Origin of Dollar Sign

What is the Dollar Sign? When was it Discovered? What are the Theories surrounding it?
Origin of Dollar Sign

The dollar has been the currency of many countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and others. You might have seen dollar sign with two lines and with one line too. It is used to indicate various units of the currency. But where does this symbol come from? In this article, we will discuss the origin of dollar sign.

1. Brief Description of the Dollar

A dollar is a currency symbol with two lines or one single stroke that strikes through a capital S like $. This currency is used in various countries. It is also called a peso sign. The difference between the dollar sign with one stroke and two strokes is merely a difference in preference by the law and the government of the countries.

  • Countries that speak English as their native or primary language, they often use this symbol on the left of the sum of money that they would like to specify. 
  • The symbol is used on the right when that sum of amount is written in form of words.

For example, $25 will be read as twenty-five dollars and not dollar twenty-five and similarly, it won’t be written as 25$. (See Where do Banks put their Money?)

2. Origin of Dollar Sign

The origin of dollar sign is derived from the Spanish-American currency peso, also known as piece of eight of the Spanish dollar. It was denoted with the symbol p or handwritten ps. The United States adopted the peso currency model and value in 1972.

  • Several manuscripts from the nineteenth century displayed an s overlapping the p, and researchers believe that’s how it grew out of the original peso sign to the modern-day dollar sign.
  • However, another study by H.M. Larson in 1939 suggested that the origin of dollar sign could’ve found its root from the Greek symbol psi Ψ, tagged with the letter S. (See Who invented money?)

3. First Recorded Use of the Dollar

The dollar sign first attested in contracts, legal records, reports, and many other documents of the English-Americans who held business meetings with the Spanish-Americans in 1770s. However, this sign was not acknowledged as an actual currency until the printing of the U.S. dollars began around the 1800s. (See The History of Medieval Jesters)

4. Origin of the Word

  • The word dollar comes from daler, a Flemish and Low German word, also spelled as thaler or taler. This term was an abbreviation of Joachimstaler, referring to silver mined in the town of Joachimstal, Bohemia in 1519. The term was then used to name a coin in the Spanish-American regions during the American War of Independence.
  • It was adopted by the United States in the late 18th century, which was then changed into dollar to be used as the official currency unit of the nation.
  • As the dollar spread towards countries like the Netherlands and Great Britain, it also got popularized through two of the very famous William Shakespeare plays – Macbeth in Act 1 Season 2 and The Tempest in Act 2 Scene 1. (See Let the Cat Out of the Bag Origin)

4. Theories surrounding its Origin

  • One of the most talked-about theories stems from the abbreviation of the United States, i.e., U.S. It is believed that the dollar symbol was inspired by these initials. Many of the supporters of this theory, originally endorsed by Ayn Rand, claimed that layering the U on top of the S, and erasing the bottom part of the U leaves us with the famous dollar sign with two lines. This American philosopher, expressed his beliefs saying that the dollar symbolizes the greatness of the nation.
  • Another bizarre yet chilling theory states that the origin of dollar sign comes comes from esclavo and clavo in Spanish – esclavo meaning slave, and clavo meaning nail. Back in the day, slaves were put it in shackles locked by nails, hence many believe that the letter S with a vertical stroke symbolizes slavery. (See Vending Machine Deaths)
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