Producers obtain silver from mining naturally occurring silver deposits. Silver is also commonly produced as a byproduct of refining other metals. Silver is found in argentite and horn silver and is also extracted from lead, gold, copper, zinc and nickel ores. Standard commercial grade silver is 99.9 percent pure, however, silver is available in purities as high as 99.999 percent.
Many countries, including the United States, traditionally used silver when minting coins. While less expensive than gold, it retains a high value. However, after the United States went off the gold standard, the mint increased the use of less valuable metal in the production of coins. The last circulating silver coin in the United States was the 40 percent half-dollar, produced in 1970.
Silver conducts both heat and electricity better than any other metal. Freshly deposited silver is an excellent reflector, but quickly tarnishes, losing its reflective quality. Silver is considered a noble metal, meaning it resists corrosion in moist air.
Silver is staple in numerous industries. Craftsmen use silver when making jewelry and flatware. Silver is slightly less malleable (harder) than gold, however, unlike gold, silver tarnishes and must be polished. Silver has antibiotic properties and is commonly used to prevent infection in burns. Silver halide crystals become darker when exposed to light, making it an important part of photographic film. Silver is even used to produce rain as scientists experiment with cloud seeding.