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When one begins searching for information on silver inventories and stockpiles, one is immediately confronted with the dearth of available data, both current and historical.

Why is this? Well, most of the large above ground holdings are held by central banks and private industry, both of which are notoriously secretive and there are few figures ever released on their holdings. Compounding the problem is that the scant data available is of dubious reliability. Central banks seem to find reason to overestimate or underestimate their holdings at various times and stockpiles and inventories held by private parties and industry seem to be largely estimates. Recently the phenomenon of silver leasing has caused double accounting of many silver stocks, and the recent phenomenon of Silver ETF’s has further muddied the issue, since by definition, silver bars held in an ETF are privately owned and not for sale, and should be categorized as "stockpiles," but they are actually being listed under inventories for sale.

Still, I would like to provide readers with something to clearly illustrate and help them visualize the actual quantities of silver we are talking about, above and beyond a bunch of dry figures. I will try to break this down into two types: investment silver in the form of bullion, coins and bars, and all other silver including silver in the form of finished goods (jewelry, tableware, raw industrial silver, etc). And I will try to break all this down into two categories: inventories (available for sale at current prices) and stockpiles, (total above ground stocks which include inventories). Anything still underground remaining to be mined are reserves, which I will not address here.

Unlike gold, silver is consumed in industrial processes, and is eventually discarded into landfills, never to be recovered. This is the result of silver having been intentionally underpriced for many decades, and even today, is still not economic to recycle at current prices. Industrial processes have been intentionally designed not to consume gold, and at the high prices gold has commanded for decades, it is nearly all recycled. It is said that 99% of all gold ever mined is still in existence above ground. Accordingly, we find the silver stockpiles as a percentage of all silver ever mined to be much smaller than gold stockpiles as a percentage of all gold ever mined.

Central banks cannot be trusted to divulge their true holdings. Official U.S. holdings have not varied by one single ounce for over 40 years. So let’s proceed to see what can be learned from what little data I can scavenge.

MILLION

CUBIC

CUBE SIZE

# of

25 CUBIC FT

DEPTH (FT) TO FILL A

# of OLYMPIC SIZE

DEPTH (FT) TO FILL2

METAL QUANTITY

TROY OZ

FEET

(BLOCK EDGE)

REFRIG-ERATORS

FOOTBALL FIELD*

SWIMMING POOLS

AVG US HOME**

2009 Net Government Silver Sales

13.7

1308.0

10.9

52.3

0.03

0.015

0.6

2010 American Silver Eagles Minted

34.663

3309.4

14.9

132.4

0.07

0.037

1.4

2009 Total US Silver Mined

39.8

3799.9

15.6

152.0

0.08

0.043

1.6

2011 Feb COMEX Customer Inventory

42.16

4025.2

15.9

161.0

0.08

0.046

1.7

2011 Feb COMEX Dealer Inventory

60.68

5793.4

18.0

231.7

0.12

0.066

2.5

2009 Silver Coins & Medals Minted

78.7

7513.8

19.6

300.6

0.16

0.085

3.2

2010 Total World Gold Mined (WGC)

80.375

4173.6

16.1

166.9

0.09

0.047

1.8

2009 Old Silver Scrap (Recycled)

167.5

15992.0

25.2

639.7

0.33

0.181

6.9

1890 World Gold Bullion Stockpile

188.65

9795.9

21.4

391.8

0.20

0.111

4.2

2004 World Silver Bullion Inventory

617

58907.8

38.9

2356.3

1.23

0.667

25.3

2009 Total World Silver Mined

709.6

67748.7

40.8

2709.9

1.41

0.767

29.1

2009 Total World Fabrication

729.8

69677.3

41.1

2787.1

1.45

0.789

29.9

2010 Dec Central Bank Gold Holdings

982.58

51021.9

37.1

2040.9

1.06

0.578

21.9

1890 World Silver Bullion Stockpile

2285

218159.3

60.2

8726.4

4.54

2.47

93.6

1939 US Silver Bullion Stockpile

2575

245846.9

62.6

9833.9

5.12

2.78

105.5

1946 US Silver Bullion Stockpile

4000

381898.0

72.6

15275.9

7.96

4.33

163.9

2009 Total Gold Mined in History

5305

275469.9

65.1

11018.8

5.74

3.12

118.2

1939 World Silver Bullion Stockpile

5605

535134.6

81.2

21405.4

11.15

6.06

229.7

1959 World Silver Bullion Stockpile

9000

859270.6

95.1

34370.8

17.90

9.7

368.8

1946 World Silver Bullion Stockpile

10000

954745.1

98.5

38189.8

19.89

10.8

409.8

1939 World Silver Mined Since 1493

16846

1608363.6

117.2

64334.5

33.51

18.2

690.3

1998 Silver Mined in World History

40400

3857170.1

156.8

154286.8

80.36

43.7

1655.4

Some interesting facts from this table:

1. All the American Silver Eagles minted in 2010 would fill 132 (25 cubic foot) refrigerators, would fill a standard American football field to a depth of .84 inches, and would fill an average American home (2330 sq ft in 2004) to a depth of 1.4 feet.

