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Global holdings of gold and silver

Above-ground precious metal stocks - fairy tale and truth

The amount of the stocks - like the resources - is for the valuation of the gold and silver stocks in terms of bars and coins would be 3 to 1. Ted Butler sees the gold stocks at a total of 125 to 155 thousand tons, the silver stocks, however, only at about 30 thousand tons.[3] The ratio of the gold and silver stocks would therefore be 4 to 5 to 1. assumes that 90% of the mined gold is still present, but only 10% of the silver.[4] This would correspond to a ratio of the gold and silver stocks of about 1 to 1 at then 150 and 170 thousand tons, respectively. According to other estimates, however, the above-ground silver stocks amount to more than 600 thousand tons.[5] The silver stocks are not yet available

What is the reason for these differences? Above-ground stocks of precious metals are not recorded statistically. The divergent figures on stocks are related to a different calculation of the amount of precious metals irretrievably lost. In addition, different definitions are used to determine what is included in the stocks. For example, silver analysts Ted Butler and David Morgan understand silver inventories to mean only inventories including ETF holdings used for investment purposes.

Eiffel Tower comparison

Silver inventories

In the 1950s, the global inventories ounces of silver (approx. 300 thousand tons).[6] This corresponded to just under 13 times mine production in 2011. Since then, these stocks have been successively reduced to close supply deficits and to maintain the market. They are now believed to be only about 1 billion ounces. Easily mobilizable government stocks amount to around 2 thousand tons of silver (ten years earlier they were around 10 times as much). In addition, there are "hidden" stocks, i.e. suspected stocks, which are likely to be less than 10 thousand tons of silver. COMEX inventories as of November 2011 were 3.4 thousand tons, and silver ETF inventories were 17.4 thousand tons.[7]

In total, the Inventories down to just over 30 thousand tons, most of which, however, is not disposable, such as silver ETFs launched for private investment purposes, since private or institutional investors cannot be induced to sell silver when a physical shortage occurs. In the event of shortages, which sometimes occur, especially in the very tight silver market, investors are not expected to liquidate their silver holdings or have private individuals melt down silverware, expecting prices to continue to rise, unless there is a rise that produces prices that are fundamentally unjustifiable and justifies the assumption of a bubble, which could trigger selling in anticipation of a possible price collapse.

When Butler speaks of silver stocks, he does not make it clear that he means only stocks. By doing so, he suggests that there is no more silver. In fact, the Stocks but only by 5% of above ground silver. Above all, the comparisons with gold based on this are dubious, because he is far less restrained in quantifying gold stocks and declares as above-ground stocks the entire quantity of gold ever mined, whether held by central banks, worn as jewelry or hoarded as coins. In fact, the ratio of above-ground holdings between gold and silver is not 5 to 1, as Butler assumes, but exactly the opposite, namely 1 to 5.

The next table contains an estimate of irretrievable losses taking recycling into account. Here, net silver consumption is derived from industrial and photographic demand minus photographic recycling,[8] with net silver consumption as a percentage of mine production equal to the amount of mined silver that was irretrievably consumed. The remaining recycled volume relates to industrial silver recovery (excluding photography) and scrap (melting down of old stock). Scrap, which is charged to the old silver stock, is not relevant for the present context, but cannot be statistically isolated from industrial recycling (the values with its inclusion are shown in parentheses).

Share of irrecoverable silver consumption


Demand Industrial/ Photography

Supply Recycling Photography

Other recycling (Ind./Scrap)

Net silver consumption
1-2(-3) = 4

Share of 4 in mine production


in thousand tons of silver per year

in %





10,5 (10,3)

66 (65)





11,5 (10,7)

76 (71)





13,0 (12,0)

75 (69)





13,3 (11,4)

72 (61)





16,3 (12,6)

79 (61)





15,8 (9,4)

67 (40)

Source:  Own calculations based on data from the World Silver Survey (internet retrieved 01.10.2012).

The Proportion of net silver consumption - excluding industrial recycling - ranged from 66% to 79% from 1991 to 2011. Only one third to one fifth of the mined silver was thus preserved and increased the above-ground silver stocks.[9] If other losses are taken into account, the proportion of mined silver that was preserved is unlikely to have been much more than one fifth for the 20th and present 21st centuries, especially since the technical possibilities for silver recovery were comparatively less mature before 1990. Furthermore, it can be assumed that about half of the silver mined in the 19th century, which was characterized by the spread of industrialization, was preserved, while about four-fifths of the silver mined in five millennia prior to industrialization may still be present.

Gold-silver ratio based on holdings at 1:4.5

This means that of the 1.7 million tons of silver ever mined, just under two-fifths should still be in existence. The worldwide stock of physical silver above ground should therefore amount to around 0.7 million tons. Due to the relatively insignificant industrial consumption and the significantly higher value compared to silver, the physical gold still available above ground corresponds to around 90% of the amount of gold ever mined, i.e. around 0.15 million tons. Gold and silver are thus present in above-ground physical units in a ratio of 1 to 4.5 - and not vice versa, as Ted Butler claims. Gold is nevertheless far less scarce than silver, since above-ground gold stocks last for 33 years of 2011 gold demand, while silver stocks last for only 21 years of silver demand.

