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Electrum

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What is Electrum?

Despite being considered ‘primitive’, the ancients had a very good grasp of the sciences, mathematics, chemistry, and physics to enable them to create wonders that even to this day is still considered amazing. One of these wonders comes in their knack for developing and employing metallic alloys. Despite being considered a fairly modern innovation, alloys are an ancient staple of human culture, dating back to the dawn of history, and evolving all throughout the course of time. Whether they were alloying metals for martial, ornamental, or utilitarian purposes, the ancients had it going whenever talk of metals were involved. One of the most highly valued and commonly used metals of the ancient world was gold and silver, as well as any natural combination of the two. Because these two noble metals were resistant to corrosion and tarnishing, they made for excellent metals to mint currency with, and their inherent luster and malleability made them perfect as materials for personal adornment.

However, gold and silver were too soft to be used in its pure form, and had to be combined with other metals (along with each other) to be more durable. One of the most common and amazing alloys of the ancient world was known as electrum. Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, usually possessing trace amounts of other elements such as copper or lead. Electrum in its pure state is a natural alloy of gold and silver, and has been used for the creation of coins in the Old Kingdom of Egypt since the third millennium BC. The Egpytian Pharaoh Sahure who ruled during the Fifth Dynasty has sent out an expedition to locate and eventually mine naturally occurring electrum for Egyptian coinage. [1] Pliny the Elder himself mentions the metal in his Naturalis Historia. Electrum, being a combination of gold and silver was also attested some magical features, having been attributed the ability to ‘glow’ in Judaic writings, while being made into the choice metal for a magical stylus tipped with a glowing crystal in Sumerian myths. Despite not being so well-known, pop-culture has even adopted electrum as a metallic alloy of renown, having been used by Jedis in the making of lightsaber hilts as a sign of their mastery of the Force. [2]

Natural electrum usually contains around 70% to 90% gold, with varying amounts of silver and other elements intermixed. During the height of minting during the ancient times however, electrum later came to be produced artificially through the means of combining pure gold and silver along with common metals. The amount of gold and silver in artificially alloyed electrum however varied largely, often middling at 45% - 55%, and sometimes even lower. While an alloy of gold and silver is strictly referred to as electrum (often colloquially named ‘green gold’ for its slightly greenish tinge), the gold and silver content of a man-made electrum alloy may not be as much as in a naturally occurring one, sometimes even being so low as to the point of being significant only in lending the coin the bright-yellow coloration or greenish hue of the alloy, without bearing its true value or weight in gold and silver.

Because it was easily made, and because it became a mainstay of ancient currency for a while, many civilizations employed electrum coins, until such a time when the purity of the coinage was compromised by the lessening of the gold composition, literally stripping away much of the inherent value of the coinage while retaining only it’s face value – a feature common in currency today.

While commonly of a pale-yellow to near-white in hue, electrum can sometimes appear as somewhat greenish, especially if the natural or man-made alloy contains slightly significant amounts of copper. Although the ancients referred to it as white gold, it is by no means similar to the alloy of palladium, nickel, and silver that constitutes what we know as white gold today. [3]



Electrum - References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrum
[2] http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Electrum
[3] http://www.mindat.org/min-1365.html

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for coinandbullionpages.com © coinandbullionpages.com 2012

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