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L. argentum "silver, white money," from PIE *arg-ent- (cf. Avestan erezata-, O.Pers. ardata-, Armenian arcat, O.Ir. argat, Breton arc'hant "silver"), from base *arg- "to shine, white," thus "the shining or white metal, silver" (cf. Gk. argos "white," arguron "silver;" Skt. arjuna- "white, shining," rajata- "silver," Hittite harki- "white").
the pure precipitated metal for trituration
Minerals; Inorganic; Copper-Group
Proved by Hahnemann, 1813.
Description of the substance
Occurs in low tempered hydrothermal veins with calcite.
In high tempered ore veins with sulfides and also as a secondary mineral in silver rich ores.
Associates Calcite, sulfides.
Silver is a soft, white metal. It was one of the first metals used by human beings. People have used silver for ornaments and for money since about 4000 B.C. Many beautiful objects, including jewelry, fine tableware, religious decorations, coins, and mirrors, are made of silver. Silver also plays an important role in dentistry, medicine, photography, and electronics.
Most countries of the world have deposits of silver and silver ore. However, mining silver is expensive, and the metal can be recovered economically in only a few places.
Silver in its pure form is called metallic, free, or native. Pure silver is extremely soft. As a result, a small amount of another metal--usually copper--is generally added to increase the silver's hardness and strength. For example, sterling silver is an alloy (mixture) of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. Silver plate is an object made of a base metal, such as steel, that is coated with a thin layer of silver or silver alloy.
Silver is widely distributed in nature, but the total amount is quite small when compared with other metals; the metal constitutes 0.05 parts per million of the Earth's crust. Practically all sulfides of lead, copper, and zinc contain some silver. Silver-bearing ores may contain amounts of silver from a trace to several thousand troy ounces per avoirdupois ton, or about 10 percent.
Unlike gold, silver is present in many naturally occurring minerals. The most abundant include argentite (Ag2S) and tetrahedrite. Deposits of native (chemically free, or uncombined) silver are also commercially important.
Natural silver consists of a mixture of two stable isotopes: silver-107 and silver-109. The metal does not react with moist air or dry oxygen but is oxidized superficially by moist ozone. It is quickly tarnished at room temperature by sulfur or hydrogen sulfide. In the molten state, silver can dissolve up to 22 times its volume of oxygen; on solidification, most of the oxygen is expelled, a phenomenon known as the spitting of silver. This can be controlled by the addition of a deoxidant such as charcoal to the molten silver. Silver dissolves readily in nitric acid and in hot concentrated sulfuric acid.
Silversmiths craft many art objects from silver. The metal is also used by the electrical and electronic equipment industry for wire and other items, because silver conducts electricity better than do other metals. Doctors use thin plates, wires, and drainage tubes made of silver during surgery, because silver helps kill bacteria. Dentists fill cavities with silver amalgam--a mixture of silver, tin, and mercury.
Silver compounds also have many uses. Compounds of silver include silver nitrate, silver bromide, and several silver oxides. Silver nitrate is one of the few water-soluble silver compounds, and is used to make silver plate and silver mirrors. Silver bromide plays an important role as the light-sensitive chemical in photographic film (see PHOTOGRAPHY [Exposing the film]). Manufacturers of batteries use silver oxides to make small, powerful batteries that are used in calculators, hearing aids, and watches.
In the majority of silver compounds the element has a valence of one.
These compounds include such familiar substances as silver chloride (AgCl), silver bromide (AgBr), and silver iodide (AgI). Each of these salts is used extensively in photography. Silver chloride serves as the light-sensitive material in photographic printing papers and, together with silver bromide, in certain films and plates. The iodide is also used in the manufacture of photographic papers and films, as well as in cloud seeding for artificial rainmaking and in some antiseptics. All three halides are derived from silver nitrate (AgNO3), which is the most important of the inorganic silver salts. Besides these other salts, silver nitrate is also the starting material for the production of the silver cyanide used in silver plating.
