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A United States two-dollar bill. Rarely seen in circulation, but still in production and legal tender.
1525 Joachimsthaler of the Kingdom of Bohemia was the first thaler (dollar). This is its reverse side, with the Coat of Arms of Bohemia and the name of Ludovicus, the King of Bohemia and Hungary (Louis II)

Dollar (symbol: $) is the name of more than 20 currencies, including those of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Liberia, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States. The U.S. dollar is also the official currency of the Caribbean Netherlands, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Zimbabwe. One dollar is generally divided into 100 cents.


On 15 January 1520, the Kingdom of Bohemia began minting coins from silver mined locally in Joachimsthal and marked on reverse with the Bohemian lion. The coins were called joachimsthaler, which became shortened in common usage to thaler or taler. The German name "Joachimsthal" literally means "Joachim's valley" or "Joachim's dale". This name found its way into other languages: Czech and Slovenian tolar, Hungarian tallér, Danish and Norwegian (rigs) daler, Swedish (riks) daler, Icelandic dalur, Dutch (rijks) daalder or daler, Ethiopian ታላሪ ("talari"), Italian tallero, Greek τάλληρον, τάλιρο, tàlleron, tàliro, Polish talar, Persian dare, as well as – via Dutch – into English as dollar.[1]

A later Dutch coin also depicting a lion was called the leeuwendaler or leeuwendaalder, literally 'lion daler'. The Dutch Republic produced these coins to accommodate its booming international trade. The leeuwendaler circulated throughout the Middle East and was imitated in several German and Italian cities. This coin was also popular in the Dutch East Indies and in the Dutch New Netherland Colony (New York). It was in circulation throughout the Thirteen Colonies during the 17th and early 18th centuries and was popularly known as "lion (or lyon) dollar".[2][3] The currencies of Romania and Bulgaria are, to this day, 'lion' (leu/lev). The modern American-English pronunciation of dollar is still remarkably close to the 17th century Dutch pronunciation of daler.[4] Some well-worn examples circulating in the Colonies were known as "dog dollars".[5]

Spanish pesos – having the same weight and shape – came to be known as Spanish dólar.[4][6] By the mid-18th century, the lion dollar had been replaced by Spanish dollar, the famous "pieces of eight", which were distributed widely in the Spanish colonies in the New World and in the Philippines.[6][7][8][9][10]

Origins of the dollar signEdit

The sign is first attested in business correspondence in the 1770s as a scribal abbreviation "ps", referring to the Spanish American peso,[11][12] that is, the "Spanish dollar" as it was known in British North America. These late 18th- and early 19th-century manuscripts show that the s gradually came to be written over the p developing a close equivalent to the "$" mark, and this new symbol was retained to refer to the American dollar as well, once this currency was adopted in 1785 by the United States.[13][14][15][16][17]

Adoption by the United StatesEdit

By the time of the American Revolution, Spanish dólar gained significance because they backed paper money authorized by the individual colonies and the Continental Congress.[7] Common in the Thirteen Colonies, Spanish dólar were even legal tender in one colony, Virginia.

On April 2, 1792, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton reported to Congress the precise amount of silver found in Spanish dollar coins in common use in the states. As a result, the United States dollar was defined[18] as a unit of pure silver weighing 371 4/16th grains (24.057 grams), or 416 grains of standard silver (standard silver being defined as 1,485 parts fine silver to 179 parts alloy).[19] It was specified that the "money of account" of the United States should be expressed in those same "dollars" or parts thereof. Additionally, all lesser-denomination coins were defined as percentages of the dollar coin, such that a half-dollar was to contain half as much silver as a dollar, quarter-dollars would contain one-fourth as much, and so on.

In an act passed in January 1837, the dollar's alloy (amount of non-silver metal present) was set at 15%. Subsequent coins would contain the same amount of pure silver as previously, but were reduced in overall weight (to 412.25 grains). On February 21, 1853, the quantity of silver in the lesser coins was reduced, with the effect that their denominations no longer represented their silver content relative to dollar coins.

