Silver from Atlantis?

Georg Gebhard and Jochen Schlueter 


Silver from Atlantis ?


In the last three years a new type of silver wire specimens occurred on the international mineral market. It showed with features which had not been observed in other silver specimens before that time. The appearance of these specimens is stereotypic:

      - The thickness of the silver wires decreases significantly and continuously from one end to the other, an unknown habit of silver wires known so far

      - The base of the wire looks like air roots, concave and full of holes

      - No associated minerals like calcite or acanthite have yet been observed

      - The silver wires have no matrix

      - All wires on a specimen with several wires have the same length


The specimens were merely marketed as single specimens, primarily in the U.S.A., but specimens sold were shortly replaced by other specimens, during the last years giving the impression of the existence of a never ending source.

The specimens were first purported to be from the Himmelfürst Mine, Freiberg, Saxony, Germany, the year of the find as pre-world war I, about 1907. Later, when suspicion arose, the locality was suddenly changed to Schneeberg, Saxony, Germany. The year of the find shifted into the dim and distant times of German Democratic Republic, around the fifties.

The source of these silver wire specimens, or their exact origin have not yet been revealed.


Although sold as an historical find, no elder specimens of this described habit can be found in a museum or  a private collection.

Second, before 1993 no picture or description of this type of silver was published in any magazine or book on minerals.


Figure 5:Authentic silver wire specimen on a stamp. 

Figure 1:Dubious silver wire (Height 9 cm; Photo: Lyncker).

Figure 5:Authentic silver wire specimen on a stamp.

We investigated  one of the dubious silver specimen (Figure 1) and compared the results with an authentic silver specimen from Freiberg ( Figure 5  shows a typical sample). The prominent results are:

      - The obscure silver does not contain the trace element mercury found in the authentic silver from Freiberg  and in silver samples from other localities in Saxony (*).

      - Metallographic investigations by the international experienced authority, Prof. Dr. Ulf Nürnberger, Stuttgart, show significant differences compared with the authentic Freiberg silver. The dubious silver has:

      o High porosity and signs of rapid growth like coarse texture and large hollow spaces  inside  the wires (Figure 3)


Figure 3: SEM photo of the metallographic report (Prof. Nürnberger); (polished section, etched), dubious silver with signs of rapid growth (very coarse texture and large hollow spaces).
Figure 3: SEM photo of the metallographic report (Prof. Nürnberger); (polished section, etched), dubious silver with signs of rapid growth (very coarse texture and large hollow spaces).

      o Signs of thermal treatment

      o Dendritic growth structures

      o Presence of a foam with traces of silver

      - None of these signs have been observed in the authentic silver which shows a fine grained orientated texture (Figure 4)

Figure 4: SEM photo of the metallographic report (Prof. Nürnberger); (polished section, etched), authentic silver from Freiberg  (fine texture).
Figure 4: SEM photo of the metallographic report (Prof. Nürnberger); (polished section, etched), authentic silver from Freiberg  (fine texture).

The metallographic report by the expert states that  the dubious silver specimen “looks like a re-crystallized silver after heat treatment at about 600 °C ”. This is not known for natural silver. Therefore, these characteristics do not occur on the authentic silver from Freiberg and have not been detected at any other hydrothermal silver deposit.


If a silver wire shows the features mentioned above, we strongly recommend that any buyer of such a silver should ask his supplier for proven informations about the source ( finder, year and locality) of the find. Collectors should not have to prove whether a certain silver might be a fake, nor how and where such specimens could have been made. Vendors of such silvers should describe the source and provide an acceptable explanation as to answer why the described observations and the scientific results don’t match with  those from  silver specimens from all known localities, since the beginning of collecting. As long as this information is not provided, the nature of such specimens should be assumed to be suspect.


Actually, such silver wires similar to the dubious silver have been observed to grow from silver melts at silver smelters in Kongsberg, Freiberg and the Harz mountains. In 1858, the famous mineralogist K.C. v. Leonhard describes in his book “ Hütten-Erzeugnisse”

( “Products from Smelters”), Stuttgart, page 368,  (Figure 6),  that silver wires have been formed in cavities of a hearth type furnace in Freiberg (!) “ like grown in a gangue of a mine”. On page 36 he also cited the mineralogist Hausmann who observed the high porosity of “minerals” of a smelter as a distinctive recognition for such specimens created by an industrial process.


Figure 5: from: K.C. v. Leonhard (1858), Hütten-Erzeugnisse, page 368
Figure 6: from: K.C. v. Leonhard (1858), Hütten-Erzeugnisse, page 368


Such a “locality” could explain all described features of the “new” silver wires: With distance from the silver melt a decrease in feed for the growing silver wire leads to a decrease in diameter towards the top of the wire. This process furthermore creates an element fractionation resulting in a silver wire which misses all those trace elements which disappear at the ambient temperature, like the volatile element mercury. This kind of formation excludes a natural matrix or any associated minerals with the silver. But it explains that some of the silver wires show at their bottoms marks probably caused by a wire cutter (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Bottom of the silver of figure 1; marks probably caused by a wire cutter (Photo : Lyncker)
Figure 2: Bottom of the dubious silver of figure 1; marks probably caused by a wire cutter (Photo : Lyncker)..



Some of these results were presented by one of the authors (G.G.) at the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium in April 2000 in order to give a warning signal for the collectors and dealers. Here the report was welcomed and positively taken in.

A little later a report on that subject was sent to LAPIS magazine, but LAPIS refused to publish it. Instead of, LAPIS tried to calm down the collectors community in an editorial note in the issue of June 2000.

We furthermore received a letter from the German mineral dealers association (DMF). It  claimed that we should have given our information to them first and claimed us not to continue publishing our doubts.

But the story goes on: Now a new locality and a new year of the find can be found in the LAPIS editorial. Instead of Freiberg, Schneeberg now is the “authentic” locality, instead of 1907, the fifties are the new years of discovery. This seems to be the same nonsense as the old information. Why should such a major find with many superb specimens not have been known to collectors, miners and curators? In addition the new information does not explain the stereotypic and not-seen-before appearance of the specimens. 

Recently, LAPIS (No.9, 2000) and MINERALIEN-WELT (No.5, 2000)  published an expertise that was carried out for the mineral dealer H. Brueckner, Germany, to prove that the dubious silver specimens are not artefacts. But the silver wires examined and shown in Lapis (9, 2000, page 6) are in no regard a silver specimen we would call in question to be not natural. This kind of silver represents the common silver known from Schneeberg, Saxony. In addition, the examination methods were not even suitable to prove the nature of the samples.

Those publications are not proof of the natural origin of the dubious silver wires (Figure 1) and can  instead only confuse the collectors.


Just before issuing this publication we just received the new issue of the Mineralogical Record, volume 32, 2001. This volume presents a letter to the editor sent by Don Edwards, Tideswell, UK, telling about a procedure of growing silver wires up to 3.5 cm by using a homemade, simple equipment. His observations match with our results well, which show the evidence of a formation of silver wires by thermal treatment, since the author created conditions of a furnace.

(*) We have to thank G.C. Parodi, Museum of Natural History, Paris, France, who investigated trace elements of the dubious silver and several silver specimens from different localities in Saxony, Germany.



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