When humanity first began using metals, they probably started with copper. Various artifacts and tools made from copper have been found dating back to 9,000 BC. This is not surprising because virtually pure copper can occur naturally. There’s no real need for a complicated process to extract it.
Early man didn’t really have much use for the metal as a tool, because pure copper is quite soft. Its value was more for its looks, as it’s the only metal besides gold that had a color that wasn’t white or gray. Since it was attractive and easy to shape, it was used extensively for decorative items like rings, earrings, bracelets, and broaches.
By about 5,000 BC, the Mesopotamians found the full potential of this metal by using alloys (mixtures) of copper. They popularized the use of bronze (mixed in with tin) which ushered in the Bronze Age from 2,500 BC to about 800 BC. Bronze is much harder, and it was used for many tools including weapons. Today, more than 400 copper alloys are in use, including brass which is when zinc is added to the metal.
Below is the historical Copper price per metric ton.
|Year||Price||Price (Inflation Adjusted)||Change|
Price History of the Metal
It has been one of the most used metals for tools in history, since it was so common and very easy to find unlike gold. But like gold, it was easy to work with, so people in ancient times didn’t have much difficulty in shaping it to whatever form they wanted.
As money, copper didn’t have the intrinsic value that gold and silver had. Its value was tied to its usefulness, so a copper tool was regarded as more valuable than a formless amount of the metal.
Various civilizations put different price tags on its value. The ancient Egyptians regarded it as having the worth of 1/100 of silver. In comparison, today it’s about 1/120 of silver. The Greeks and Romans also had hoards of coins of this metal, and they valued it as 1/350 of silver. It was also used as currency during the medieval times, although by the 1700s major governments were using bronze coins instead.
Today, it is hardly used as coinage. Its value is in its utility instead. Even the penny which some people think of as copper is actually 98% zinc since 1983. Ironically, it comprises 75% of nickels and 92% of dimes and quarters.
Copper as an Investment
Investors have several ways of profiting from copper. Before 1982 some even melted down pennies when the price of the metal made it more valuable than the coin itself. That’s no longer possible to do so today, as a penny s largely made of zinc and besides it is now illegal to melt coin currency since 2006.
It’s also possible to trade in copper futures, with each contract representing 25,000 pounds of the metal. It’s traded in the New York Mercantile Exchange and in the London Metal Exchange.
You can also participate in “exchange traded funds” that deal with this particular metal. These funds may invest in futures or in the stocks of the miners and sellers of the metal.
Purposes Used For
Copper remains one of the most useful metals we have. It has always been highly valued because it’s tough and easy to shape. In the modern era, it remains valuable because it is highly conductive.
- Because of its ability to conduct electricity, half of all copper used is for this purpose. Just about every electrical wiring uses this particular metal. In electronics, it also enables the flow of electricity through the various components.
- It is used in plumbing, in various appliances, in heating and cooling systems, and in telecommunications. The metal is a crucial part of the automotive industry, with an average car containing almost a mile (or 1.5 kilometers) of copper. In hybrid and luxury vehicles, it can contain as much as 45 kilos of the metal.
- It also has antimicrobial properties, as it reduces the transfer of germs. This is why as brass it is used as doorknobs.
- It also oxidizes very gradually, so it is also used as storage containers for spent nuclear fuel. A cylinder made of this metal with 10cm-thick walls will last for a million years before it oxidizes.
- As brass, it also offers excellent acoustics, so it is used for instruments like trombones, trumpets, and cymbals.
- It is also widely recycled as well, as about 33% of the metal used all around the world is recycled. It can be melted as a refined version, and it doesn’t lose any of its physical or chemical attributes.
Copper can be found anywhere, so there’s very little risk that the supply of the metal can be disrupted. It’s been found by the US Geological Survey that so far we’ve used 350 million tons of copper, but in just the US alone we still have 290 million tons of it waiting to be mined.