To add some terminological clarity to the issue of ‘where all the silver is (or was)?’, let me propose a typology of forms of silver (and other precious metals) based on the amount of documented information available for them and their physical properties, as foreshadowed in slightly different wording in an earlier Screwtapes comments.
I would urge, as strongly as possible, that anyone seriously interested in this subject to read Tom Szabo’s post from 21 May 2009. "How Much Silver? Part 1" link. (Unfortunately, insofar as I am aware, Part 1 is all that ever appeared.) Tom argues that Ted Butler’s term ‘Bullion-Equivalent Inventory (BEI) should include things like Silver Eagle coins, and by implication other similar official coins and even unofficial ‘rounds’. I would also include ‘junk’ silver coinage as part of BEI, as it too trades as bullion at varying premiums or even occasional discounts. By no means is all junk silver just obsolete US fractional coinage, as obsolete silver coins from many countries are still in existence, and many can be obtained through EBay. Tom also introduces a then new term ‘Deferred Bullion Inventory’ (DBI) to refer to above ground metal that is not available to the market in highly refined form and/or at prevailing prices. This category is broadly similar to what the CRA Report, ‘Stocks of Silver Around The World’, regarded as ‘silver unavailable to the market' (at given silver prices), and those kinds of silver holdings can be part of any of the following categories, although most of it would be found in 6) Other Refined Metal.
1) Identified Bullion Inventories: These are the kinds of bar lists that have been included in Warren’s databases, for which owners, bar details, and sometimes even physical locations, have been publicly reported. Others have referred to this as 'transparent' bullion holdings, and I certainly have no objection to that characterisation.
2) Known Bullion Inventories: In addition to the above, these would include LBMA Good Delivery Bar inventories that provide at least approximate total weights, but not the actual bar details, and would include such things as the COMEX Eligible and Registered ounces, Perth Mint Pool Allocated accounts, and reported Investment Fund, Government, or Central Bank holdings (whether CB holdings are all really where they say they are, or have actually all been leased out or swapped away, is immaterial because until we know for sure, it is the claim that counts). I think that some refer to this category as 'opaque' bullion, but that the same or others would also apply the term to 4), below. Because of that possible dual referent, I prefer to not use the term.
3) Bullion Equivalent Inventories: Documented weights of forms of refined metal other than GDBs, particularly smaller bars, US ASEs (and AGEs), Perth Mint coins, and the like, including generic ‘rounds’ for which there are published figures for mintages or sales, unrefined dore bars of known weight and consistency, and documented inventories of refined metal produced but not yet known to be sold for jewellery or other fabrication or other industrial/medical uses.
4) Undocumented Bullion: Bullion that can only be inferred or estimated, such as the ‘fractional reserve’ bullion that ‘backs’ the unallocated OTC LBMA contracts, Perth Mint Allocated Accounts, and other dark pools or hoards, including unidentified amounts held by funds or individuals.
5) Undocumented Bullion Equivalents: ‘Junk’ silver coins from all nations, and other things that potentially trade as bullion, but for which there are no actual reported holdings or up-to-date records for remaining stocks.
6) Other Refined Metal: This includes fabricated metal such as jewellery, silverware, and sterling hollowware, as well as other items with artistic, liturgical, or sentimental value. These forms, which comprise by far the largest component of the total world silver stocks, would require further refining and fabrication to become bullion, per se, and encompasses much of Tom Szabo’s category of Deferred Bullion Inventory, as well as many kinds of what the CRA Report calls ‘silver unavailable to the market’ at some price level.
7) Industrial Stocks: Metal inventories held for use in industrial fabrication (apart from jewellery manufacturing) or chemical processes, including photography (mostly x-rays these days), catalysts and medical applications. Some can be recycled and reused, but most cannot or will not be reclaimed and can be regarded as irretrievably lost once it leaves a factory as components in a finished product.
8) Lost Metal: Buried and forgotten hoards, shipwrecked cargoes, circulating coin wear, irreclaimable waste (or at least unreclaimed) after industrial fabrication or chemical/medical use, etc.
The Relative Sizes of the LBMA OTC Market and the COMEX/GLOBEX Futures Exchange, The figures give good evidence for the LBMA being x10 the size of the COMEX, despite what Ted Butler says about it.
So How Much Silver Is Really Out There? Part 1 of a series which attempts to estimate all the above-ground silver.
What and Where was all that Silver? Part 2 of the 'above ground silver' research, SLL summarizes a 1992 Silver Institute report on silver stocks.