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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004-1251

Mineral Commodity Profiles: Silver

By W.C. Butterman and H.E. Hilliard


Silver is one of the eight precious, or noble, metals; the others are gold and the six platinum-group metals (PGM). World mine production in 2001 was 18,700 metric tons (t) and came from mines in 60 countries; the 10 leading producing countries accounted for 86 percent of the total. The largest producer was Mexico, followed by Peru, Australia, and the United States. About 25 percent of the silver mined in the world in 2001 came from silver ores; 15 percent, from gold ores and the remaining 60 percent, from copper, lead, and zinc ores.

In the United States, 14 percent of the silver mined in 2001 came from silver ores; 39 percent, from gold ores; 10 percent, from copper and copper-molybdenum ores; and 37 percent, from lead, zinc, and lead-zinc ores. The precious metal ores (gold and silver) came from 30 lode mines and 10 placer mines; the base-metal ores (copper, lead, molybdenum, and zinc) came from 24 lode mines. Placer mines yielded less than 1 percent of the national silver production. Silver was mined in 12 States, of which Nevada was by far the largest producer; it accounted for nearly one-third of the national total. The production of silver at domestic mines generated employment for about 1,100 mine and mill workers. The value of mined domestic silver was estimated to be $290 million.

Of the nearly 27,000 t of world silver that was fabricated in 2001, about one-third went into jewelry and silverware, one-fourth into the light-sensitive compounds used in photography, and nearly all the remainder went for industrial uses, of which there were 7 substantial uses and many other small-volume uses. By comparison, 85 percent of the silver used in the United States went to photography and industrial uses, 8 percent to jewelry and silverware, and 7 percent to coins and medals. The United States was the largest consumer of silver followed by India, Japan, and Italy; the 13 largest consuming countries accounted for nearly 90 percent of the world total. In the United States, about 30 companies accounted for more than 90 percent of the silver fabricated. The consumption of silver for all fabrication uses is expected to grow slowly through the decade ending in 2010 at about 1.3 percent per year for the world and 2.4 percent per year for the United States.

World and U.S. reserves and reserve bases are more than adequate to satisfy the demand for newly mined silver through 2010. The other components of supply will be silver recovered from scrap, silver from industrial stocks, and silver bullion that is sold into the market from commodity exchange and private stocks.

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For scientific questions or comments concerning this report, contact Micheal W. George.

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