Various acts have subsequently been passed affecting the amount and type of metal in U.S. coins, so that today there is no legal definition of the term "dollar" to be found in U.S. statute.[20][21][22] Currently the closest thing to a definition is found in United States Code Title 31, Section 5116, paragraph b, subsection 2: "The Secretary [of the Treasury] shall sell silver under conditions the Secretary considers appropriate for at least $1.292929292 a fine troy ounce." However, the dollar's constitutional meaning has remained unchanged through the years (see, United States Constitution).

Silver was mostly removed from U.S. coinage by 1965 and the dollar became a free-floating fiat currency without a commodity backing defined in terms of real gold or silver. The US Mint continues to make silver $1-denomination coins, but these are not intended for general circulation.

Relationship to the troy poundEdit

The quantity of silver chosen in 1792 to correspond to one dollar, namely, 371.25 grains of pure silver, is very close to the geometric mean of one troy pound and one pennyweight. In what follows, "dollar" will be used as a unit of mass. A troy pound being 5760 grains and a pennyweight being 240 times smaller, or 24 grains, the geometric mean is, to the nearest hundredth, 371.81 grains. This means that the ratio of a pound to a dollar (15.52) roughly equals the ratio of a dollar to a pennyweight (15.47). These ratios are also very close to the ratio of a gram to a grain: 15.43. Finally, in the United States, the ratio of the value of gold to the value of silver in the period from 1792 to 1873 averaged to about 15.5, being 15 from 1792 to 1834 and around 16 from 1834 to 1873. This is also nearly the value of the gold to silver ratio determined by Isaac Newton in 1717.[23]

That these three ratios are all approximately equal has some interesting consequences. Let the gold to silver ratio be exactly 15.5. Then a pennyweight of gold, that is 24 grains of gold, is nearly equal in value to a dollar of silver (1 dwt of gold = $1.002 of silver). Second, a dollar of gold is nearly equal in value to a pound of silver ($1 of gold = 5754 3/8 grains of silver = 0.999 Lb of silver). Third, the number of grains in a dollar (371.25) roughly equals the number of grams in a troy pound (373.24).

The actual process of defining the US silver dollar had nothing to do with any geometric mean. The US government simply sampled all Spanish milled dollars in circulation in 1792 and arrived at the average weight in common use. And this was 371.25 grains of fine silver.

Usage in the United KingdomEdit

There are two quotes in the plays of William Shakespeare referring to dollars as money. Coins known as "thistle dollars" were in use in Scotland during the 16th and 17th centuries,[24] and use of the English word, and perhaps even the use of the coin, may have begun at the University of St Andrews.[citation needed] This might be supported by a reference to the sum of "ten thousand dollars" in Macbeth (act I, scene II) (an anachronism because the real Macbeth, upon whom the play was based, lived in the 11th century). In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Man with the Twisted Lip" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1891[25][circular reference], an Englishman posing as a London beggar describes the shillings and pounds he collected as dollars.

In 1804, a British five-shilling piece, or crown, was sometimes called "dollar". It was an overstruck Spanish eight real coin (the famous "piece of eight"), the original of which was known as a Spanish dollar. Large numbers of these eight-real coins were captured during the Napoleonic Wars, hence their re-use by the Bank of England. They remained in use until 1811.[26][27] During World War II, when the U.S. dollar was (approximately) valued at five shillings, the half crown (2s 6d) acquired the nickname "half dollar" in the UK.

Usage elsewhereEdit

Chinese demand for silver in the 19th and early 20th centuries led several countries, notably the United Kingdom, United States and Japan, to mint trade dollars, which were often of slightly different weights from comparable domestic coinage. Silver dollars reaching China (whether Spanish, trade, or other) were often stamped with Chinese characters known as "chop marks", which indicated that that particular coin had been assayed by a well-known merchant and deemed genuine.