Properties of silver. Silver has an atomic number of 47, and an atomic weight of 107.8682. Its atomic symbol, Ag, comes from the Latin word for silver, argentum. Silver melts at 961 ∞C and boils at 2193 ∞C. At 20 ∞C, it has a density of about 10.49 grams per cubic centimeter (see DENSITY).
Silver reflects 95 percent of the light that strikes it, making it the most lustrous (shiny) of the metals. Silver conducts heat and electricity better than any other metal does. It is second only to gold in ductility (the ability to be drawn out into fine wires) and malleability (the ability to be hammered into various shapes).
Silver, like gold, does not react chemically with most substances. However, the presence of sulfur compounds causes silver to develop a black or gray coating of silver sulfide called tarnish. Because polluted air contains these compounds, silver tarnishing is a greater problem today than in the past.
Sources of silver. Mexico leads the world in the production of silver, followed by the United States and Peru. The leading silver-producing states of the United States include Nevada and Idaho. The chief silver-mining areas of Canada are in British Columbia, Ontario, and New Brunswick.
Silver occurs in deposits of native metal and as silver ores. Native silver mines provide only a small amount of the world's silver. The most common silver ores contain the mineral argentite or the compound silver sulfide. Silver often occurs along with such metals as copper, gold, lead, and zinc. Miners obtain about 80 percent of the world's silver as a by-product of mining and processing these metals.
Extracting and refining silver. There are several methods of extracting silver from ores. Most of the world's silver is extracted from copper and lead ores. These ores are first crushed and then smelted, producing a mixture that contains the primary metal and small quantities of silver. In the process of refining copper, the silver is separated from the copper to form a mixture called sludge. The sludge is removed and treated with nitric acid to dissolve the silver. The silver is then recovered by electroplating (see ELECTROPLATING).
Silver is extracted from metallic lead ore by the Parkes process. In this process, zinc is added to molten (melted) lead ore to form a solid alloy with the silver contained in the ore. This alloy, which is less dense than molten lead, floats to the surface and is raked off. Heating the alloy then removes the zinc from the silver.
Once extracted, silver is removed from the extracting solution. A process called electrolysis is then used to refine and purify the extracted silver. During electrolysis, the impure silver serves as the anode (positive electrode), and a strip of pure silver metal serves as the cathode (negative electrode). Refiners dip the two electrodes into a solution of silver nitrate and nitric acid. An electric current sent between the electrodes causes the anode, or impure silver, to dissolve. The impurities in the silver fall to the bottom of the solution, and pure silver crystals collect on the cathode. These crystals are scraped off, melted, and cast into bars of silver.
Nickel silver is an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc. It is also called German silver because it was first made in Hildburghausen, Germany. It is a yellowish metal that is harder than silver. Nickel silver tarnishes easily, but it takes a good polish. Much of the silverware used today is made of nickel silver plated with real silver. It looks like solid silver when new, but the plate wears off with use. Vinegar and strong salt solutions may combine with nickel silver to form substances that can make people ill. Silver-plated tableware should not be used with these types of liquids after the silver plate has worn off.
The standard of purity for silver. The term sterling silver denotes any silver alloy in which pure silver makes up at least 92.5 percent of the content.
One theory is that the word sterling comes from the name Easterlings--coiners from east German states brought to England during the reign of Henry II (1154-89) to improve the quality of the coinage. A more plausible derivation is from the Old English word steorling ("coin with a star"), for small stars occur on some Norman pennies.
In a monetary sense, the term sterling was formerly used to describe the standard weight or quality of English coinage. The basic monetary unit of the United Kingdom is still called the pound sterling. The pound sterling's origins go back to Anglo-Saxon times, when a pound weight of silver was coined into 240 pennies. These pennies were made from an alloy that was 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper. This proportion remained the standard in English coinage until 1920, when the proportion of silver in the coinage was reduced to 500 parts per 1,000.
Britain stopped using any silver in its coins in 1946, replacing it entirely with copper and nickel. By this time the value of silver had long ceased to have any direct link to the British currency, Britain having adopted the gold standard in 1821