act was passed putting the US on a de facto gold standard. This was followed by increased demand for gold and reduced demand for silver as currency reserves worldwide, which also meant a reduction in silver prices.

1900 The Gold Standard Act was passed, which officially pegged the US dollar to gold.

March 6, 1933 President Roosevelt declared a four-day bank holiday to prevent panic and the collection and export of gold and silver.

1934 President Roosevelt issued an executive order to confiscate and nationalise silver by outlawing private ownership of quantities more than 500 troy ounces.

1946 The Silver Purchase Act establishes the US government as the largest purchaser of silver in the world. The act also obliges the government to sell at a fixed price.

1965 The US government eliminates the silver content in minted quarters and nickels, with 50 cent coins containing only 40% silver.

January 18, 1980 The price of silver rose to its record maximum, just below 50 US dollars per ounce, while the price of gold dramatically rose in response to the invasion of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan. At the end of the year, silver prices fell again by about 15 US dollars per ounce.

1997–1998 Warren Buffett bought 130 million ounces of silver.

2010 The silver spot price stood at 30-year highs, with prices rising by 80%, which is faster than gold.

April 25, 2011 The silver spot price rose to 48.84 US dollars per ounce and silver term deposits to 49.82 US dollars, the highest level since 1980.

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