LCB Metals & Glass Since 1993

Demand for silver originates from these main sources; industrial uses, photography, jewelry, and silverware. Together, these categories represent more than 95 percent of annual silver consumption. Sparkling tableware, shining jewelry, and living spaces brightened by silvered mirrors are the obvious contributions of silver to our daily lives. It is, however, the silver behind the scenes that makes our modern world function efficiently, a use previously dominated by gold. Inside switches, silver contacts efficiently and safely turn on and off the powerful electric current that flows into our homes, our lamps and our appliances. It is silver under the keys of computer keyboards, behind automobile dashboards, and behind the control panels of washing machines or microwave ovens that switch on or off at the touch of the finger. And inside the 220-volt line circuit breaker boxes in our homes, or inside the 75,000-volt circuit breakers in power stations, silver performs a safe and steady task of switching on or off electric power throughout our lives.

The use of silver to sanitize water and wounds is considered some of our earliest attempts to control our environment. Silver has been a multifaceted asset throughout history. It was found as a free metal and easily worked into useful shapes and was widely used by early man. The beauty, weight and lack of corrosion made silver a store of value, and hence one of the earliest of metals to be used as a medium of exchange. The early discovery that water, wine, milk and vinegar stayed pure longer in silver vessels led to it's desirability as a container for long voyages. Herodotus (79 A.D.) wrote that Cyrus the Great, King of Persia (550-529 B.C.), a man of vision who established a board of health and a medical dispensary for his citizens, had water drawn from a special stream, "boiled, and very many four wheeled wagons drawn by mules carry it in silver vessels, following the king wheresoever he goes at any time."

In more contemporary times, when the first telegrapher tapped out his code in 1832, silver was the electrical contact that made the current flow. Earlier that century, when Joseph Nicephore Niepce created the first photographic image obtained through a camera-like device in 1813, it was silver nitrate that made it possible. Finally, when the German obstetrician, Dr. F. Crede made his medical breakthrough in 1884 to halt the disease that caused blindness in generations of children at birth, it was silver that killed the virus. Silver is also used as a rain-making chemical. Yellowish crystals of silver iodide, AgI, can be sprinkled into moisture-bearing clouds to encourage precipitation. Today, the demands of modern technology have revealed the remarkable range of electrical, mechanical, optical, scientific and medicinal properties that have placed silver as the key metal in many applications.

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A major watershed of silver production was the discovery of the New World in 1492, after which time major silver mines in Chihuahua Mexico, Bolivia, Australia and Peru were opened, leading to a rapid rise in the annual world production of silver. This rise, coupled with improved techniques for extracting silver from ore, broadened both the quality and quantity of ore that could be exploited. Some of the finest silver has come Kongsberg, Norway, where beautiful crystals and wiry masses occur.  Quality specimens are also found in the Czech Republic, the U.S., and Canada. The most famous Canadian locality is at Cobalt, Timiskaming District, Ontario, with other locations near Keremos, B.C. and at several locations in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. In the U.S., large silver masses occur with copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan. This silver/copper mixture is known as a "half breed", an occurrence common in North American silver mines, and is most lucrative because silver production is mainly a secondary result from the recovery of the sludge that is produced during the electrolytic purification of the native copper. Another famous locality is Bisbee, Cochise Co., Arizona. Later improvements in mining techniques, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, vastly enhanced the base of silver production and accelerated the exploitation of silver as a bi-product of base-metal mining. Unlike gold, which dates back to the earliest recollections, only about 25 percent of cumulative world silver production occurred before the 1770s. Records remain somewhat incomplete for the periods before 1900, however they play a critical part in determining cumulative historical production.


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Every time you turn on a microwave oven, dishwasher, clothes washer, or television set, the action activates a switch with silver contacts that complete the required electrical circuit. Ordinary household switches, which normally carry high electric current for electrical appliances from irons to refrigerators, use silver. Silver is the modern day metal of choice for switch contacts because it does not corrode, which would result in overheating and eventual fire, and is more reasonably priced than gold. Today's electrical appliances are controlled by membrane switchpanels, where the contacts are silver. Membrane switchpanels are found in microwave ovens, automobiles and under the keys of personal computers. Due to their reliability and wide use, the silver-contact membrane switch market in the U.S. has grown to over $35 million annually. In an increasing trend, millions of on-the-counter and under-the-counter water purifiers are sold each year in the United States to rid drinking water of bacteria, chlorine, trihalomethanes, lead, particulates, and odor. Here, silver is used to prevent the buildup of bacteria and algae in the filters. Of the over $3.5 billion spent yearly in the U.S. for drinking water purification systems, over half make advantageous use of the bactericidal properties of silver. Research has shown that the catalytic action of silver, in concert with oxygen, provides a powerful sanitizer, virtually eliminating the need for the use of corrosive chlorine in swimming pools. Silver is the most popular type of solder, not just in the jewelry business, where it's 600 melting point comes in very handy, but also in plumbing applications, due to it's ability to resist pressure and to withstand corrosion, even when left in prolonged contact with water and it's contained minerals. The only exception to this is silver's negative reaction to sulphur, when tarnish occurs on contact.

