Spanish Colonial Silver

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Frequently Asked Questions...

Where did the dollar sign, ($), came from? What's the history behind it?

Best Answer...


The sign's ultimate origins are not certain. The most widely accepted explanation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, is that "$" is a corruption of the letters "PS" or "PS" (for 'peso' or 'piastre' - especially the former, as each letter could represent each syllable of "Pe-So") written over each other in Spanish. Eventually, the 'P' was reduced to a vertical line.

Another possibility is that it derives from the British notation 8/ for eight shilling, referring to the Spanish 8 reales coin ("piece of eight"), which later became the USA dollar. Others derive it from the Portuguese Cifrão sign.

Still another explanation holds that the dollar sign is derived from (or at least inspired by) the mint mark on Spanish colonial silver coins ("real" or "piece of eight") that were minted in Potosí (in present day Bolivia). The mint mark was composed of the letters "PTSI" superimposed on one another, and bears an undeniable resemblance to the single-stroke dollar sign (see picture). The Potosí mine is generally accepted as having been the largest single silver strike in history. Silver coins minted in Potosí would have been in common use in colonial America, and its mintmark widely recognized.

Earliest usage wrote the sign with a single vertical stroke. For some time, the double-stroke symbol was common, but is now again falling out of use.