The History of the Silver Trade: Discovery – the New World

Though it is rare and beautiful, silver has never been esteemed quite as rare and beautiful as gold, which is the reason that gold has been valued much higher and was the monetary standard in many countries for centuries. However, silver is still an important part of the world economy today. Read on as we discuss the interesting history of trading silver in two parts.

For a good part of human history, silver was considered money. It was discovered around 5000 B.C., and though it was not widely used as currency, it was immediately recognized as a rare and valuable substance. In 3000 B.C., people really began to take notice of the shiny metal and thus began a concentrated effort to mine and collect it.

The mining process of silver continued to evolve over the next several thousand years. The people of Chaldea, which is known as Turkey today, experimented with a process that would extract silver from lead or ore, paving the way for a very successful form of mining for the time.

During all of this time, silver was traded in chunks and slivers for food and other goods, though the first silver coin was not minted until 550 B.C in the eastern Mediterranean. A few hundred years later, the powerful Roman Empire adopted silver as a part of its monetary standard and thus spread it to many other countries, including China, a leader in silver trade today.

Silver mining continued in ancient Turkey, though it was halted for a period of time as the Spanish conquest hit the scene in the first A.D millenium. They commandeered the silver mines and reserved the bulk of the silver for themselves to use as trade.

Silver could not be confined to the Spanish alone, however, as more silver pockets were found and mined, particularly in central Europe where the Spanish had not yet conquered. The Spanish also kept silver trade alive and well by continuously trading it with other countries.

Silver coins began cropping up all over the world, though not all of them were successful forms of money. Japan minted one coin in the 8th century, but soon abandoned it because they could not obtain enough silver to keep it going. The Saxons issued silver coins known as sterlings shortly after, and several hundred years later, China’s current dynasty introduce silver ingots, which were used widely as a trusted form of currency.

In our next installment, Columbus discovers the New World. Check back next week to read how this moment in history revolutionized the silver trade.