Some of the largest silver mines in the US are in Alaska, Nevada, New Mexico, and Montana. However, prospectors rarely come across silver nuggets. Most of the mined surface silver contains multiple metals and minerals.
It’s possible to find silver nuggets, but they are rare, small, and hardly available in pure form. It often comes with metals such as lead, copper, and zinc. Natural silver nuggets are hard to find like gold nuggets because they’re dispersed during volcanic eruptions.
In this article, I’ll discuss silver nuggets, why they are hard to find, and how to identify them, so stick around!
Every prospector secretly hopes to bump into a silver nugget, not because of its value but because it’s difficult to come across one.
Unlike gold nuggets which are easy to identify, silver nuggets are not so obvious in their appearance. They’re hard to find because they form during volcanic eruptions, which are rare today. Most silver is found in silver-bearing minerals like lead, cobalt, and copper.
Silver nuggets are sometimes tarnished gray or black when oxidized, making them hard to spot.
At a glance, a rock containing silver will look like all the other rocks in the area. Unless you rub the rock against other rocks, you may not realize the black color is tarnished silver. But looking at the rock won’t tell you if you have silver.
How To Identify Them
One of the challenges many prospectors face is how to identify silver nuggets. The other problem is that silver is one of the most undervalued metals, so it’s not mined heavily.
Interestingly, there is a supply deficit of silver, but this is not reflected in the price.
So, most prospectors aren’t really motivated to go out of their way to find silver nuggets. Those who encounter it do it by sheer luck and not entirely because they were actively searching for it. Silver nuggets are difficult to detect because they take on different shapes and appearances.
Here are some ways to identify silver nuggets:
- Irregularly shaped silver rock with a metallic luster: This is the best state to find a silver nugget. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs, and it’s sometimes hidden in rocks. Some silver nuggets protrude from the rocks, while others remain hidden.
- Silver veins and flakes on rocks: Silver forms like gold through hydrothermal solutions. There are instances where gold and silver ores occur in the same rocks. You may even find a silver nugget hidden in the rock if you’re lucky.
- High-density rocks: If the rock appears metallic or has silver veins, check if it’s heavy. When compared to other minerals of the same size, silver tends to be heavier.
- A sooty black or gray tarnish: It’s easy to miss silver because it tarnishes when exposed to sulfur gases in the air. Instead of a silver appearance, the rock will be blackish or grayish. The only difference it may have from other rocks is it will be sooty. When you rub this rock against another rock, the surface layer comes off, and you’ll notice silver streaks underneath.
- Silver is a good conductor of heat: When you place the nugget on an electrical source that conducts electricity, you have a silver nugget.
- It scratches easily: Like gold, silver is a soft metal that can be molded into any shape. On the Mohs scale, silver has a hardness of 2.5 – 3.
- Perform an acid test to confirm if it is silver: You can do this by pouring a little nitric acid on the rock. This test can damage the rock, so only use a drop, and if possible, only test a small corner of the rock. If the tested area turns gray or white, then it’s silver.
You can easily spot a silver nugget when you have a keen eye. However, since they are hard to come by, many prospectors are happy when they find rocks with traces of silver and other minerals.
For more information, check out my article on how to tell if a rock has silver in it: How to Tell if a Rock Has Silver in It – Hopefully, you’ll be spotting silver-infused rocks in no time!
How To Clean Silver Nuggets
If you’ve been lucky enough to find silver nuggets, you’ll need to clean them. They are most likely tarnished because they’ve been lying around, exposed to different elements for years. How you clean the silver nuggets will depend on the tarnish.
|Tarnish||Cause||How To Clean The Nugget|
|Black||Sulfur compounds||Use a soft cloth and silver polish to wipe off the tarnish.|
|Green||AcidsExposure to chemicals||Line a container with aluminum foil.Add some vinegar and baking soda solution. Soak the nugget for a few minutes. Brush the nugget to remove lingering stains.|
|Brown||Oxidation||Soak the silver nugget in a water and baking soda solution. Scrub it.You can also remove the tarnish using silver polish.|
|Yellow||High humidityExposure to bleach or chlorine||Wash the nugget in a salt and lemon juice solution.|
Fortunately, the tarnish is just a coating on the silver nugget, but it doesn’t affect the silver underneath. The cleaning solutions also aid with removing the tarnish, and they have no effect on the metal.
Once the tarnish is off, store the silver nugget away from sunlight. You also shouldn’t expose it to humidity because it will tarnish again through oxidation.
This video gives tips on how to clean silver nuggets:
Nuggets Vs. Ores
Silver is usually available in two forms, nuggets and ores.
Silver nuggets are pure silver extracted in solid form and sometimes occur with other metals, like copper and zinc. Silver ores, on the other hand, are rocks that contain silver compounds, such as galena, silver sulfides, and silver oxides.
To prove how rare pure silver nuggets are, most silver mined in the US is a by-product of other metals, especially lead-silver ores. Additionally, only 27% of the revenue from silver mining is linked to silver as the primary metal. The rest is from projects where silver is a by-product of alloyed metals.
The table below summarizes the differences between nuggets and ores:
|Silver Nuggets||Silver Ores|
|They are usually very small.||Some silver ores are large rocks.|
|Nuggets are released and dispersed over a large area through hydrothermal solutions during volcanic eruptions.||Liquid silver veins get into rock crevices and other minerals and metals. They’re widespread and readily available.|
|They’re harder to identify because the nuggets are sometimes tarnished or too small and hidden.||They’re easier to identify, according to the ore, such as silver sulfide, silver oxide, gold and silver ore, and lead ore.|
|The geological formation process rarely occurs. Most volcanic mountains are dormant or extinct.||Silver ores are easily extracted using multiple mining techniques.|
Types of Silver Ores
Silver ores make up most of the raw silver in the ground. If you are a prospector, the chances of you finding silver ores in areas where silver is mined are higher than you finding silver nuggets.
However, the silver ores vary, depending on the other minerals in the rocks.
The color of the rock is usually the most obvious sign that you are holding a silver ore. Some rocks have pronounced silver veins, while others aren’t as obvious because of the tarnish and chemical reactions with the different minerals and metals.
Let’s look at some differences:
- Silver sulfide: It’s primarily made up of silver and sulfur. However, sometimes it can be part of other sulfide minerals, such as lead sulfide (galena) and zinc sulfide (sphalerite).
- Argentite: This silver ore comprises at least 87% silver with a blackish-gray tarnish. Some rock masses have a shiny black streak.
- Polybasite: It’s a sulfosalt hydrothermal vein of silver and copper. Some polybasite silver ores also contain antimony. The rock masses are usually steel black, with dark red reflections on some of them.
- Proustite: It’s a collector’s gemstone, also known as ruby silver ore, but unfortunately, this ore also contains arsenic. You should take precautions to ensure you don’t accidentally ingest particles from this rock. In some cases, other sulfides, such as pyrite, are found in proustite.
Silver ores occur in different forms, which is why they’re easier to find than nuggets. When prospecting in regions where silver is mined, you are more likely to come across some of these silver oxides, yet you may not find silver nuggets.
Metal nuggets, whether gold or silver, are hard to come by. Fortunately, the bulk of silver in the market is extracted from various silver ores. You’ll need to look closer at rocks to see if they have silver veins or colors representing the different ores.
You may also need to perform different tests, such as density and acid tests, to confirm that your search for silver was successful.