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 several 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, including 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” of 1938 to 1946 should perhaps have been called the silver age of science fiction, because the colour silver would dominate the genre for years to come. Silver became a short-hand for futurism and the space age – for example in 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 – a silver bullet is said to be the only way to stop a werewolf and silver  capable of detecting poison. Back in the real world, silver does in fact have somewhat “magical” properties, and in particular medicinal properties. Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, taught that it was a healing material and it was 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 the “silverware” 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. It was first used as a colour in the 1400s, a long time after silver was identified as an element as far back as 4000 BC.

The chemical symbol for silver is Ag for argentum (Latin for silver) and its 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, the US’s second-largest producer of silver after Alaska, is nicknamed the “Silver State”. 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 than gold, with many valuable applications including coinage, jewellery, electrical components, photography and x-ray, water filtration and medicine.