Silver has been known and used for thousands of years. In ancient times, silver was used for jewelry, ornaments, utensils, and as a substance that could be bartered for other goods and services. This belief that silver had an underlying ""value" led eventually to its use as the basis for monetary systems such as that of the Roman Empire and as a means of paying for international trade. The discovery during the 18th and 19th centuries of large silver deposits in the New World, however, resulted in the conversion of most monetary systems to the gold standard. Despite the loss of its status as the basis for the world's monetary systems, the belief in the value of silver remained.
In 1990, silver was produced by at least 55 countries. Mexico was the largest silver producing country, followed by the United States, Peru, the former U.S.S.R., Canada, and Australia. In essentially all producing countries, the primary source of silver is its recovery as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, or zinc production.
During the 1980's, domestic mine production of silver increased to its highest level in nearly 50 years, and was due, in part, to a number of factors. During the early years of the decade, precious metal prices remained higher in constant dollars than they were during the previous decade. Additionally, during 1979-80, silver and gold prices were unusually high, while the prices of other base metals were relatively low. In response, companies spent their exploration budgets in search of precious metals. Many of the resultant discoveries were developed into producing mines. Later in the decade, rising prices for metals such as copper, lead, and zinc indirectly contributed to increased domestic silver production. The higher prices allowed some mines to reopen. Other companies increased the capacity of their operations. As noted previously, nearly all base metal mines contain some silver.
Silver has many uses, ranging from decorative to utilitarian. The most important use for silver is in the manufacture of photographic materials. Among the applications for silver are electrical and electronic products, including some types of batteries, brazing alloys and solders, catalysts, dental and medical products, jewelry, sterlingware, electroplated ware, bearings, and mirrors.
- Table 1.--Silver: world mine production, by country
- Table 2.--U.S. imports for consumption of silver
- Table 3.--U.S. exports of silver
- Table 4.--U.S. yearend stocks of silver in the United States
- Table 5.--U.S. silver prices
- Table 6.--U.S. refinery production of silver