Copper: worth its weight in gold?
Why copper’s intrinsic value runs deep-veined through history.
Everyone knows gold is expensive. We recognise it as a signifier of wealth, often without considering why. True, it has a shine and lustre like no other, but other materials also have their own unique and alluring visual qualities. Somehow, we have been seduced into holding gold above others. One can’t help wondering, is that fair?
For thousands of years, lots of people have thought so. Economies have been based on its perceived value, and status has depended on it. Shiny and rare, gold has captivated many an imagination and been the downfall of more than a few. But in practical terms its uses beyond jewellery (shiny and malleable) were traditionally quite limited. In modern times gold has developed wider applications: in dentistry (in fact since about 700BC, but it is still in use) in aerospace and in electronics – gold is an exceptionally good conductor, so it’s the metal of choice for high quality components in computers and mobile phones.
Hidden superpowers in a red metal
However, gold’s expense and relative rarity, and the fact that as a metal it is very soft, means that its use is mainly limited to jewellery and some niche applications. It is not as practical, perhaps not even as valuable in real terms, as the price might suggest.
Enter copper: a versatile metal that has underpinned the practical development of societies and industry since humankind left off living in caves. The earliest copper smelting seems to have taken place in Anatolia in about 6200 BC. Archaeologists trace the start of the Bronze Age to about 3100 BC so, for approximately 3000 years, copper was the dominant metal driving human development.
In an appealingly virtuous circle, copper (with its vital role in electrical generation, storage and distribution) is now an essential part of the green revolution which is redefining our future.
Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, wherein the tin strengthens the copper. There’s usually about 12.5% tin, but up to 20% for the most sonorous bells. The combination of metals is definitely greater than the sum of their parts.
An ancient ‘Oxhide’ pedigree
The impact of this new copper-based metal on ancient civilisations is difficult to overestimate. It’s value can be measured in part by the extent of trade. Bronze artefacts dating from at least 1500BC and made in Cyprus (the origin of the name Copper) Sicily, Sardinia and Iberia have been found across mainland Europe and into Scandinavia.
Nor was it only individual items like bronze tools. In Sweden in 2016 there was a discovery of ‘Oxhide’ ingots of bronze from ancient Crete, so called because of their flat shape. Not only did the goods travel well, but presumably the skills and technology to work the ‘raw’ metal migrated as well.
The roles and versatility of copper and bronze probably don’t need reciting here in detail. Suffice to say, they have had a formative influence of everything from military, commercial and industrial development from the earliest ages of civilisation to the present day.
Worth their weight?
At the time of writing, the commodity market price for one kilogram of 24K gold is in excess of $60,000. The equivalent kilogram of copper costs about $10. While that adds up if you are buying it in tons for industrial use, it is fortunate that copper is the cheaper of the two. Not only is it supremely useful on its own and in several alloy forms, it has its own unique range of colours, textures and patinas which some prefer to other more expensive metals. It holds its value and, perhaps more vital than anything else, copper is enabling an exponential growth in green technologies. And it is fortunate that we don’t have to re-wire our houses using gold.
Advanced Alloys Ltd is a specialist supplier of products made from the highest quality alloys of copper, brass, bronze and zinc. They have an exhaustive range of products suitable for all industries. Alloys can be delivered in wire, tube, sheet or bar form, and cut, bent or manipulated as required. An experienced logistics team makes sure that products reach their destination in perfect condition as swiftly as possible.
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