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Silver is a metallic chemical element with an atomic number of 47 and the symbol Ag. The “Ag,” incidentally, is from the Latin word argentum. This is probably one of the more well known chemical elements, since some people own jewelry or utensils made with it, and a number of cultures have traditional beliefs and myths about this metal. Silver also has industrial uses in addition to ornamental ones, and it is heavily mined around the world to meet global demand.
Humans have been aware of the existence of silver for thousands of years, and it has long been prized as a precious metal. Archaeological digs sometimes uncover artifacts made of this metal ranging from plated armor to elaborate jewelry. Silver is relatively ductile, although it is not as soft as gold, and it is relatively easy to work or alloy with other metals such as copper. In a pure form, it is a lustrous metal with high thermal and electric conductivity, although it tarnishes easily, so many objects turn greenish to black with age. However, when this tarnish is gently removed, the silver underneath will shine again.
In nature, silver is sometimes found occurring as a free metal, and it may also appear in deposits with other metals like copper and gold. Chemical treatment processes can help to refine these metals into pure forms for commercial use. It also appears in some minerals, and like other elements, silver combines to make a wide range of compounds, including silver nitrate, a salt with a number of uses from photography to antiseptics.
Silver and various salts of this metal are used in many industrial processes. The element itself is not toxic, but its salts are, and they should be handled with care. It is generally a good idea to wear eye protection and gloves when handling them, and people should avoid inhaling or consuming them. Metalsmithing with the metal can also be dangerous, due to the use of lead soldering agents and toxic fluxes to work it.
This metal has also historically been used in currency, because it is intrinsically valuable. Most nations have abandoned the use of precious metals in their currency, but special commemorative coins may be issued in silver and gold for collectors. Jewelry, of course, runs the gamut from mass produced sterling silver rings to ornate masterpieces of craftsmanship, and it can be found all over the world at a wide variety of prices.