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Thursday, January 26, 2006

History of Silver Coins

Man has recognized the qualities of silver for several thousand years. Based on evidence found on islands in the Aegean Sea, it is fairly evident that mankind has practiced the science of separating silver from lead at least as far back as 3000 BC.

Silver, Ag, has an atomic number of 47. This means it is the 47th element in the periodic table by atomic weight and contains 47 electrons. The atomic weight of silver is 107.8682, and it is in a solid state at 298 degrees Kelvin. Silver has a hardness rated between 2.5 and 2.7, and is therefore one of the most malleable of all metals. Silver is white, lustrous and, well, silver.

Silver has many uses in our society. Silver Bromide is used extensively in photography. Various alloys of silver have long been used for jewelery. Silver is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity and is therefore used for various electrical applications and even cloud seeding. Up until about the 1930’s, silver compounds were used as a normal part of medicine, silver nitrate being the prevalent form.

Silver Iodide was used in babies’ eyes upon birth to prevent blinding as the result of bacterial contamination. Silver has always held a value above material and economic considerations also. Gifts of silver jewelery in many cultures are given as a symbol of trust, truth, excellence, wisdom and love.

The Origins of Silver Currency

Silver has been used as currency for many hundreds of years. The first currency of the modern Greek state was called the Phoenix. It was originally issued in 1828 in the form of a silver coin equal in value to the French Franc. Its official denomination was the lepton and 1 phoenix = 100 lepta at the time.

The name taken was that of the mythical Phoenix bird, and was meant to symbolize the rebirth of Greece. The myth of this bird derives from ancient Egyptian mythology. The Phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird said to live for either 500 or 1461 years. The male bird with beautiful gold and red plumage builds itself a nest of cinnamon twigs at the end of its life and then ignites it. Both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes and from the ashes a new, young phoenix would arise. Stories and the agreed upon life span may vary but the symbology of resurrection and immortality have prevailed throughout history

In Germany in the late 15th century one finds silver coins being used called the Talers. This word has been translated from the German into many other languages including English resulting in the words daler, daaler and eventually dollar. So the word dollar is not unique to the US. Silver was also used by James VI of Scotland who struck a 30-shilling coin between 1567 and 1571 generally called the Sword Dollar due to his depiction on the obverse (head) holding a sword.

Charles II of England (1660-1685) struck the Double Merk of 1578 and this was called the Thistle Dollar and Spain of course has issued crown size silver coins in the denomination of 8 reales.

Many of these early examples of silver coins can still be found in museums, private collections and, who knows, perhaps many more may be found on future treasure hunts down the track.

For those embarking on a hobby or investment of collecting silver coins, there are some fascinating coins to browse and collect.

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