Other national currencies called “dollar”Edit

500 old Zimbabwean dollar bill of the first Zimbabwean dollar
A 100 billion dollars special agro-cheque issued during the hyperinflation in Zimbabwe

Prior to 1873, the silver dollar circulated in many parts of the world, with a value in relation to the British gold sovereign of roughly $1 = 4s 2d (21p approx). As a result of the decision of the German Empire to stop minting silver thaler coins in 1871, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, the worldwide price of silver began to fall.[28] This resulted in the U.S. Coinage Act (1873) which put the United States onto a 'de facto' gold standard. Canada and Newfoundland were already on the gold standard, and the result was that the value of the dollar in North America increased in relation to silver dollars being used elsewhere, particularly Latin America and the Far East. By 1900, value of silver dollars had fallen to 50 percent of gold dollars. Following the abandonment of the gold standard by Canada in 1931, the Canadian dollar began to drift away from parity with the U.S. dollar. It returned to parity a few times, but since the end of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates that was agreed to in 1944, the Canadian dollar has been floating against the U.S. dollar. The silver dollars of Latin America and South East Asia began to diverge from each other as well during the course of the 20th century. The Straits dollar adopted a gold exchange standard in 1906 after it had been forced to rise in value against other silver dollars in the region. Hence, by 1935, when China and Hong Kong came off the silver standard, the Straits dollar was worth 2s 4d (11.5p approx) sterling, whereas the Hong Kong dollar was worth only 1s 3d sterling (6p approx).

The term "dollar" has also been adopted by other countries for currencies which do not share a common history with other dollars. Many of these currencies adopted the name after moving from a £sd-based to a decimalized monetary system. Examples include the Australian dollar, the New Zealand dollar, the Jamaican dollar, the Cayman Islands dollar, the Fiji dollar, the Namibian dollar, the Rhodesian dollar, the Zimbabwe dollar, and the Solomon Islands dollar.

Economies that use a dollarEdit

Currency ISO 4217 code Countries Established Preceding currency
East Caribbean dollar XCD   Antigua and Barbuda 1965 British West Indies dollar
Australian dollar AUD   Australia and its territories 1966-02-14 Australian pound 1910-1966
Pound sterling 1825-1910
Bahamian dollar BSD   Bahamas 1966 Bahamian pound
Barbadian dollar BBD   Barbados 1972 East Caribbean dollar
Belize dollar BZD/USD   Belize 1973 British Honduran dollar
Bermudian dollar BMD   Bermuda 1970 Pound sterling
Brunei dollar

(Alongside the Singapore dollar)



  Brunei 1967 Malaya and British Borneo dollar
Canadian dollar CAD   Canada 1858 Canadian pound 1841-1858
Spanish dollar pre-1841
Newfoundland dollar, 1865 – 1949 in the Dominion of Newfoundland
Cayman Islands dollar KYD   Cayman Islands 1972 Jamaican dollar
East Caribbean dollar XCD   Dominica 1965 British West Indies dollar
United States dollar USD   East Timor 2002 Indonesian rupiah
United States dollar USD   Ecuador 2001 Ecuadorian sucre
United States dollar USD   El Salvador 2001 Salvadoran colón
Fijian dollar FJD   Fiji 1969 Fijian pound
East Caribbean dollar XCD   Grenada 1965 British West Indies dollar
Guyanese dollar GYD   Guyana 1839 East Caribbean Dollar
Hong Kong dollar HKD   Hong Kong 1863 Rupee, Real (Spanish/Colonial Spain: Mexican), Chinese cash
Jamaican dollar JMD   Jamaica 1969 Jamaican pound
Kiribati dollar along with the Australian dollar KID / AUD   Kiribati 1979 Australian dollar
Liberian dollar LRD   Liberia 1937 United States dollar
United States dollar USD   Marshall Islands
United States dollar USD   Federated States of Micronesia
Namibian dollar along with the South African rand NAD   Namibia 1993 South African rand
Australian dollar AUD   Nauru 1966
New Zealand dollar NZD   New Zealand and its territories 1967 New Zealand pound
United States dollar USD   Palau
East Caribbean dollar XCD   Saint Kitts and Nevis 1965
Eastern Caribbean dollar XCD   Saint Lucia
Eastern Caribbean dollar XCD   Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Singapore dollar SGD   Singapore 1967 Malaya and British Borneo dollar
Solomon Islands dollar SBD   Solomon Islands 1977 Australian pound
Surinamese dollar SRD   Suriname 2004 Surinamese guilder
New Taiwan dollar TWD   Taiwan 1949 Old Taiwan dollar
Trinidad and Tobago dollar TTD   Trinidad and Tobago 1964 British West Indies dollar
Tuvaluan dollar along with the Australian dollar TVD / AUD   Tuvalu 1976
United States dollar USD   United States and its territories 1792 Spanish dollar
colonial script
United States dollar[29] USD   Zimbabwe 2014 Zimbabwean dollar

