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Silver.  A gray-white precious metal, which because it is highly malleable and coinable is widely used as the composition for coins and medals. Silver is the midrange leader in the coin metal spectrum and prize medal rank – greater than bronze but less than gold – and has been used for coins and medals throughout monetary history. More coins have been made of silver or silver alloys than any other metal up to 1947 (in that year England went off the sterling standard and replaced all silver content in their coins). Today silver is the most popular metal of investment with more bullion coins and bullion medals made of its shiny, smooth metal content than any other metal, with gold a distant second.

The coined silver object has had appeal for many reasons:  its intrinsic value, its widespread distribution of silver ore throughout the world yet scarce enough to preserve its precious metal status, its ease of striking, and, of course, its attractive appearance after fabrication. The sheen of silver is more appealing than the reflectiveness of gold (but, of course, the yellow color of gold is more appealing than the gray-while color of silver– a combination of both exists in vermeil, goldplated silver).

Silver alloyed with copper in standard U.S. coin alloy is subject to elemental segregation on cooling. Even thin ingots intended for coinage strips will show a difference of 0.001 to 0.002 between the center and sides of the strip. The Melting & Refining Department usually adjusts the assay of a silver melt to be slightly below standard so that blanks cut from the center will actually be correct.

Silver is malleable, ductile and ranks high in coinability. It takes on an appearance that is recognized throughout the world for all time.

        Outline of Entry:          

   I. Definition and overview.     

  II. Appeal of silver.            

 III. History of silver.           

  IV. Silver Properties            

   V. Silver fineness.             

      A. Sterling standard          

      B. Coin standard             

  VI. Coins and medals in silver.  

 VII. Imitation: silverplating.    

Silver Fineness

It is impossible to look at a silver object and learn how "fine" it is – how pure. This was recognized more than 400 years ago, and silver objects were hallmarked to indicate their purity. hallmarking was devised to give a prospective owner (and subsequent owners) a guarantee of an object's fineness.

While it is easy to quick test silver, with nitric acid, it does not give precise indication of that fineness, as say with an ASSAY would. Thus silver guilds in England, and elsewhere, who manufactured silver objects wanted to insure the quality of their objects and the distinguish them from objects that looked like high grade silver (but weren't).

"Tiffany law"– precious metal objects must be so marked passed 1904 in England, 1906 in the United States. This applies to all medals and medallic items (but, unfortunately, does not apply to the U.S. Mint which can manufacture gold and silver medals without such marking).


excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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