The Silver Standard: A Historical Monetary System

The Silver Standard: A Historical Monetary System

The silver standard is a monetary system where a country's currency is backed by silver. It ensures currency stability by limiting the government's ability to print money without sufficient silver reserves. This system was prevalent in history but has been replaced by fiat currencies today.


The silver standard is a monetary system that shares similarities with the well-known gold standard. In this system, a nation's currency derives its value from silver reserves, similar to the gold standard, which uses gold as a backing.

Implementation of the Silver Standard

To establish a silver standard, a country allows its national currency to be exchanged for silver at a fixed exchange rate. Some nations have also implemented bimetallic standards, enabling the conversion of currency into either silver or gold.

Purpose and Benefits

The primary objective of the silver standard is to maintain the purchasing power of a country's currency. Advocates of this system argue that it serves as a safeguard against government-induced inflation by tying currency issuance to physical silver.

Silver's finite supply, requiring mining and minting, imposes limits on governments. They must ensure that the currency in circulation is backed by an adequate quantity of silver, preventing reckless money printing.

A Brief History

The use of the silver standard has deep historical roots, but it declined significantly in the 20th century. Notably, the United States employed a bimetallic standard during its early years, with silver coins favored over gold coins.

United States' Transition

In 1834, the United States Congress altered the silver-to-gold ratio from 15:1 to 16:1, leading to increased silver exports and the decline of silver coins. Consequently, gold gained prominence as the principal currency.

A pivotal moment occurred in 1862 when the U.S. government introduced fiat money, unlinked to silver, gold, or any other metal. This was a groundbreaking departure from tradition and sparked considerable opposition. To address concerns, Congress capped the fiat currency in circulation at $347 million in 1879.

Ultimately, the United States embraced fiat currency entirely. In 1971, President Nixon severed the U.S. dollar's convertibility to precious metals in response to the instability of the Bretton Woods monetary system. This shift echoed worldwide, and today, no country operates under a silver or gold standard.

Historical Adoption and Transition to Fiat Currencies

The silver standard's origins trace back to ancient Greece, where silver served as the initial metal for currency. Following the Roman Empire's decline, the silver standard gained widespread adoption in various regions, including China, India, Bohemia, Great Britain, and the United States.

However, over time, all nations transitioned to fiat currency systems. In 1971, the United States abandoned the gold standard under President Nixon's leadership, while the silver standard officially ended in 1935 when China and Hong Kong also abandoned it.


The silver standard, a historical monetary system, linked a country's currency value to silver reserves, aiming to maintain stability and prevent excessive money printing. Although it had its heyday in history, it eventually gave way to fiat currencies, with the United States playing a pivotal role in this transition. Today, no nation operates on either a silver or gold standard, marking a significant shift in the global monetary landscape.

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