How Volatile is Silver? Historical Silver Highs and Lows (Updated For 2024)

Posted - April 29, 2024
How Volatile is Silver? Historical Silver Highs and Lows (Updated For 2024)

At a Glance: 

    • Silver is one of the most volatile precious metals on the market. 
    • Silver prices range from an all-time low of $5.84 to a high of $49.45. 
    • The biggest silver price crash came in 1980, when prices fell from $49.50 to $10. 89.
    • Experts consider silver extremely volatile in the short term, but more reliable in the long term. 

 

How Volatile is Silver? Tracking Silver’s Historical Highs and Lows

Silver is one of the most volatile precious metals. Over the course of a single year, silver prices can fluctuate wildly. When investors review historical data, it is important to keep silver’s short and long term volatility in mind. In the past 100 years, silver prices have ranged from $5.77 per ounce to $48.51/oz. 

What was silver’s lowest price ever? The all-time low for silver is $.28 per troy ounce, which happened in 1932. If we adjust for inflation, silver’s true all-time low happened in 1931, when the metal traded at just $5.84 in today’s money. Because of its historical volatility, silver prices have shifted considerably over the last century. 

It is important for investors to consider historical price data before buying any new commodity. Learning about silver’s lowest – and highest – prices ever can help investors make more informed decisions about the future of their favorite precious metal. The disparity between a given year’s silver price high and its silver price low can be particularly helpful for stackers who want to get a better idea of the asset’s historical volatility

Today, we’re walking readers through one-hundred years of silver price history. This guide will cover silver’s lowest price ever, its highest price ever, and the complex geopolitical conditions that shaped silver prices during some of its most volatile periods. 

Historical Price Charts For Silver (1969-2024)

When was silver cheapest? Technically, silver’s all-time low is just 28 cents, which was the price of one troy ounce of silver in 1932. Data for silver prices prior to 1969 is generally unreliable, though. It wasn’t until 1965 that the U.S. government stopped minting quarters and dimes with pure silver. Until 1965, silver prices were relatively constrained by the prevalence of silver bullion in commonly circulated currency coins.

After the U.S. government removed silver from their circulating coins, the metal became a popular investing commodity. While 1932 represents silver’s technical all-time low, the equation is a bit more complicated than that. For the purposes of our analysis, let’s take a look at silver’s yearly lows from 1969-2024. 

Historical Silver Lows - 1969 to 2024
Silver’s Yearly Lows From 1969-2024

If we consider just silver’s lowest price each year, a couple of major moments stand out. Silver’s price climbed consistently from 1972 until 1980, when it suddenly fell dramatically. By 1982, silver’s yearly low dropped from around $11 to just under $5 per ounce. Yearly lows remained relatively steady from 1986 until 2004, when the metal began to appreciate rapidly. 

Another major silver price crash happened in 2013. After a yearly low of over $27 in 2012, silver hit an extreme low of $18 one year later. Like in 1980, silver prices seemed to stabilize for several years before volatility once again ruled the market. 

Cheapest Silver Since 1969

Since 1969, silver’s all-time low has been $1.27, which was the metal’s lowest price in 1971. Silver prices never returned to this extreme low. 1971 was another important year in the history of silver. In the late 1960s, Congress passed legislation to remove silver completely from U.S. minted currency coins. The death of the silver dollar had a momentary chilling effect on the market. 

After silver hit a recent all-time low in 1971, investors began to buy the precious metal in bulk. Their speculation drove a run for silver that culminated in an all-time high of over $49 in 1980. The history of silver has always been closely tied to the history of currency. When silver was removed from circulation coins, the scarcity that followed helped cement silver’s legacy as a profitable – but volatile – investment commodity. 

How Volatile is Silver? | Historical Silver Highs Vs. Lows (1969-2024)

Like we explained, reliable silver price data is available starting in 1969. While we can infer silver prices from earlier dates, 1969 is a good starting point for investors who want to understand silver’s historical price-action in the modern era. Still, examining silver’s lows doesn’t paint the full picture of the metal’s historical volatility. 

Instead, let’s take a look at silver’s yearly highs vs. lows from 1969 to 2024. The chart below should give readers a better idea of silver’s track record for volatility and abrupt price movements. 

silver historical highs vs. lows
Silver’s High-Low Differences – 1969 to 2024

As you can see, silver’s yearly highs vs. lows are generally close from year to year. There are two main exceptions. In 1980 and 2011, the difference between silver’s yearly high and yearly low was massive. These two years are outliers, which means that they don’t tell us much about silver’s normal volatility levels. 

However, 1980 and 2011 are important data points for investors because they explain the intense role market speculation can play in silver’s price – and its volatility as an investment asset. 

Silver Volatility Over Time | Simple Analysis 

Volatility refers to how likely an asset is to shift radically and unpredictably in value. Investors use volatility to assess the risk of investing in a given asset or commodity. An asset with high volatility might give investors quite a bit of profit in a short time, but it can also lose them just as much money in the same timeframe. 

To assess volatility risk, financial analysts usually focus on either short or long term volatility. Silver is usually considered an excellent long-term investment, because it tends to be extremely volatile in the short term. Take a look at the chart above for an example. In 1980, silver was extremely volatile. The difference between the metal’s high and low price that year demonstrates how unpredictable a silver investment was. 