Other territories that use a dollarEdit

Countries unofficially accepting a dollarEdit

Countries and regions that have previously used a dollar currencyEdit

One Sarawak dollar from 1935, featuring Charles Vyner Brooke, the 3rd and last White Rajah of Sarawak

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Why Is The Dollar Sign A Letter S?". Observation Deck. Retrieved 2015-02-09.
  2. ^ Taxation in Colonial America. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  3. ^ "Dutch Colonial – Lion Dollar". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  4. ^ a b "". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Lion Dollar — Introduction". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b Taxation in Colonial America. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b Julian, R.W. (2007). "All About the Dollar". Numismatist: 41. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Cross, Bill (2012). Dollar Default: How the Federal Reserve and the Government Betrayed Your Trust. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9781475261080.
  9. ^ National Geographic. June 2002. p. 1. Ask Us.
  10. ^ The First Modern Economy. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  11. ^ Lawrence Kinnaird (July 1976). "The Western Fringe of Revolution," The Western Historical Quarterly 7(3), 259. JSTOR 967081
  12. ^ "Origin of Dollar Sign is Traced to Mexico", Popular Science, 116 (2): 59, 1930, ISSN 0161-7370
  13. ^ Florian Cajori ([1929]1993). A History of Mathematical Notations (Vol. 2), 15-29.
  14. ^ Arthur S. Aiton and Benjamin W. Wheeler (May 1931). "The First American Mint", The Hispanic American Historical Review 11(2), 198 and note 2 on 198. JSTOR 2506275
  15. ^ Nussbaum, Arthur (1957). A History of the Dollar. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 56.
  16. ^ Riesco Terrero, Ángel (1983). Diccionario de abreviaturas hispanas de los siglos XIII al XVIII: Con un apendice de expresiones y formulas juridico-diplomaticas de uso corriente. Salamanca: Imprenta Varona, 350. ISBN 84-300-9090-8
  17. ^ Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "'What is the origin of the $ sign?' in FAQ Library". Archived from the original on May 5, 2015. Retrieved December 14, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  18. ^ Act of April 2, A.D. 1792 of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, Section 9.
  19. ^ Section 13 of the Act.
  20. ^ United States Statutes at Large.
  21. ^ Yeoman, RS. A Guide Book of United States Coins.
  22. ^ Ewart, James E. Money — Ye shall have honest weights and measures.
  23. ^ International Monetary Conference Held . . . in Paris in August 1878.
  24. ^ Herbert Appold Grueber. Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum.
  25. ^ The Man with the Twisted Lip
  26. ^ All Things Austen: An Encyclopedia of Austen's World ISBN 0-313-33034-4 p. 444
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Monetary Madhouse, Charles Savoie, 2005". Archived from the original on 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2012-03-25. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  29. ^ Alongside Zimbabwean dollar (suspended indefinitely from 12 April 2009), Euro, Pound sterling, South African rand, Botswana pula, Australian dollar, Chinese yuan, Indian rupee and Japanese yen. The US Dollar has been adopted as the official currency for all government transactions.
  30. ^ Wojtanik, Andrew (2005). Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. p. 147.
  31. ^ Lankov, Andrei (2015). The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0-19-939003-8.
  32. ^ Although called Panamanian balboas, US dollars circulate as official currency, since there are no Balboa bills, only coins that are the same size, weight and value as their US counterparts.
  33. ^ Adopted for all official government transactions
  34. ^ Hungwe, Brian. "Zimbabwe’s multi-currency confusion", BBC News, Harare, 6 February 2014. Retrieved on 5 November 2016.

External linksEdit