The Origins and History of Silver

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The development of civilisation owes a great deal to the discovery and use of silver. It has found application in many places – from the ornamental to the highly practical. Silver is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity – in fact, it conducts the former better than any metal and the latter better than any other element on the periodic table – and so remains valuable to modern electronic manufacturers who use it extensively in electrical contacts and circuit boards. But for most of human history, silver along with gold served as a signifier of wealth.

What Do we Use Silver for?

Coins

For most of civilisation, silver was most often used in coinage. For thousands of years, it was the standard among systems of currency. Silver coins were used by civilisations in ancient Greece, Rome and Persia, (in the form of the Drachma, Denaraius and Dirham respectively), as well as in China.

But why did all of these peoples independently conclude that silver was a suitable material for money? The answer lies in the value of the metal. Like gold, the value of silver allowed merchants to easily transport large quantities of wealth and currency from place to place, in a way that iron currency would not be able to do.

Silver has a number of other qualities which make it a suitable form of currency. The value of silver is both stable and intrinsic. It does not decay and can be easily divided into smaller pieces and reformed again into larger ones. For these reasons, among others, silver remained a standard until the 20th century, when it was supplanted by centrally-issued currencies with negligible intrinsic value.

Silverware/Jewellery

Angel necklace made out of silver

Silver has also long been used in the creation of plates, cutlery and tableware – so much so, in fact, that such objects made from silver have their own special name – silverware. Silverware is, more often than not, made from Sterling Silver, which is an alloy comprised of over 90% silver, with the remainder made from copper.

This alloy will typically be covered with a fine coating of pure silver, which endows it with the shining lustre which typifies silverware. For this reason, silverware must be carefully polished by hand – too much abrasion will wear away this top layer, to reveal the comparatively dull material beneath.

The care of silverware would in large Victorian households, be entrusted to a specialist, such as a butler, who would ensure that each item was properly cared-for and displayed on the table. Today, this duty is typically only carried out on very special occasions hosted by organisations like the military.

As it is both expensive and difficult to properly maintain, silverware is not widely-used today. Instead, it is often presented as a gift. It has long been a tradition that a newly-christened baby, for example, be presented with a silver Quaich or another container. There exist a few artisan companies who are capable of providing specially-crafted silverware for such occasions; their work often comes engraved with initials or other markers in order to make it perfectly suited to a particular gift. Silver is also suited to jewellery. Not only does it look attractive, but it becomes easily malleable at relatively low temperatures and so can be spun into a variety of shapes by a skilled metalworker.

Coating glass

The surfaces of glass objects are also sometimes treated with silver. This is done for several reasons. In windows, it serves as an insulator. A layer of silver, only a few nanometres thick, can be applied to the surface of the window in order to create a glazing effect. As this coating is so thin, the cost of the silver itself is miniscule.

In mirrors, particularly those in telescopes – silver serves as a reflecting agent. In this application, it is preferable to aluminium, as it is better suited to reflect certain sorts of infrared radiation. It also emits a great deal less of this radiation itself – thereby reducing the amount of noise present on the image. In creating high-precision infrared images of the night sky, silver is therefore of enormous value.

Photography

In photography, silver – in the form of silver nitrate and halides – was used as a means of developing images. Since the introduction of the digital camera and its incorporation into the mobile phone, the use of silver in this environment has plunged – though this change has also heralded in an increase in the use of silver for batteries and electronics.

Batteries

Silver is rarely used in normal batteries, as other materials are far more economical. In certain applications, however, silver-oxide batteries are favoured. These might include smaller devices which require their own power source, such as hearing aids, where a silver-oxide battery’s longer life and superior energy-to-weight ratio lend it an advantage over other sorts of batteries.

How is Silver Made?

Now that we’ve seen what silver might be used for, let’s take a look at how it is created. Silver is typically found in the ore that contains other valuable metals, among them lead, copper, gold and zinc. These metals must first be extracted from one another if they are to have any application and value. The method through which this is done varies according to the metal; silver is rarely sought for its own sake and comes rather as a by-product of attempts to refine other precious metals.  Throughout history, there have been a myriad of ways in which silver has been extracted from its ore. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Smelting

smelting in action

As these metals have different properties, they can be extracted from one another by exposure to certain conditions. As some, for instance, have different weights and melting points, silver can be extracted by exposing the ore to varying levels of heat.

The earliest forms of extractive metallurgy involved smelting. Contrary to popular belief, smelting does not involve simply melting the metals of an ore and splitting them apart from one another. In an ore, many metals are fused together in a chemical compound, which can only be broken down into its constituent parts by performing a certain chemical reaction.

Parkes Process

In the case of zinc-bearing ores, the metals can be extracted by melting the ore and then allowing the liquid metal to solidify. At the top will form a crust of zinc and silver, which can then be extracted and separated into its constituent parts using a process of distillation.