2024 1 oz American Silver Eagle Coin Reverse
2024 1 oz American Silver Eagle Coin

Silver tends to be far less volatile in the long term. From 1989 to 2004, silver prices were extremely stable. Even if we assume someone bought silver at its all-time high of around $49 in 1980, the investor would have been able to sell in the long term at a marginal loss when prices hit another ceiling in 2011. By contrast, silver is highly volatile in the short term because its price can crash rapidly in less than one year. 

Explaining Silver’s Short Term Volatility 

Most extremely volatile periods in silver’s price history are explainable by geopolitical and economic developments. To illustrate this point, we’ll focus on three especially volatile years for silver since 1969: 

  • 1974
  • 1980
  • 2011

1974 wasn’t a wildly volatile year for silver, but it was still the most tumultuous period silver had seen in several decades. Silver prices fluctuated wildly in 1974, jumping from a yearly low of $3.27 to a high of $6.76. 1974’s volatile silver market is explained by the U.S. government’s decision to remove silver from all circulating currency coins. Because silver coins were no longer being introduced into the economy, market speculation on the precious metal’s future drove extreme volatility. While the removal of silver from U.S. currency happened in 1965, the market in 1974 was largely reacting to a growing shortage of silver dollars. 

1980 is by far the most volatile year in the history of silver. In just one year, silver fell from an all-time high of $49.45 to a yearly low of just $10.89. 1980 was the year of Silver Thursday, which is silver’s biggest price crash in history. We’ll cover Silver Thursday a bit more in the section below. The brief summary is that three wealthy brothers tried to corner the silver market in 1980, but their plan failed and silver prices crashed rapidly back to regular levels. 

Silver prices similarly skyrocketed in 2011, largely due to investor concern over the U.S. debt ceiling crisis. As the U.S. reeled with the latent effects of the 2008 mortgage crisis, investors feared global economic collapse while the country rapidly approached its debt ceiling. Prices crashed just as quickly as they rose when Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner implemented extreme policies to avoid the crisis. 

Silver’s value per ounce dropped from a decades-long all-time high of $48.70 in 2011, making it one of the most volatile years silver has ever seen. 

Silver Thursday – Biggest Price Crash in Silver History 

While the 2011 silver price crash represented a normal market reaction to unprecedented economic peril, 1980’s volatile silver market was the result of speculation and price manipulation by three billionaire brothers. 

From 1979-1980, three brothers from the powerful Hunt family began buying up as much silver as they could get their hands on. By cornering the market, they managed to bring silver’s value to a new all-time high of $49.45 per troy ounce. When exchanges intervened to foil their plot, silver prices fell rapidly. 

This event is known as “Silver Thursday.” On Silver Thursday, silver suffered the biggest single-day price crash in its history. 

The Hunt Brothers’ Plot 

As early as 1978, Hunt brothers Nelson, William, and Lamar started planning to buy up as much silver as they possibly could. The brothers believed that the precious metal was wildly undervalued. By securing an unbelievably large stack of physical silver, they theorized that they would corner the market, driving prices (and profits) up in the process. 

Their plan was successful – at least at first. By January of 1980, silver traded at a record-breaking $49.45 per troy ounce. Adjusted for inflation, this puts silver’s all-time high at over $140! The situation was so severe that jeweler Tiffany’s took out an ad in the New York Times to call the Hunt brother’s market manipulation “unconscionable.” 

Tiffany's Ad Hunt Brothers New York Times
Tiffany’s Ad Criticizing the Hunt Brothers (Credit)

The plot eventually failed – and in a big way. When exchanges intervened to combat the Hunt brothers, it led to Silver Thursday, the biggest price crash in the history of the silver market. 

Silver Thursday Explained – What Caused It? 

The Hunt brothers didn’t just buy physical silver. They also bought silver futures on margin. In other words, they borrowed money from exchanges in order to bet that silver prices would go higher. In early 1980, COMEX instituted a new rule to restrict how much silver the Hunts could purchase on margin. 

Since they were no longer able to corner the market, prices fell rapidly. The climax of the event happened on March 27, 1980, when silver’s spot price crashed considerably. This event is known as Silver Thursday, and it resulted in the single biggest price crash in the history of silver bullion. 

How Volatile is Silver | 2024 Silver Price Forecast

Silver is an extremely volatile short-term asset. Massive differences in yearly highs and lows during 1974, 1980, and 2011 demonstrate that silver prices can climb or fall rapidly in a short amount of time. In the long term, silver tends to be far less volatile. Most experts recommend treating silver as a long term investment, as the metal offers less risk in the long term than it does in the short term. 

Silver’s lowest price ever happened in 1932, but it might not tell the full story for investors who want to better understand historical trends for silver spot prices. Instead, silver price trends from 1969-2024 illustrate the short term volatility associated with this asset, which has always been one of the most prominent safe haven investments. 

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As a general rule, precious metals like silver are best used as long term investments. Silver prices may be extremely volatile in short time periods, but the metal tends to perform consistently well in the long term. Investors who plan to time the silver market’s short term price-action should pay careful attention to the key indicators that drive silver prices. 

Where historical price data is concerned, the closest parallel to 2024’s silver market is probably 2011. A host of economic and geopolitical stressors make a strong case for precious metals. Gold in particular has performed extraordinarily well in 2024. Could it be silver’s time to shine

As U.S. investors grapple with shaky inflation data and geopolitical conflicts globally, expect a volatile year for silver until prices settle. 

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About The Author

Michael Roets is a writer and journalist for Hero Bullion. His work explores precious metals news, guides, and commentary.