Many of us take silver for granted. After all, it is more plentiful than gold, and doesn’t quite seem to have that same, special shine that we’re so attuned to. We’re simply more used to seeing silver around, and even eating with it in our silverware, and we don’t realize how difficult it might be to actually extract and fashion into our forks, knives, and spoons.

Silver is a special metal because we use it frequently, and its antiseptic properties even help make it ideal for eating, but we use it so frequently that we forget it’s there. But there is a long, lengthy process that goes into turning silver nuggets – and other silver extracted from the Earth – into all of the silver we keep around us in our lives. How exactly does that happen? Here is a brief guide that explains how silver comes from the Earth and ends up cutting our steaks.

The History of Silver Mining

Silver has an extensive history, having been used in ancient coinage and trade from at least the 6th Century B.C. We know that silver had been extracted by separating it from lead in the Mediterranean Sea area around that time, suggesting that it was found along with lead and simply extracted from that process to create pure – or close to pure – silver.

Ancient Greeks also used silver mines to extract ore from the Earth, extracting the metal through smelting. The ores were also washed extensively in this process, something that archaeological findings have taught us.

Because silver is often found with other metals – including the aforementioned-lead as well as copper – much of the history of silver mining is typically found from mining ores or from separating silver from an alloy.

With the discovery of the New World came a plethora of discoveries relating to silver, including countless silver mines that eventually dropped the prices of silver worldwide. It is said that silver was so plentiful in the new world that the explorer and conquistador Francisco Pizarro was said to have his horses shoed with silver.

Silver also played a role in the expansion of the United States in the west, as the silver rush in Nevada lead to the development of the state there as well as a continuation of California’s gold rush that lead to millions eventually flocking to the West coast.

How Silver Is Mined and Processed

We know that silver frequently appears with other metals like copper and is simply separated from the ore in order to produce silver. But silver does exist as a metal and in mines, sometimes in silver nuggets. Silver is often found with copper, gold, copper-nickel, and lead.

Silver is rarely found in its own nugget form, however, so much of the mining of silver takes place with other metals. This is a common occurrence with gold, as well, which holds many of the same characteristics as silver.

After silver has been mined and extracted, the ore is in need of processing. This is usually done by smelting or a process known as chemical leaching, in which the ore is treated with a chemical that produces a reaction. Silver is also produced from some processes of refining copper.

From Silver to Silverware

Commercial-grade silver usually is at over 99% pure silver, but silverware is not frequently made from this type of silver. Instead, once silver has been extracted, it may be melted down and mixed with another metal in order to ensure its strength. Like gold, silver is a durable but soft metal that can be easily shaped if pounded properly.

Silver can be pounded down, but is often melted to fill casts (already in its mixed, alloy form) and pressed as silverware. Silverware is usually not pure silver, but a strong mixture of silver and another metal, although in the case of sterling silverware, the amount of silver present is much higher.

Many people don’t realize the work and investment that goes into turning silver into silverware, and subsequently many people don’t realize the inherent value of the silverware they own. If you own silverware or sterling silverware that you don’t use, it’s worth investigating to find out how online metal brokers are willing to work with you.

By working with a precious metal broker, you’ll be able to send an insured mailing package full of your silverware or sterling silverware. The insured mailing package will help ensure that the silverware in transit is kept safe and protected. The precious metal broker receives the silverware and then can make an offer for the silver you own. This offer is usually below market value for the actual silverware, as the silverware will be melted down for industrial re-use.