Electrolysis

In the case of copper-containing ores, electrolysis can be employed. The ore is placed in a cell containing two conversely-charged electrodes: an anode and a cathode. As current passes through the ore, copper will be drawn to the cathode, while the remainder will be drawn to the anode. The remainder can then be smelted to remove any impurities and then subjected to another round of electrolysis, through which the silver can be extracted.

Heap Leach

Mercury amalgamation came to be widely-used in the sixteenth century, when the ‘patio process’ was invented in Mexico. It involves the use of mercury to draw the silver from an ore and comes in many different forms – the most widespread of these is the heap leach.

The heap leach is a way of processing low-grade ores cheaply and for this reason it is used extensively today. It employs a series of chemical reactions designed to draw the silver from the ore, and its principle ingredient is cyanide.

And that is how you make silver!

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Answering Questions About Easter

Why are baptisms more common in Easter?

One would expect that the amount of christenings that take place in a given period of time would be strongly correlated with the birth rate. However, whilst it’s undoubtedly true that birth rates vary over the course of the year, the majority of the births occur during the summer, after the festival has taken place. Why then, do we see such high number of christenings during this time? To what should we attribute this trend?

The question can be answered in terms of both practicality and religion. Obviously, the weather is slightly better than it is during the winter and so many couples are tempted to delay the event by a month or two in order that the day itself run smoothly. This practice is not a recent development; historically, many children of Christian parentage have been baptised during the Easter Sunday service itself. For this reason, many Christians choose to confirm their baptismal vows alongside the new intake and judge Easter Sunday to be the best time to do it.

Easter bunny and egg

Why is Easter in spring?

Christians associate the events of Christ’s life with significant days on their calendar. Just as Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, Easter demarks his death and resurrection. Theses dates have nothing to do with the events of history and almost everything to do with the pagan calendar from which the Christian calendar emerged.

One need only look outside the window in order to see why spring came to be so closely bound to Easter. The world, having been a cold and dark place, is returning again to life; birds are singing, leaves are re-emerging on the once-bare branches of trees and once absent animals are emerging from hibernation. These themes are common to all spring festivals and the Christian story of the resurrection is rife with them. This should come as no surprise; these are, after all, themes which predate Christianity by thousands – if not hundreds of thousands of years.

Whilst it’s easy to fathom why spring should be so closely linked in our minds to birth and rebirth, it’s not so easy to wrap ones head around the precise formula by which the date of Easter Sunday is calculated.

To put it simply, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. If that is a struggle, then don’t despair – you can always look it up if you’re planning something! All you need to know is that the day is calculated using a rigid set of rules – it’s not as arbitrary as it might appear.

Just what does the Easter bunny have to do with anything?

Perhaps the most frequently asked questions surrounding Easter concern the relationship between rabbits, eggs, Jesus and chocolate. At first glance, this seems something of a hodgepodge of utterly random influences. But each of them borrows from different elements of pagan folklore, theology and modern consumerism – and the result is the festival we recognise today.

The practice of incorporating pagan rituals into the Christian calendar was vitally important to the early popularity of the church. For example, the pagan festival of Saturnalia, during which the Ancient Romans would toast the god Saturn and get hideously drunk, was transformed into Christmas. The practice of baptism itself is derived from Jewish, Norse and Pagan traditions.

The same is true of Easter, which draws its name from a pagan goddess, Eostre. Her mythology is closely wedded to that of the march Hare, who was thought to possess the ability to lay eggs during Easter – remember that this was during a time when very little was known about biology.

black and white painted eggs

The symbolism of the egg is obvious. The egg represents birth, arguably in such a way that no other object possibly could. Why are Easter eggs made from chocolate? The answer can be thus surmised: At one time, eggs were consumed during Easter. But then chocolate manufacturers realised that, by creating chocolate eggs, they could sell a great deal more chocolate. Thus, to the chagrin of dentists across the land, was born the now-ubiquitous chocolate egg.

As a by-product of the annual fixation with eggs, one of the most popular christening gifts is the egg cup – most frequently one made from silver. This is a more recent tradition, developing during the Victorian era when advances in manufacturing allowed silverware to be created more easily and so become rapidly adopted by a growing middle-class. Silver egg cups and spoons remain popular christening gifts today.

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Discovering Prayer

It can be heartening and welcoming for Christian parents when their child begins to show an inclination toward. It is important, however, that such children receive instruction in exactly how and when to pray. If your child comes to regard prayer in the wrong way, then they will likely become disillusioned when the practice does not yield the expected results.

What is prayer?

As with most things, it is always best to begin from first principles when teaching a child about prayer.  Prayer is not only the act of addressing God. With practice prayer becomes a form of meditation, leading to greater self-awareness and a better understanding of others and the world around us.

Prayer comes in many forms. There are formal prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer; there are also informal prayers – private words in God’s ear which believers engage in periodically. Both require explanation.

