Silver Ores and Silver Bearing Minerals

Gold and silver are obtained from a variety of ores, in some of which the gold predominates, in others silver is the primary value, while in still a third class these two metals may be mixed with the base metals, such as lead, copper, zinc, and iron. Few silver ores are absolutely free from gold, and vice versa, so that a separate consideration of the two is more or less a difficult task. For ores where the most valuable element is silver, the silver is normally contained in minerals colored gray to black in appearance. These minerals range from a metallic sheen to an earthy soot-like appearance. Sooty black minerals are common in many very rich silver ore samples. Most of these sooty black deposits consist of acanthite or various complex silver sulfides.  The most common valuable minerals which may constitute rich silver ores include native silver acanthite (silver sulfide); pyargyrite (dark ruby silver or silver antimony sulfide);  Proustite (light ruby silver or silver arsenic sulfide);  Stephanite (brittle silver, also a silver antimony sulfide); Polybasite (also a silver antimony sulfide); Cerargyrite (Silver Chloride); Bromyrite (silver bromide) and Iodyrite (silver Iodide). Bonanza grade silver ore can also contain various silver telluride minerals including Calaverite, Sylvanite and Hessite. To a lesser extent, base metal sulfides including Galena, sphalerite, pyrite, chalcopyrite, and chalcocite may all be and frequently are argentiferous, but in most silver ore deposits, the silver is most concentrated in the minerals of the group first named. Of the base metal ore minerals, the most common primary ones are argentiferous galena, sphalerite, and pyrite, while native silver and the sulphides and arsenides are less common.

tonopah nevada silver ore

Rich silver ore from the town of Tonopah in Nye county Nevada. Tonopah was one of the great epithermal silver and gold strikes of the early 20th century. The bonanza ore is rich in silver sulfides and also contains some free gold as well. Dark colored minerals of an almost sooty appearance are rich in silver.


wallace idaho silver ore

Rich lead - silver ore from the famous mines of Wallace, Idaho. These mines have been mined to very deep levels below the surface.

battle mountain silver ore

Dark colored high grade ruby silver ore (pyrargyrite) from the rich Nevada Mines at Battle Mountain in Lander County. Although Silver was the first metal discovered here, Battle Mountain has also produced a significant amount of both gold and copper ore as well as silver.


bonanza grade Nevada silver ore

This sulfide rich silver ore from Nevada is dark gray and colored by a heavy content of metallic sulfides. The rich silver minerals pyrargyrite and stephanite boost the silver content of this bonanza grade ore.

silver peak Nevada Rich silver ore

The Silver Peak mining district in Esmerelda County, Nevada was very productive in the late 1800s, but work continued through the early 1900s, and is still a site for ongoing open pit gold mining to this day. This area produced many millions of dollars from silver ore which looked like this specimen. It is colored gray by rich silver and lead sulfide minerals.

Telluride silver ore from Nevada

This bonanza grade silver ore is from Nye County in Nevada. As with a number of the samples, the sooty black minerals are rich in silver. It also contains silver tellurides.

cripple Creek Colorado gold and silver ore

Telluride minerals such as calaverite, are also important silver ores in some mining districts.  This sample of rich gold and silver ore comes from the Cripple Creek  district in Colorado. The mossy metallic colored mineral on this specimen is calaverite, a mineral rich in both gold and silver.



Comstock lode Nevada silver ore

The Comstock lode district was perhaps the largest single silver ore find ever made in the USA. The Comstock lode is famous for its ore bodies of bonanza grade silver ore rich in sooty silver sulfide minerals like acanthite (formerly known as argentite). The ore also contains considerable other sulfide minerals and some free gold as well.

The Comstock is famous for great bonanzas of crushed, mineralized quartz, in part exceedingly rich in silver minerals, were found at intervals along the lode, especially in chambers or vertical fissures probably produced by normal faulting of the hanging wall. The ores consist of quartz and some calcite, in places banded with pyrite, galena, chalcopyrite, sphalerite, and finely distributed rich silver minerals. The valuable minerals are mainly native gold, acanthite (argentite), stephanite, and polybasite.



Comstock lode bonanza ore

Virginia City silver ore:

This is another sample of bonanza grade rich silver ore from the Comstock lode in northern Nevada near Reno. Rich silver sulfides like acanthite and polybasite,  together with base metal sulfides like pyrite, galena and chalcopyrite are sprinkled though quartz and adularia feldspar vein material.

Virginia City is still an interesting attraction for tourists in mining for silver was conducted through the 1980s.

Austin, Nevada silver ore

Austin, Nevada, in the central part of the state, was known for its high grade silver ores which occurred in a network of narrow veins. The district produced many millions of dollars worth of silver during the mid to late 1800s. The oxidized surface ores like this sample shown here were easy for the miners to process. However, the deep ores, which contained a large percentage of base metal sulfides was very difficult for the miners to process and extract the silver. Eventually new technology and methods were developed to capture the silver out of the rich deep ores.

calico California silver ore

Calico Silver Ore

In the Calico District, deposits of silver chloride in fissure veins, and in small fractures and pockets in volcanic tuffs and sandstones, probably of the Pliocene series. Below the oxidation zone, rich chlorides give way to silver bearing sulfides as shown in this specimen. They occur in Southwestern California, in that portion of the State belonging to the Great Basin geologic province. The ore was thought by Lindgren to have come in heated solution from below and to have filled the fissures and overflowed, forming the surface deposits in the tuffs. They are considered epithermal in origin.


cerargyrite silver ore

The sooty black colored material in this specimen is cerargyrite, an important ore of silver.  In many deposits located in desert regions, silver sulfide minerals like acanthite (argentite), stephanite, and polybasite or oxidized by exposure to air and water into a silver chloride, also known as cerargyrite. as a result, this type of silver ore is only found near the surface.  Once miners get down below the water table, this type of mineral and ore will disappear and only sulfides will be found in its place. This rich specimen was taken from the Tonopah Divide mine, in the Divide district of Nye County, Nevada.

