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Buried treasure

29 March 2007

ZacatecasIt was silver mining that made a few Mexicans, like Conde Borda very, very rich in the 18th century, and why there are those “colonial gems” scattered around Northern Mexico.  Zacatecas and Guanajuanto both had their reign as “richest city in the Americas” for a time. Touring the worked-out Zacatecas mine is always an experience, and Zacatecas’ “Disco Inferno” is a brilliant reuse of an old facility (the neighbors can’t hear the noise from what’s the only club I’ve ever been in that can honestly call itself “underground”… you pay your cover charge, and go in by tram). 

Mexican silver is also the reason the U.S. uses the dollar.  Spain could throw its weight around in the late 18th century superpower game, and financing George Washington’s insurgents was kind of a low cost way of keeping the British from getting any more power than they aleady had. 

Mexican reales (pieces of eight) were the original dollar.  It’s why the Mexican Peso and the Dollar both use $ — and why a quarter is “two bits” (two-eights of a piece of eight = 2/8 = 1/4 = one quarter). 

In 1828, Joel Poinsett engineered an anti-Spanish uprising in Mexico City that convinced the Mexican government to expell the Spaniards who’d stayed on after independence  (So much for the canard that “Spaniards rule Mexico” that you still see in right-wing publications and cranky letters to the editor and comments sections). 

Poinsett (and his British rival H.G. Ward) both assumed THEIR country’s financiers would be able to pick up the mines cheaply.  Poinsett was wrong.  The Spanish mining engineers were mostly replaced by Brits and French engineers and capital, but the British, seeking a quick return, generally abandoned mines rather than put in capital improvements.  

The French invasion in the 1860s was largely based on Napoleón III’s expectation that he could gain control of silver mines in Sonora (Napoleón somehow got into his head that Sonora was a particularly rich silver-mining region.  It isn’t, though there’s some there too).    

With the revolution, mines, like othe mineral deposits became property of the nation, but the mines themselves have remained in corporate — mostly foreign hands.  Mexican owned Peñasco is one of the largest gold and silver exporters in the world , though there are huge Canadian investments too (far outweighing whatever Canadian tourists spend).  

Silver mining is still very important, but not really thought much about… it’s a basic commodity, but unlike oil, the source is fairly stable.  And, perhaps there’s a lot more than we thought.

According to Lawrence Williams, in the South African on-line mining journal Mineweb, those old, traditional mining towns may be in for a new boom: 

At the MCL 20:20 Silver Day held in London this week it was perhaps significant that of the seven companies making presentations to the audience of brokers, analysts, fund managers, press and fellow miners, four (First Majestic, Arian, Excellon and Scorpio) were focusing almost entirely on Mexico and were already producing silver or had late stage projects in progress, while two others, Hecla and Sterling, were looking to Mexico as a route for expanding silver output additional to their existing North American projects and operations.

Historically Mexico has always been one of the world’s top silver producers, primarily from the country’s silver belt trending mainly northwest/southeast and centred on the city of Zacatecas in the centre of the country.  But much of the mining has been relatively small scale on some of the extremely high grade material which has been found along this silver trend which runs for hundreds of miles.  Now with the recent runup in the price of silver, North American companies in particular have been attracted to this area which has the advantage of boasting good local infrastructure, a potential workforce with good mining experience and a relatively stable political environment.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 February 2008 5:48 pm


  2. Jim permalink
    29 April 2008 11:41 am

    Good Job found everything I needed

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