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Warren Buffett bought 3,500 tons of silver in 1997. The purchase helped make Thomas Kaplan a billionaire.

Warren Buffett bought 3,500 tons of silver in 1997. The purchase helped make Thomas Kaplan a billionaire.
Getty Images / Michael Buckner; The Electrum Group



Warren Buffett's purchase of almost 3,500 tons of silver in 1997 helped turn Thomas Kaplan into a billionaire.




After the silver bubble burst in early 1980, the precious metal plunged in price from $50 an ounce to below $10, and it was widely dismissed as a bad investment.




"What really put and end to it was when Warren Buffett bought [those] ounces of silver," Kaplan, the chairman of NovaGold Resources, told shareholders this month.




"It became public that he had done this the week when I was taking my silver company public," Kaplan said. "That changed everything."




Kaplan told Business Insider he personally thanked Buffett at a dinner years later.




Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.




Warren Buffett made an unusual move in 1997 when he bought 111 million ounces, or nearly 3,500 tons, of silver. The famed investor's purchase helped make Thomas Kaplan a billionaire.

"That changed everything"


Kaplan was in his early 30s, with a doctorate in history from Oxford University but zero industry experience, when he founded a mining company named Apex Silver Mines in 1993. Despite his lack of credentials, he received a $10 million investment from billionaire investor George Soros in 1994.
At the time, the global silver market was still recovering from oil tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brothers almost cornering it in 1979. The silver bubble had burst in early 1980, slashing the price of the precious metal from $50 an ounce to less than $10, and making it a toxic asset for many investors.
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