Silver and gold stocks still available result in a gold-silver ratio of 1:4.5

Why is knowledge of the level of underground precious metal resources and aboveground precious metal stocks actually of such importance? This has to do with the fact that the relation of the resources or stocks to the production or to the demand can be used to infer the economic scarcity ratios of the precious metals, which in turn have a significant impact on the future price development(historical development of gold and silver prices as well as gold-silver ratio).

The underground resource base(reserve base) reflects the future production potential to meet the demand for precious metals, whereby a decisive factor is that a higher proportion of the gold in the earth's crust is in enriched form and can therefore be mined economically. In addition, gold deposits are located in deeper soil layers, so that the as yet undiscovered resource potential is likely to be higher than for silver, which occurs closer to the surface. Therefore, based on the amount of annual production, silver is scarcer than gold in terms of resource potential. The Stocks can also be seen as a potential for satisfying future demand by means of stock reallocations, since, for example, investment stocks could be used for industrial applications. The redeployment potential is therefore higher for gold, which is primarily used for hoarding, than for silver, while the consumption potential is lower, partly due to the significant industrial applications of silver.


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Jewelry accounts for half of the world's gold holdings

Incidentally, half of the world's gold holdings are in jewelry, one-fifth in central banks, one-and-a-half-tenth in bars and coins, and one-tenth in works of art.[10] Many invaluable art exhibits are made of solid gold, such as the famous death mask of Tutankhamun, probably the most important work of art in the world next to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The mask, which is more than 3,300 years old, was one of the few burial objects of the Egyptian pharaohs to be spared from the grasp of grave robbers and is an absolute masterpiece of the goldsmith's art.[11] Germany has about 12 thousand tons of gold, of which 32% is coins and bars (78 grams per capita), 29% is jewelry (58), 28% is central bank deposits, and 11% is gold-related securities investments.[12]

9/10 of silver holdings are jewelry, art & silverware

Nine-tenths of the world's silver holdings are jewelry, silverware and art objects, and one-tenth are coins and bars. In Germany, of the 52 thousand tons of silver, 20% are coins and bars (153 grams/capita), 19% silverware (144), 17% jewelry (127) and 45% silver-related securities investments (including funds, certificates, stocks).[13] Overall, only about 0.3% of German assets are allocated to silver.


This article was written by Dr. Jochen Dehio - author of the book"Gold oder Silber - wem gehört die Zukunft?

More about the author and the book


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[1] Vgl. Morgan, D. (2007), Insiderwissen Silber: S. 25.

[2] Vgl. Schulte, T. (2010), Silber – die einzigartige Investmentchance. Silberjunge – Silberschlaglicht Spezial 01/2010: S. 23.

[3] Vgl. Butler, T. (2008), Der Silberrausch ist da (Internet: artikel.php?storyid=8743; Abruf vom 01.10.2012).

[4] Vgl. (2009), Weltgoldförderung – Historisch (Internet-Abruf vom 01.10.2012); (2009), Weltsilberförderung – Historisch (Internet-Abruf vom 01.10.2012).

[5] geht z.B. von einem überirdischen Silberbestand von 20 Mrd. Unzen aus, was ca. 620 Tsd. Tonnen entspräche (eine Unze = 31,1 Gramm). Mit Verweis auf die CPM Group werden die Silberbestände auf 22 Mrd. Unzen beziffert, also gut 680 Tsd. Tonnen; vgl. Schulte, T. (2010), Silber – die einzigartige Investmentchance: S. 27; Doll, F. (2009), Silber – Das Gold des kleinen Mannes (Internet:, Abruf vom 01.10.2012).

[6] Vgl. Weinberg, E. (2005), Silber: goldene Zeiten (Internet: artikel.php?storyid=1995&seite=1, Abruf vom 01.10.2012).

[7] Vgl. Schulte, T. (2012), Vermögen retten. In Silber investieren: S. 134.

[8] Dabei wurde angenommen, dass in den 1990er-Jahren 65 % der Nachfrage der Fotografie beim Angebot wieder als Recyclingmenge erschienen, danach 70 %.

[9] Den Ergebnissen ist ferner zu entnehmen, dass sich das nicht auf die Fotoindustrie zurückgehende Recycling – wohl als Folge der gestiegenen Preise – kontinuierlich erhöht hat. Sofern es sich hierbei primär um Altsilberbestände handelt, was vermutet werden kann, ist dies für die hier angestellten Betrachtungen nicht relevant.

[10] Die Zahlen zum weltweiten Goldbestand sind angelehnt an Schätzungen; vgl. Wikipedia, Gold (Internet-Abruf vom 01.10.2012); Meier, R. (2005), ZMPO Newsletter: Gold Survey 2005 (Internet:, Abruf vom 01.10.2012).

[11] Die Ägypter betrachteten Gold als göttliches Metall, das Unsterblichkeit einbrachte, weshalb es als Grabbeigabe der Pharaonen diente. Zu den Beigaben zum Grab des Tutanchamun zählte aber u.a. auch eine ägyptische Trompete aus Silber.

[12] Vgl. Kleine J. und M. Krautbauer (2010), Goldbesitz der Privatpersonen in Deutschland. Steinbeis Research Center for Financial Services (Internet: 20101102_Goldstudie_RFS-Steinbeis_Kurzfassung.pdf, Abruf vom 01.10.2012).

[13] Vgl. Kleine J. und T. Weller (2011), Silberbesitz der Privatpersonen in Deutschland. Steinbeis Research Center for Financial Services (Internet: besitz_der_Privatpersonen_in_Deutschland.pdf, Abruf vom 01.10.2012).