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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/528

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

statements suffice for some minds. However, knowing that traditional theories are dear to the heart of man, an additional coup de grace will not be superfluous. The earliest high official of the United States government to use the dollar mark was Robert Morris, the great financier of the Revolution. Letters in his own handwriting, as well as those penned by his secretary, which we have seen,[1] give the dollar mark with only one downward stroke, thus $. To assume that the symbol is made up of the letters U and S is to assert that Robert Morris and his secretary did not know what the real dollar symbol was; the letter U would demand two downward strokes, connected below. As a matter of fact the "US theory" has seldom been entertained seriously. Perhaps in derision of this fanciful view, another writer declares "surely the stars and stripes is the obvious explanation."[2]

Minds influenced less by patriotic motives than by ecclesiastical and antiquarian predilections have contributed other explanations of our puzzle. Thus the monogrammatic form of I H S (often erroneously interpreted as Jesus, Hominum Salvator) has been suggested.[3] The combination of H S or of I I S, which were abbreviations used by the Romans for a coin called sestertius, have been advocated.[4] We should expect the supporters of these hypotheses to endeavor to establish an unbroken line of descent from symbols used at the time of Nero to the symbols used in the time of Washington. But sober genealogical inquiries of this sort were never made or, if made, they brought disaster to the hypotheses.

An interesting hypothesis is advanced by the noted historian, T. F. Medina, of Santiago de Chile. He suggests that perhaps the dollar mark was derived from the stamp of the mint of Potosi in Bolivia. This stamp was the monogrammatic p and s. Against the validity of this explanation goes the fact that forms of p and s were used as abbreviations of the "peso" before the time of the establishment of the mint at Potosi.

All the flights of fancy were eclipsed by those who carried the $ back to the "Pillars of Hercules." These pillars were strikingly impressed upon the "pillar dollar," the Spanish silver coin widely used in the Spanish-American colonies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[5] The "Pillars of Hercules "was the ancient name of the opposite promontories at the Straits of Gibraltar. The Mexican

  1. Letter of 1792 in Harper Memorial Library, University of Chicago; Robt. Morris's Private Letter Book in MSS. Div. of Library of Congress.
  2. Notes and Queries, 5th S., Vol. 6, p. 434.
  3. "Standard Dictionary," Art. "Dollar."
  4. M. Townsend, "United States, an Index, etc.," Boston, 1890, p. 420.
  5. Notes and Queries (London), 5th S., Vol. 7, 1877, February 24; "New American Cyclopædia," Vol. VI., 1859, Art. "Dollar."