pink polo shirts Origin and history of the Word Dollar and Dollar Sign
The history of the dollar is a story involving many countries in different continents. The word dollar is much older than the American unit of currency. It is an Anglicised form of “thaler”, (pronounced taler, with a long “a”), the name given to coins first minted in 1519 from locally mined silver in Joachimsthal in Bohemia. (Today the town of Joachimsthal lies within the borders of the Czech republic and its Czech name is J Thaler is a shortened form of the term by which the coin was originally known Joachimsthaler.
Later on, the English version of the name (dollar) was also applied to similar coins, not only ones minted in central Europe but also the Spanish peso and the Portuguese eight real piece. Both these large silver coins were practically identical in weight and fineness. Today we are familiar with the phrase pieces of eight from tales of pirates in the Caribbean.
Those coins, particularly the Spanish peso or dollar circulated widely in Britain’s North American colonies because of a shortage of official British coins. That is why, after the United States gained its independence the new nation chose “dollar” as the name of its currency instead of keeping the pound.
Probably the most famous thaler coins were those minted during the reign of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria and queen of Hungary and Bohemia (1740 80). Maria
Theresa thalers were in common use in Aden and some other parts of the Middle East as recently as the 1960s.
The thaler was the unit of currency in Prussia and some of the other German states until the second half of the 19th century. The unification of Germany in 1871 and the adoption of the mark as the common currency put an end to the old units, just as the adoption of the Euro and the introduction of new notes and coins in 2002 put an end to the French franc, the German Deutschemark, Italian lire, Spanish peseta, and other European currencies.
While on the subject of currency unions, before the formation of the Scandinavian Currency Union in 1873 and the adoption of the krone or krona, (the first being the Danish and Norwegian word for “Crown” and the second, the Swedish word) each of the Scandinavian countries had their own version of the “daler” as their currency. Like “dollar” the name “daler” came from “thaler” and provides a clue as to how the word evolved. (The term “daler” was also used in Low German and Dutch). In Sweden dalers were minted from 1534 onwards, and in Denmark from 1544. As Denmark and Norway formed a united kingdom until the Napoleonic Wars, when Norway passed into Swedish rule, the two countries shared a common currency.
The Scandinavian Currency Union was modelled on the much larger Latin Currency Union which was inspired by France. World War I effectively put an end to the Latin Currency Union. Although Denmark, Norway and Sweden were neutral, World War I put a considerable strain on their economies too, and consequently the Scandinavian Currency Union was officially dissolved not long after, in 1924.
The last remark by Gonzalo was, of course, a pun since “dolour” is an old fashioned word for pain or grief, like the modern Spanish word dolor, which also means pain.
Shakespeare’s use of the word “dollar” in Macbeth was anachronistic since the real Macbeth probably died in the middle of the 11th century, nearly 500 years before the first thalers were minted. Nevertheless the use of the word in Macbeth and the Tempest, both of which were first performed in about 1611, is a clear indication that the term dollar was already in use in English before the the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America in 1620.
The Aztecs, Incas and the Spanish EmpireThe reasons for the adoption of the dollar as the official currency of the US are bound up with events in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia. Small bands of Spanish adventurers had overthrown the empires of the Aztecs and Incas, plundering their temples and razing them to the ground or converting them to cathedrals Machu Picchu was the outstanding exception, not being “discovered” until the 20th century.
In addition to the treasures they melted down, the Spanish conquerors soon began to produce large quantities of silver from mines in Mexico and Peru. Most important of all were the enormous reserves they discovered at Potosi in what is now Bolivia. Ships laden with silver regularly crossed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Those crossing the Atlantic were naturally bound for Spain. Others sailed west across the Pacific to China to trade silver for Chinese goods. As the Spaniards controlled the sources of most of the world’s silver their coins were widely accepted, especially in places like Britain’s American colonies where silver was in short supply.
The United States DollarDuring colonial times the official British coinage was in short supply and as a result the a variety of substitutes was used in Britain’s American colonies, including wampum, in some of the northern colonies, and tobacco, or more conveniently, certificates for tobacco deposited in public warehouses, in Virginia. The colonists also used whatever foreign coins they could obtain. At various times in different colonies paper money was issued and disputes with the British government over this were one of the causes of the American Revolution. The rebels financed their war of independence largely by printing paper money notes that were called Continentals. By the end of the war, these had been rendered practically worthless by hyperinflation but financial prudence is a luxury in wartime. The notes had served their purpose and, with the help of their French allies,
the Americans won the war.
As Spanish pesos or dollars had long been in wide circulation in North America, some of the paper money issued in some of the colonies before the war had been denominated in dollars. Other notes used British monetary units. During the war too, some Continentals were denominated in British units, others in dollars. In 1792 the newly independent
United States chose the dollar, subdivided into 100 cents, as the unit of American currency in preference to the British pound.
