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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/527

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

DECEMBER, 1912




THE EVOLUTION OF THE DOLLAR MARK
By Professor FLORIAN CAJORI

COLORADO COLLEGE

THERE are few mathematical symbols the origin of which has given rise to more unrestrained speculation and less real scientific study than has our dollar mark, $. About a dozen different theories have been advanced by men of imaginative minds, but not one of these would-be historians permitted himself to be hampered by the underlying facts. These speculators have dwelt with special fondness upon monogrammatic forms, some of which, it must be admitted, maintain considerable antecedent probability. Breathes there an American with soul so dead that he has not been thrilled with patriotic fervor over the "U. S. theory" which ascribes the origin of the $ mark to the superposition of the letters U and S? This view of its origin is the more pleasing because it makes the symbol a strictly American product, without foreign parentage, apparently as much the result of a conscious effort or an act of invention as is the sewing machine or the cotton gin. If such were the case, surely some traces of the time and place of invention should be traceable; there ought to be the usual rival claimants. As a matter of fact no one has ever advanced real evidence in the form of old manuscripts, or connected the symbol with a particular place or individual. Nor have our own somewhat extensive researches yielded evidence in support of the "US theory." The theory that the $ is an entwined U and S, where U S may mean "United States" or one "Uncle Sam," was quoted in 1876 from an old newspaper clipping in the Notes and Queries (London):[1] it is given in cyclopedic references. In the absence of even a trace of evidence from old manuscripts, this explanation must give way to others which, as we shall find, rest upon a strong basis of fact. Possibly these

  1. Notes and Queries, 5th S., Vol. 6, London, 1876, p. 386; Vol. 7, p. 98.