Debunking Certain Myths About Precious Metals, Part II

Know any myths about precious metals? If not, we’re happy to share

Few inanimate things get our imaginations running quite as hot as silver, gold, and their relatives, which is probably why there are so many myths about precious metals. This is a good thing for us here at Mythbusters, since it gives us a chance to take part in our favorite activity: setting the record straight!

As we mentioned in Part I, precious metals aren’t limited to the two or three big ones we usually think about — that is, silver, gold and platinum. Rhodium is worth far more than all three. Nor are they useful only as coinage and bullion. Ever wonder what other precious metal myths you’re misfiring on?

Myth 4: Once a precious metal, always a precious metal

This would be nice, but the truth is that a metal is considered precious only if it’s both attractive and rare. If a way is found to mine a particular metal more effectively, or if it becomes easier to extract, then for that particular element this myth about precious metal can become false overnight.

Take aluminum, for example. Nowadays it’s so common that most of us treat it as disposable, and it runs about a half-dollar a pound. But once upon a time, this metal was so rare that only kings could afford it. Then the Hall-Heroult process was discovered, making it easy to refine in quantity — and the rest is history.

Myth 5: Silver is fine for jewelry and coins, but otherwise it’s pretty useless

Here’s one myth about precious metals that easy to prove wrong. Now, silver is generally considered the least precious of the precious metals, and in fact is only included in the category because of its traditional use in coinage and jewelry. Its price usually hovers around $10 per ounce.

But here’s the thing: the traditional photographic industry would be useless without silver. Silver is used in all kinds of photographic processes, from stills to movies. People keep saying that digital photography may eventually kill this industry and plunge silver futures in the cellar — but it hasn’t happened yet.

Here’s another strike against this myth about precious metals: colloidal silver (tiny particles of silver suspended in liquid) has medical uses. It’s been found to kill some infectious bacteria, and has been approved as a disinfectant by the EPA. The only reason it’s not used more is because antibiotics work better — for now.

Myth 6: My Grandma’s German silver from the Old Country weighs a ton. It must be worth quite a bit, huh

Um… sorry to burst your bubble, but hold onto it as an heirloom. The only way it’ll be worth anything is for its value as an antique. See, while it may be called German silver, it’s really an alloy of nickel and copper, with maybe some zinc thrown in.

Don’t let these myths about “precious” metals lead you astray.