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Peruvian silver ore with Rhodochrosite

Rhodochrosite and silver ore, Peru:

This beautiful specimen of silver ore comes from the country of Peru in South America. The dark colored minerals are the ones which are silver bearing, while the red and pink colored crystals are Rhodochrosite, a common manganese mineral that is found in a number of silver ores.


Standard Types of Silver Ores:
There are two general classes of silver ore that have been mined: 1) lead-silver and 2) high-grade silver ores. Both have almost always varying amounts of gold. The lead -silver mines furnish also, as noted above, by far the greater portion of the lead produced in the United States. High grade silver ores normally have considerably less base metal content and often contain significant gold.

 1. Dry or Siliceous Ores. These include: (a) The gold and silver ores proper, including bonanza epithermal silver ores; (b) fluxing ores carrying considerable quantities of iron and manganese oxides with small gold and silver contents; (c) precious-metal bearing ores with copper, lead and zinc in small amounts; and (d) disseminated low grade silver deposits. The states of Colorado, California, Nevada, South Dakota, and Alaska have been the largest producers of this category of silver ore The siliceous ores are in part free milling;  in part simply concentrating, as parts of Colorado and Arizona; in increasing part all-sliming and cyaniding; and in part smelting. A great deal of the silver from the gold-silver siliceous ores is obtained with the gold by cyanidation, the silver being recovered by refining the mill bullion. The remainder is obtained by smelting rich ores and refining copper or lead bullion produced. The siliceous silver ores are of varying age, but most epithermal ores are young, typically post-Miocene age. Those found chiefly in Colorado, Nevada, and Montana, are associated with Tertiary lavas and characterized by Bonanza grade rich ores. Some of the most productive ones may carry fluorite and normally also tellurides. In some the value of the gold may predominate; in others, silver.

 2. Copper ores, usually with over 1 per cent copper, but with less in the case of the western disseminated ores and those of Lake Superior. The largest gold producers are those of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Montana. The silver production comes from the electrolytic refining of blister copper produced by smelting. The great disseminated deposits of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico are yielding increasing quantities, while the vein deposits of places like Butte, Mont., have are also been important. The gold- and silver-bearing copper ores exhibit great differences in form and age; neither do all the occurrences yield much gold or silver, and, moreover, they are of more importance as gold producers, silver being less often associated with the copper.

3. Lead-bearing Silver ores: These are silver ores containing 4 percent or more of lead. The silver comes mainly from the lead-silver ores of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Utah (chiefly Park City and Tintic), Colorado (Leadville and Aspen). Most of the output is obtained by the de-silverization of lead bullion using molten zinc. The silver and lead ores form a large class, of rather wide distribution, and while the two metals characterizing the group are the most prominent, there may also be, and often is, present a variable quantity of other metals such as gold, zinc, and copper. The silver contents, though sometimes high, but are not necessarily visible, and may be contained within the galena as Ag2S partly replacing lead sulfide in the crystal. The ore bodies as a whole present a variety of forms, the ore having been deposited either by fissure vein cavity filling or replacement, or both. Most of the important occurrences seem to have been formed at intermediate depths. Oxidation zones frequently cap the ore bodies, and downward secondary enrichment has probably occurred in many cases. Silver-lead ores form a widely distributed class in the Cordilleran region of the United States and supply most of the lead mined in this country. Prominent deposits have been mined in Colorado, Idaho, and Utah, but are also known in New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, California, and South Dakota. Canada supplies a small but steady production from British Columbia, while in other foreign countries districts worth noting for either commercial or historic importance are Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia; Clausthal and Freiberg, Germany; Przibram, Bohemia; Sala, Sweden; Laurium, Greece; Mexico, etc.

4. Copper-lead or Copper-lead-zinc Ores. These are unimportant as compared with the others. The gold they supply is small, and the main silver production was from mines in Colorado and Nevada. Historically, the Eureka district in Nevada yielded significant amounts of copper-lead-zinc ore with large amounts of gold and silver. They are often designated as polymetallic ores in modern classification systems.

 5. Zinc ores, containing at least 25 per cent zinc. These yield little gold, and the silver which is obtained mainly as a by-product from the smelting of zinc ore concentrates and in the US has been obtained chiefly from deposits in Nevada, Montana, and Arizona.

If you haven't seen my original crystal nugget page, beautiful nugget photos: CRYSTAL GOLD NUGGETS 

A second page of beautiful nugget photos: GOLD AND PLATINUM NUGGETS

I also have a page of beautiful Gold Ore Specimen photos: GOLD ORES AND MINERALS

For more information on gold vein ores, check out my page of   CALIFORNIA MOTHER LODE GOLD QUARTZ VEINS

To learn about the minerals that produce copper, check my page of  COPPER ORES AND MINERALS

Please note these specimens are not for sale, most are not owned by me. I present this page as a reference, as folks just love to look at real natural beauty and these silver ore specimens are definitely that.   Photographs and text are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission.

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