Foreign coins were supposed to lose their status as legal tender within 3 years of the US coins coming into circulation. A new mint was established in Philadelphia and started its operations in 1794. However, because of a shortage of both gold and silver, in 1797 the government extended legal tender status to Spanish dollars for an indefinite period. The discoveries in California, which sparked off the Gold Rush in 1848, led to a massive increase in the production of gold coins by the mint, and in 1857 the United States finally removed legal tender status from all foreign coins. By then, although as necessary to the retail trade as ever, developments in banking meant that coins were just the small change of commerce.
In 1797, owing to a desperate shortage of silver coins, the Bank of England issues altered foreign coins from its reserves. Half a million pounds worth of Spanish dollars issued by King Charles IV were over stamped with a small engraving of George III. The re issued coins, with a value of 4 shillings and 9 pence, attracted ridicule. “Two
Kings’ heads and not worth a crown” was one witticism. (A ‘crown’ in this context meant 5 shillings, “half a crown”, sometimes colloquially known as “half a dollar”, being a common coin before decimalisation in 1971). A cruder, description was “the head of a fool stamped on the neck of an ass”. The issue failed because over stamping was also applied unofficially to the plentiful supplies of light or base Spanish dollars.
A great deal of the trade of Canada was with the United States and as a result pressure grew for a switch of currency from the pound sterling to a decimal system similar to the American one. The British government agreed and the Province of Canada gradually changed over to the dollar between 1853 and 1857. Canadian dollars and cents were minted in Britain until the establishment of the Ottawa Mint in 1908.
Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific IslandsIn contrast to Canada Australia kept the sterling system for well over half a century after being gaining independence from Britain. Because of the cumbersome nature of the division of the pound into 20 shillings and the shilling into 12 pence there had been many proposals in Britain over the years for the adoption of a decimal system. In Queen Victoria’s time the two shilling coin or florin was introduced as a step in that direction. However it was not until 1971 that Britain finally adopted the decimal system and divided the pound into 100 new The Australians decimalised their
currency five years earlier but, in contrast to Britain, decided to abolish the pound and adopt the dollar. the Australian dollar was the equivalent of ten shillings.
New Zealand followed Australia’s lead and replaced their own pound with the New Zealand dollar in 1967. Fiji and the Solomon Islands both adopted the dollar as their national currencies. Some of the smaller island states such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru continue to use the Australian Dollar.
In 1935 the British government introduced a new currency, the British West Indies Dollar, in many of the British colonies in the Caribbean. Previously, in some of those colonies the US dollar had circulated in addition to the pound sterling. Later, after gaining independence, the former colonies adopted their own versions of the dollar as their national currency. Of the remaining British colonies in the Caribbean, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands use the US dollar as their currency but the Cayman Islands have chosen to issue their own dollar.
In the British colonies of Malaya and Singapore the official currency was the Indian rupee but the general public kept their accounts and made most of their payments, including taxes, in dollars and cents. Therefore in 1867 the public’s preferences were recognised when legal tender status is given to various foreign coins such as dollars from Hong Kong, Mexico, Bolivia and Peru.
Competition was provided for these foreign coins twenty years later in 1894 when British dollars were first minted for the colonies in the Far East. Most of these “British” dollars were actually minted in Bombay in India. A much bigger step towards the replacement of the foreign dollars was taken in 1902 when the Straits Settlement (Singapore) dollar was introduced, and two years later legal tender status was withdrawn from the foreign coins.
Of course a currency does not have to be official for it to be acceptable to traders. two Mexican dollars) to the young street peddler. See playing the game for his account ofForeign Dollars in ChinaThe Chinese had used base metals for their coins ever since they invented them, independently of but probably slightly later than the Lydians and Greeks. For large transactions base metal coins were not very convenient and silver, in weighed quantities, was used. Another alternative was paper money, which the Chinese invented centuries before it became common in Europe but abandoned after about 1455.
Not long after that, Spanish galleons laden with silver began to sail regularly from Acapulco in Mexico to Manila in the Philippines where the silver was used to buy Chinese goods such as porcelain and silk. Supplies of silver from the Americas started to dry up towards the end of the Ming dynasty and were probably a significant factor in the economic crisis China experienced at that time. Subsequently supplies picked up again as new mines were developed. After the Opium War China was forced by Britain and other countries, including France, Germany, America and Japan to open up major harbours as treaty ports and to cede land to those countries as foreign concessions. As a result a large variety of foreign silver coins, particularly Mexican dollars,
circulated widely in China.