How Much Silver Is There In The World?
Contributed by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez
The most reliable industry estimates seem to agree that there are around 3 billion ounces of .999-fine silver in circulation around the world.
Estimates on how much silver exists above ground vary widely from source to source.
The Use of Silver Is Ancient and Global
Silver is one of the oldest-known elements in the world. 4,000 years ago, in Greece, silver was the first metal used as currency. It was among the seven metals discovered in antiquity:
The whitish-colored precious metal has also seen uses in a variety of other items. This includes jewelry, watches, silverware, art, and religious artifacts.
But silver isn’t only used in money, personal adornments, and decorative or spiritual relics. It also has a multitude of critical industrial purposes. These cover an an extensive range:
- touch screens
- water purification products
- LED chips
- and even nuclear reactors.
Indeed, silver is an essential item, and it’s in high demand around the world. It takes a lot of silver to keep the art, industrial, and financial sectors going.
That's partly why silver mining operations are continuous endeavors. They are undertaken around the clock to ensure there’s enough silver available for all who need—or want—it.
But just how rare is silver? And how much silver is mined each year?
Putting the Global Silver Supply Into Perspective
Recall the three billion ounces of silver cited earlier. This, however, does not account for silver coins, bars, or other items held in private settings.
But that figure of 3 billion oz does include all the known hoards, government vaults, exchange funds, and industrial stockpiles.
With a global population of approximately 7.8 billion people as of 2019, that’s about 0.385 ounces of silver per person or nearly as much silver as found in a standard pre-1965 United States 90% silver half dollar.
Now, think about the scale of the billions of ounces of silver that’s known and available for potential use. That’s perhaps more silver than you can wrap your head around!
In any case, the 3 billion or so ounces of silver known and accounted for in the whole world could fit into a cube about 180 feet square. In simpler terms, that equates to a high-rise office building about 18 stories tall.
Considering that’s all the silver in the world, that really isn’t all that much now, is it?
How Rare Is Silver?
Think about the fact that those 3 billion ounces of silver could fit within a modest high-rise office building. It doesn't appear that silver is exceedingly common after all.
In fact, in the context of all the needs and uses for silver around the world, it seems like silver might be rather rare.
Certainly, silver is a precious metal and relatively scarce as compared to many other metals, such as aluminum, copper, or lead. But compared to, say, gold, how rare is silver?
It's true that gold has significant industrial, monetary, and artistic uses. Still, the world uses a much higher percentage of its silver supplies on an annual basis than it does gold.
Interestingly, silver is mined at a much higher rate than gold. About 8 parts of silver to 1 part of gold is mined from Earth’s crust every year.
Yet, current market valuations show gold to be disproportionately more expensive than silver than the mining ratios suggest. As of early 2020, silver trades for around $18 per ounce while the market rate for gold is closer to $1,500. That equates to gold being approximately 85 times more valuable than silver!
It’s perhaps no surprise that, with such a difference in their value, the general regard and desire for gold is much higher than it is for silver. In fact, much of the world’s silver is discarded into landfills each year.
In part, this is because it’s often economically infeasible to recover it from many of the items in which it’s found. Some examples are electronics and medical supplies. Conversely, gold is routinely salvaged from removed dental fillings, electronic wiring, or just about anything else where it is present.
How Much Silver Is Mined Each Year?
So much silver is already used up in coins, bars, and a plethora of industrial and commercial goods. Not to mention the millions of ounces chucked into landfills on an annual basis. There's a huge need for new sources of silver.
open pit mining
Thankfully, there is a lot of new silver being mined each year. In 2016, about 890 million ounces of silver were mined around the world. As mining operations become more efficient, the capacity to mine silver keeps increasing.
Some estimates suggest that about 50% of all the silver ever mined has been removed from Earth's crust in the past five decades alone.
As more efficient silver mining techniques are developed, perhaps the world's supply of silver will increase. Potentially, more silver resources and reserves will be located and tapped.
Still, silver remains one of the scarcest, most important, and most valuable metals in the world.
Given its track record as a precious metal prized for its versatility and desired for its beauty, silver will surely continue being one of the most treasured commodities in the world.
Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a journalist, editor, and blogger who has won multiple awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. He has also authored numerous books, including works profiling the history of the United States Mint and United States coinage.
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