2. All the silver mined in the U.S. in 2009 would form a cube 15.6 feet on each side, and fill and average American home to a depth of 1.6 feet

3. All the silver mined worldwide in 2009 would fill an Olympic size pool about ¾ full and form a cube 41 feet on each side

4. All of the current inventory at the COMEX commodities exchange, both registered and eligible, would fill an average American home to a depth of 4.2 feet, and fill a football field to a depth of 2.4 inches

5. All the silver investment coins and medallions minted worldwide in 2009 would form a cube 19.6 feet on each side, and fill 300 refrigerators

6. All the gold mined in 2010 would form a cube 16 feet on each side, and fill an American football field to a depth of a little more than one inch

7. All the silver scrap recycled in 2009 would form a cube 25 feet on each side, and fill a football field to a depth of about 4 inches

8. All the gold mined worldwide by 1890 (in bullion form) would form a cube about 21 feet on each side

9. All the gold mined in history (in all forms) by 2009 would form a cube about 65 feet on each side, and fill about 3 Olympic size pools. It is believed that over 95% of it is still in existence and owned privately or publicly.

10. By 1946, the U.S. had a silver bullion stockpile big enough to fill more than 4 Olympic size pools. That same year world silver bullion stocks were big enough to fill nearly 11 Olympic size pools. Currently, world silver bullion in coin and bar form is believed to be less than enough to fill one single Olympic sized pool, that is, less than one billion ounces. Ted Butler puts the figure for silver inventory available to be sold at closer to half a billion ounces. Of course, there is a fair amount in the form of jewelry, silver flatware and tableware, etc. These may eventually be melted down and come to market in the form of bullion.

11. All the silver ever mined in world history would form a cube 156 feet on each side, and fill a football field to a depth of 80 feet. Of course much of this has been destroyed by chemical processes, and discarded into landfills because it was used in small or microscopic trace amounts, and will never be recoverable.

12. All the officially declared gold held by Central Banks would form a cube 37 feet on each side, and fill an Olympic size pool just over halfway. It would fill a football field to a depth of just over 1 foot.

Doesn’t that make you want to put your savings into some physical silver rather than buy shares in SLV, SIVR, PSLV or any other bullion fund that claims to be holding a share of the very limited amounts of physical silver in existence? I know I would rather have my savings in physical silver and gold.

I couldn’t find any firm information on central bank holdings of silver, but it is rumored that only Egypt and Peru have any official holdings, and Mexico may have unofficial holdings. My intuition tells me that China has more than all three put together. The U.S. Treasury never has more than enough on hand to mint more than 2 or 3 months of American Silver Eagles, so that amount is negligible. The U.S. Department of Defense used to have a defense stockpile of silver, but that was turned over to the Treasury in 2004 for use in minting silver eagles, and officially they have none. The U.S. bought large amounts of silver from Mexico from 1934 to 1941, following the silver purchase act of 1934, and the Manhattan Project borrowed 471 million ounces of silver from the U.S. Treasury for use in refining uranium for the first atomic bomb. This supposedly was later returned to the Treasury, but has never really been accounted for.

" ... at the end of World War II, total known stocks of silver amounted to ten billion ounces (with the US government holding 4 billion ounces of that total amount). At that time, we were just entering an era of unprecedented global economic expansion that has lasted to the present. In this era, silver was consumed in a variety of vital modern applications at a phenomenal rate. Today, known stocks of silver have shrunk over 95%, to maybe a half a billion ounces. The nine and a half billion ounce draw down in total silver inventory, was the result of the persistent shortfall between supply and demand, which continues to this day. Not coincidentally, the current 200 million-ounce annual deficit in silver mirrors the long-term trend line average. This continuing deficit is remarkable in that there has been decent growth in world production of silver over the past 50 years, but obviously not enough to satisfy the surge in industrial demand."

Source – Ted Butler, 14 November 1998

"In 1959, there were about 9 billion ounces of silver bullion-equivalent in the world population of 3 billion ... a per capita amount of 3 ounces for each of the world's citizens ...”

Source - Ted Butler

Table 20 on page 341 of "Silver Money" by Dickson Leavens shows the world silver bullion stockpile was 5.605 billion ounces on 1-January-1939, showing the US with 2.575 billion ounces. Total historical silver production since 1493 is shown as 16.846 billion ounces.

Source - Silver Money by Dickson H. Leavens, 1939

Total Silver Mined Throughout History up to 1998 - 40.4 billion ounces

Source - Silver Revisited, Marion Butler 6-November-1999

2009 World Silver Mining Production - 709.6 million ounces

Source - World Silver Survey 2010

Gold bullion in the World 1890 – 188,651,000 ounces

Silver Bullion in the World 1890 – 2,285,166,000 ounces 60.2 ft

Source - Coins Financial School 1893

It has been estimated that all the gold mined by the end of 2009 totaled 165,000 tonnes.

Source – World Gold Council

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I am long precious metals

Source: Silver Supply Illustrated