Spotlight on Silver

The Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany ran from 1919-1933, during which time the students, known as ‘Bauhauslers’, held festivals or parties seveal times a year. Each party would have its own theme, such as ‘Kite’, ’Lantern’ or ‘Beard, Nose, Hearts’, with extensive planning including invitations, decorations and costumes. The most famous of all the festivals was the ‘Metallic Festival’ or ‘Metallische Fest’ held on February 9, 1929. At the Metal Party, Bauhauslers were invited to dress as bottle openers, egg whisks or bells, making costumes using anything they could find that was silver in colour such as tin foil, frying pans and spoons. There was a chute guests could slide down to enter a room filled with silver balls and the windows of the building were covered in tin foil making the 1929 event resemble a scene from a science fiction film. The ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction’ which took place between 1938-1946 should perhaps have been called the ‘Silver’ age of science fiction as the colour silver would dominate the genre for years to come with silver becoming a short-hand for ‘futurism’ and the ‘space age’; see the silver metallic space suits of the first space crew, the Mercury 7.

 

Bauhaus Dessau, Germany
Bauhaus Dessau, Germany

Silver’s association with fiction can also be found in folklore where the metal is thought to have mystical powers; such as silver bullet as the only way to stop a werewolf or that silver can be used to detect poison. Back in the real world, in actual fact, silver does have somewhat ‘magical’ properties, in particular medicinal properties, and was taught by Hippocrates the father of modern medicine as a healing material and used by the Romans in medicine as well as in other parts of the world. Silver has anti-bacterial elements and its compounds are used as disinfectants incorporated into wound dressings and medical devices as well as being the coating for most of our ‘silverware’ which we eat with. Pure silver metal is also used in food colouring (E174) and to decorate some sugary desserts.

 

@louishansel / Unsplash
@louishansel / Unsplash

Silver as a colour is similar to grey, but through a special combination of pigments it has a metallic shine that allows for a shimmering-effect like real silver. Silver as a colour was first used in the 1400s, a long time after silver was identified as an element noted as far back as 4000 BC.

The chemical symbol for silver is Ag for ‘argentum’ (Latin for silver) and the atomic number is 47. Silver is found in the earth’s crust in its pure form as well as in other minerals and as a by-product of copper, gold, lead and zinc refining. Argentina has such a vast wealth of silver that it was named after the metal, and today Nevada, USA is nicknamed the ‘silver state’ due to it being the nation’s second-largest producer of silver, after Alaska. Today Mexico and Peru have the highest reserves of silver in the world.

Silver has become a symbolic colour of the space age, perhaps in part due to its scientifically-based properties. It is a precious metal, highly reflective and more conductive that gold, with many valuable applications including coinage, jewellery, electrical components, photography and x-ray, water filtration and medicine, among just some of the uses of this quintessential sci-fi colour.