No one can say for sure, but most historians believe that silver was mined several centuries before gold. Archeologists have found silver mines on the Aegean Sea that date back more than five thousand years. It was one of the first precious metals mankind learned to separate from lead.
In the early days, silver was not used in coin form. In parts of Ancient Egypt and Sumeria, they used ingots to facilitate trade. Ingots were really nothing more than small chunks of silver. This silver was given as tribute to rulers or as a sort of tithe to the local temples. It was not actually used as a form of currency until there was a leader everyone recognized.
The first ruler to invest in coinage was Philip II of Macedon (359-336 BC). As the head of the Greek city states, he had enough subjects to release some of the earliest silver coins. But it was his famous son, Alexander the Great, who would build his early empire on huge silver mines in northern Afghanistan. He used the precious metal to pay his vast armies and to remind them who their leader was. The concept of coinage gained acceptance as Alexander conquered most of the known world.
In later years, silver coins were used by the Roman emperors to pay their legions. In time, the coins were adopted by administrators, merchants and traders. As you might imagine, the silver coins of the ancient Greeks and Romans are among the most sought after coins in the world because they are the oldest.
Like most hobbies, coin collecting was first practiced by adults. According to a famous historian, the first emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, was a coin collector. Coin collecting was practiced for hundreds of years without any thought of the value of history of ancient coins. But all that changed during the Renaissance.
During the 15th century, monarchs who were curious about the past suddenly started offering substantial sums of money for ancient coins. The pastime was so popular that it became known as “the hobby of kings.” Members of the European nobility amassed impressive collections that are in museums today.
Why do people collect coins? More often than not, the hobby is passed on from a parent or grandparent. Most amateur numismatists (coin collectors) who teach youngsters about starting a coin collecting do it to illustrate a few simple life lessons. First and foremost, they want them to appreciate the past. Each coin tells its own unique story. Not only does it feature the profile of a famous leader, but it also was minted in a certain city on a certain a certain date.
Collecting objects also teaches us the value of maintenance. Whether we are talking about stamps or buy silver coins, collectibles must be protected from the elements if they are to be preserved. Some collectors focus on coins that commemorate a special event, like the bicentennial.
Numismatics in America
As a relatively young country, the United States was thousands of years behind Europe when it came to coin collecting. Perhaps that is why it took several centuries for the hobby to catch on in America. It was not until U.S. began issuing sizable quantities of commemorative coins in the 1930s that the avocation became a hit. In recent years, the Internet has made it much easier for amateurs, professionals and traders to communicate. Online auction sites like eBay give numismatics of all experience levels the ability to buy, sell and trade coins.
Silver American Eagles
Issued by the U.S. government, the Silver Eagle is one of the most famous silver coins in the world. Not only they do they contain a full troy ounce of the purest silver, but they are also offered in limited quantities. Whenever new Silver Eagle coins are announced, coin collectors from across America line up. In fact, demand for the 2009 Silver Eagle was so high, it set a new mintage record at over 30 million coins.
Silver Canadian Maple Leaf
Released just two years after the Eagle, the Maple Leaf is the Canadian answer to the American bestseller. Because it was second, it may lack the cache, but it remains one of the most popular silver coins in North America. One explanation is the eye-catching design and the fact that the Maple Leaf is made from the purest silver, at.9999 pure. The Canadian government also keeps the mintage quite low, so supply is rarely enough to meet the demand.
Morgan Silver Dollars
As one of the rarest and most celebrated American silver coins, the Morgan is a favorite for both new and experienced numismatics. Minted between 1978 and 1904, and then again in 1921, the Morgan is not quite as pure as the aforementioned. The coins are about 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. Of course, collectors prize them for their historical significance and rarity, not their purity.