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In this world, a bunch of wizards colonized a new planet and are in the process of terraforming it (more details here).

This newly-created civilization has access to a reduced variety of materials. All their fabrics are crafted from silk and bamboo fibres, all their buildings are built of granite, they can’t grow cereals, have very little wood, etc.

I’d also like to add restrictions to their metal supplies. For now, I think I’ll make silver the cheapest and most commonly used metal (the reason being that their first mines produce only silver and silver alloys).

IRL, silver is already used to make a large variety of items. I was wondering if it could be used without major drawbacks to make most things this world would need, like:

  • Furniture (they don’t have much trees, so making furniture out of wood is a luxury)
  • Doors and door hinges
  • Shutters
  • Metal flooring
  • Plumbing (for both drinking water and sewage)
  • Pans, pots and kettles (I have no idea if it's safe to heat and store food or water in silver containers)
  • Knifes
  • Tools (medical, manufacturing, gardening, etc.)
  • Small boats
  • Wheeled carts
  • Robots (powered by magic, think of them as articulated metal puppets)
  • Clocks

This civilization doesn't have electricity or steam engines, so it doesn't matter if electronic components of heavy machinery can't be made of silver.


Are silver and naturally occurring silver alloys versatile enough materials to be used to make most everyday items ?

If they have any major limitation, can I work around it?

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  • $\begingroup$ Note : I haven't spoke English for a long looooong time. Please tell me if any part of this post is unclear or if I made mistakes. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Jun 11 '16 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't this something that google could answer for you? Hint, it comes down to the purity of the silver. $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 11 '16 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ If the only mineral available is granite, does that mean the silver veins are contained in granite bulk? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 11 '16 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Granite isn't the only material available on this planet. It's just that only 2 or 3 cities have been founded for now, and granite was the most abundant building material in these cities immediate surroundings. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Jun 11 '16 at 9:33
  • $\begingroup$ No single material is good at everything. Silver is an excellent thermal conductor, which is fine if you need to conduct heat, and terrible if you need insulation. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jun 11 '16 at 9:39
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Silver is soft - it would wear quickly due to friction, so flooring is impractical, and so are gears of any sort. I also don't think it would sustain the sharpness long enough for making sharp tools out of it - try stone and bamboo (the Chinese have been using bamboo for all sorts of things for the last four thousand years). The purer a metal, generally, the softer it is (spectrally pure iron is very soft). Silver can be scratched with a steel blade. Or with your teeth (ever wondered why grizzled old trappers in the movies bite coins? because gold is just as soft as silver, but metals used for fake coins are not).

It's also very ductile, meaning you can make very thin wires out of it and beat it into shapes easily. Good for making thin sheets, but they won't keep their shape for long.

Also, silver is very shiny - but it tarnishes and turns black, faster if any amount of sulfur is present (protein practically always contains sulfur - a quick test to see if a protein is sulfur-rich is to put some on a silver coin for a while, then check for tarnish).

Tarnish, however, is not harmful (insoluble - only soluble compounds can affect your biochemistry) and silver containers are very food-safe - in fact, it slows down germs and keeps stuff fresh a little bit longer - it's used to purify water. It is also very conductive to heat and electricity (and used in many electronic components), so you're essentially throwing away all the obvious uses. Can't you have plastic-producing algae? I'm almost sure it's possible - algae make lots of biomass, also a sort of hard plastic (galalith) can be made of milk protein (we don't do this today, because it's more cost effective to just eat the cheese instead of making things out of it) - maybe you can try using some other sort of thing to produce similar protein? Sea organisms, perhaps? If magic can accelerate development, you can evolve critters (breed selectively and accelerate them) to suit your purpose, within reason (hint - hook for a green sort of message here).

Historically, sterling silver (92,5%) has been used to make cutlery, pitchers, cups and goblets, tea sets, various vanity items, musical instruments, surgical instruments (knives are not the only surgical tool!).

Apparently, addition of germanium makes sterling silver less prone to tarnishing, stronger and allows it to be welded.

Other materials I would look into before desperately reaching for silver: glass and ceramics (hard, durable, easily cleaned, electrical insulators, moderately heavy, with the know-how can be made into killer sharp tools), composites (plastic reinforced with some sort of fiber - you can invent it wholecloth, since it's fantasy), carbon fiber. Think outside of the box - not everything in fantasy must be silver, leather and wood.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your detailed answer! I wanted to check how realistic this idea was, and how far I could push it (but I'm not "desperate" to keep it, there's plenty of other ways to keep the resources they have access to less varied and less abundant). $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Jun 11 '16 at 18:00
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Pure silver is too soft for most of the uses that you list. If it's impure, then silver is not the only metal they've got access to -- they've also got whatever the silver is alloyed with, which they can extract and purify in its own right.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. More preciselly, what items on the list absolutely can't be made of pure silver or (lets say 90%) silver alloys? $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Jun 11 '16 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ 90% alloys are a whole separate issue. But then you're changing your question, since the colonists also have the metal that the silver is alloyed with. Do the colonists have access to another metal or do they not? $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Jun 11 '16 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, they do have access to other metals, in limited quantities. As I said, I'd like to make silver the cheapest and most commonly used metal, and was wondering if I could make most common items from it. The post mentioned silver alloys from the start, but I agree that I should have made it clearer. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Jun 11 '16 at 10:54

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