(courtesy of CPM Group - http://www.cpmgroup.com)
Soft, lustrous, white silver was one of the first metals known to humans. Together with gold, iridium, rhodium, ruthenium, palladium, and platinum, it is one of the group called precious metals. Silver ornaments and decorations have been found in royal tombs throughout the world dating back as far as 4000 BC. The silver mines worked by the Carthaginians in Spain were well known; Roman envy of this wealth helped bring on the Punic Wars. Silver is somewhat harder than gold and is second only to gold in malleability and ductility. It can be beaten into silver leaf 1/100,000 of an inch (0.000025 centimeter) in thickness.
Once a standard in the world monetary system, today silver plays an important role as both a financial investment and industrial material. Investors often purchase physical silver in either bullion bar or coin form, with the majority of metal presently bought in the United States, Germany, and Canada.
In emerging markets, investment demand for silver also is vibrant. However, in these countries, silver tends to be held in the form of jewelry, ornaments, and religious objects that are easily melted down and resold.
In terms of fabrication demand, silver possesses many physical characteristics which make it a key component in numerous products used on a daily basis. The main uses for silver are in jewelry and silverware, photographic films and papers, and electrical contacts and connectors. Silver is also used in mirrors, medical instruments, dental alloys, brazing alloys, silver-bearing batteries, and bearings.
The largest silver-producing country is Mexico, followed by the United States, Peru, China and Canada. On a global scale, approximately 58 countries mine silver annually. From the late 1980s to the late 1990s the amount of silver extracted from primary silver mines fell, while silver mined as a co-product of copper, lead, zinc, gold, or poly-metallic deposits rose.
The steady growth in silver bearing products worldwide has also led to increases in the amount of silver recovered from scrap recycling. Most scrap comes from photographic materials, jewelry, and silverware.