If you take your child to church, where everyone recites the Lord’s Prayer in unison, they will become familiar with its words. But this is pointless without an appreciation of the meaning behind these words. The language of the bible is steeped in metaphor – not to mention myriad ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s – which a child will have difficulty deciphering. The Lord’s Prayer is no exception. Your child might conceivably have questions:

–          What exactly is “daily bread” and why isn’t it included in my packed lunch?

–          “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” What will be done? What does ‘thy’ mean?

–          What does ‘Amen’ mean?

If your child is particularly young, you might not be able to explain that the word ‘will’ can be a noun. For this reason, you might wish to buy your child a book of prayer written in more contemporary language. This will be far more forgiving and more easily understood. Eden and Scripture Union have a wide choice to choose from. There might be words and ideas that you can also use at home with your children. Your church might also have special activities to help.

Informal prayer also requires a degree of instruction – though it is far more intuitive and direct. Those that pray do so according to their own ideas of what God is and how He would prefer to be addressed. You don’t need to talk in sixteenth century English – you can, if you’d like – talk in much the same way that you’d talk to a friend or family member. Indeed, God will likely understand your meaning better than you do. After all, a God that didn’t wouldn’t be much of a God.

It is not sufficient, however, to say ‘talk to God about whatever you’d like’. Children must also be taught why they should be praying – and what for.

Why should I pray?

There are three main reasons why someone might wish to pray to God.

Please

The most common use of prayer is to make requests of God. Such requests, however, come with a number of conditions. A great many misguided prayers are rooted in selfishness. This is especially true of children. Needless to say, prayer is not a route to a lottery win, a promotion or a romantic liaison; neither is it a means by which your child will procure a videogame or sway the outcome of school sports day. To regard it as such is to invite disappointment.

Children might, on learning this, come to question the efficacy of prayer. It is important to treat these doubts honestly. There have been a myriad of empirical studies into the efficacy of prayer, all of them following much the same methodology. A large number of sufferers of a potentially fatal disease are polled to find out whether they pray. Those polled are divided into two groups – those that pray, and those that do not pray – and then the mortality rates between the two groups are compared. The hypothesis beings that, if prayer were ineffective, then those that pray will be far less likely to succumb to their illness. Of course, in all of these studies, those that pray are no less likely to die than those that don’t bother.

It is crucial to be honest with your child about this. The foundation of Christianity is faith in Jesus Christ. If a belief in God were to hinge on evidence, this faith would not be required. Whatever God is, He is not a magician who will swoop to the aid of his followers at every invitation.

Christians believe that God exists and that he knows everything and sees everything. If this is true, it follows that He will hear prayers – even if you don’t pray out loud. Of course, you might wish to pray out loud anyway – and this is fine, too. God will be able to discern everything you might possible want to say before you’ve even said it.

Thank you

As human beings, we have a great deal to be thankful for. We enjoy unprecedented access to food, shelter, as well as technological wonders like smartphones and the internet. Some things, however, require a thank you which is more spiritual in nature.

If your child has a particular affection toward the music of One Direction, then there are a number of people whom they might want to thank for its existence. Your child might want to write them some fan mail. If, on the other hand, your child is struck by the majesty of mountains, forests and the night sky; for their capacity to love and joy. This is a gratitude for which there is no obvious recipient. Prayer forms a conduit for that gratitude.

Sorry

Children, like adults, may feel guilty from time to time. Prayer may represent a worthwhile avenue for their contrition – though parents should also ensure that their children feel comfortable confessing their most concrete crimes. If your child feels envious from time to time, then they might take that up with God. If your child has inadvertently fed the dog anti-freeze, you will want them to tell you about it.

When should I pray?

Once you have impressed on your child what prayer is and why it is done, there is the more practical business of finding the time and space in which to do it. There are many occasions in which your child may wish to pray. Prayer requires seclusion. As such, the best opportunities usually occur immediately before bed, or immediately upon waking. Prayer might seem most necessary during times of great stress – in children, this may be before starting at a new school, or immediately before exams, or during minor bouts of depression.

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Jubilee Hallmarked Collection

The UK’s Assay Offices have designed a new commemorative hallmark in recognition of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Commemorative hallmarks don’t come along very often. In fact, there have only been four since the Silver Jubilee of George V and Queen Mary in 1935. The first was released in 1953 for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. This was followed in 1977 with Queen’s

Silver Jubilee and then in 2002 for the Golden Jubilee. The only other commemorative mark in this 75 year period was the Millennium mark of 2000.

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Christening Gifts and The X Factor

The engravers at CHRISTENINGsilver are always quick to spot a trend. The number of napkin rings, tankards, mugs, egg cups and quaichs we engrave with Christian names every week gives us a good indication of the most popular names being chosen by parents in the UK.

For boys, we are seeing many familiar favourites. Tom and Thomas, Ollie and Oliver, Josh and Joshua, James and Jamie all feature strongly along with Jack, Harry and Charlie. We have the occasional family name or Victorian hangover, but in the main, parents are still fairly conservative when it comes to boys’ names.
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