Over 250 million square feet of silver-coated glass is used for windows in the U.S. yearly and much more for silver-coated polyester sheet for retrofitting windows. Roughly 30% of world demand or 226 million troy ounces, (15.5 million pounds), of silver were used worldwide in 1996 for photography. Although a wide variety of technology is available, silver-based photography is expected to dominate the market for the foreseeable future due to its superior definition and low cost. Silver halide is the material that records what is to be seen in the photograph. As little as 4 photons of light activate silver halides which amplify that incident light by a factor of one billion times. In today's photography, silver halides are coupled with dyes that bring the color of the world around us into permanent record. Everyone is accustomed to silvered mirrors. What is new is invisible silver, a transparent coating of silver on double pane thermal windows. This coating not only rejects the hot summer sun, but also reflects inward internal house heat. A new double layer of silver on glass marketed as "low E squared" is sweeping the window market as it reflects away almost 95% of the hot rays of the sun, creating a new level of household energy savings.

Sterling silver has always been traditional tableware because of its sparkling reflectivity, its artistic heritage, and its bactericidal properties. Similarly, silver jewelry owes its long popularity to its reflective beauty and it workability into creative shapes. Worldwide use of silver for these markets amounts to over 230 million troy ounces, (15.77 million pounds). Watches, clocks, and calculators today are battery driven, and for these, the silver battery is the power source of choice. The silver battery provides the higher voltages and long life required for quartz watches. In fact, over 1.2 billion silver oxide-zinc batteries are supplied to world markets yearly, including miniature sized batteries for watches, cameras, and small electronic devices and larger batteries for tools and commercial portable TV cameras. 


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The use of silvered windshields in GM's APV vehicles reflects 70% of the sun's energy. Every electrical action in a modern car is activated with silver coated contacts. Activities such as starting the engine, opening power windows, adjusting power seats, power trunk closing units, etc., all require the use of a relay, a low power switch which activates a much higher power switch. As an example, a silver membrane switch activates the relay that powers the headlights. The U.S. automobile switch market is over $800 million per year. A universal safety feature of every automobile produced in America, and most throughout the world, is the silver-ceramic lines fired into the rear window. The heat generated by these conductive paths is sufficient to clear the rear window of frost and ice.


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In a world concerned with virus and disease, silver is increasingly tapped for its bactericidal properties and used to treat a range of conditions including severe burns. Since 1884, when the German obstetrician F. Crede administered 1% silver nitrate to the eyes of newborn infants, virtually eliminating the incidence of gonococcal opthalmia (a disease causing blindness in newborns), silver has been used as an important bactericide. Only in recent times have modern antibiotics replaced such treatment. A silver-based compound has become the most widely used drug for treating burn wounds. Recent research shows that silver also promotes the production of new cells, increasing the rate of healing in both skin and bone. The regeneration of whole areas of lost skin is being accomplished by the use of this silver treatment. Polyvalent silver oxide, a highly charged silver, is finding wide application in the treatment of bacterial and viral disease. William Conrad Roentgen's discovery of x-rays in 1895, led to his discovery that x-rays activate silver halide crystals. This revolutionized medical diagnosis. One out of every seven pairs of prescription eyeglasses sold in the U.S. incorporates silver. Silver halide crystals, melted into glass can change the light transmission from 96% to 22% in less than 60 seconds and block at least 97% of the sun's ultraviolet rays. The change is endlessly reversible. The medical use of silver worldwide consumes over 50 million troy ounces yearly, a consumption that is rising at about 4% per year.


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Silver has been used as a medium of exchange since ancient times (see Genesis 23:16), and has competed with gold as the coin of the realm in every country in which both metals were available, with gold taking the more valuable position. It was not until the reign of Croesus (560-546B.C.), king of Lydia in Asia Minor, that silver was stamped as official coinage. Throughout history, silver coins were, and still are in many places, essential for internal and international trade. The Spanish reales ("pieces of eight" containing 0.8 oz. of silver), minted in Mexico and Peru, were used throughout the Americas for generations. And nearly 400 million of the 1780-dated Austrian Maria Theresa thalers, (also containing 0.8 oz. of silver), have been struck over the past two hundred years to serve as trade coins in Europe and Asia. In 1792, Alexander Hamilton, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, proposed the adoption of a gold and silver based monetary system. Silver remained in circulation as U.S. coins until the supply of silver could not meet the demand for coins and the face value of the coin fell below it's bullion, on meltdown value. The U.S. government eliminated silver from quarters and dimes around 1965 and half dollars were reduced to 40%. In the U.S. today, silver is used only in commemorative and proof coins, and in bullion. Mexico is the only country currently using silver in it's circulating coinage. During the past decade, the United States, Canada and Mexico began issuing pure silver coins with nominal face values sold at a small premium over their bullion value, (not their face value). In 1982, Mexico began minting a 999-fine (99.9% pure) silver Libertad ranging in weight from 1/20 oz. to 5 ounces; over 16 million coins have been sold. The U.S. Mint issues a 999-fine Silver Eagle (a one ounce bullion coin with a face value of $1), over 76 million have been sold since 1986. The Royal Canadian Mint issues a 5 dollar 999-fine silver bullion coin, the silver Maple Leaf; over 9.8 million have been sold since 1986. Australia issues a 5-dollar, 1 ounce .999 fine silver bullion coin, the Kookaburra; over 6 million have been sold since 1990.


Source: The Silver Institute