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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/530

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

symbol with the figure 8. We have seen four varieties of this theory. The Spanish dollars were, as a rule, equivalent to eight smaller monetary units, universally know in Spain as "reales" or "reals." The "pillar dollar" shows an 8 between the two pillars. The Spanish dollar was often called a "piece of eight." What guess could be more natural than that the 8 between two pillars suggested the abbreviation |8|, which changed into $? So attractive is this explanation that those who advanced it did not consider it worth while to proceed to the prosaic task of finding out whether such symbols were actually employed in financial accounts by merchants of English and Latin America. Other varieties of theorizing claimed a union of P and 8 ("piece of eight")[1] or of R and 8 ("eight reales")[2] or of |8| (the vertical lines being marks of separation)[3] or of 8/.[4] The "P8 theory" has been given, in Webster's "Unabridged Dictionary," not in its first edition, but in the editions since the fourth (1859) or fifth (1864). It is claimed that this widely accepted theory rests on manuscript evidence.[5] One writer who examined old tobacco account books in Virginia reproduces lithographically the fancifully shaped letter p used to represent the "piece of eight" in the early years. This part of his article is valuable. But where it comes to the substantiation of the theory that $ is a combination of P and 8, and that the $ had a purely local evolution in the tobacco districts of Virginia, his facts do not bear out his theory. He quotes only one instance of manuscript evidence and the reasoning in connection with that involves evident confusion of thought.[6] To us the "P 8 theory" seemed at one time the most promising working hypothesis, but we were obliged to abandon it, because all evidence pointed in a different direction. We sent inquiries to recent advocates of this theory and to many writers of the present day on early American and Spanish-American history, but failed to get the slightest manuscript evidence in its favor. None of the custodians of manuscript records were able to point out facts in support of this view. We ourselves found some evidence from which a superficial observer might draw wrong inferences. A few manuscripts, particularly one of the year x 1696 from Mexico (Oaxaca), now kept in the Ayer Collection of the Newberry Library in Chicago, give abbreviations for the Spanish word "pesos" (the Spanish name for Spanish dollars) which consist of the letter p with a mark over it that looks much like a horizontal figure 8. This is shown in Fig. 2. Is it an 8? Paleographic study goes against this conclusion: the mark signifies "os," the last two letters in "pesos." This is evident from

  1. M. Townsend, op. cit., p. 420; Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 42, 1907, p. 515.
  2. M. Townsend, op. cit., p. 420.
  3. Notes and Queries (London), 5th S., Vol. VII., p. 317.
  4. Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 42, 1907, p. 515.
  5. 13
  6. American Historical Record, Vol. III., p. 271.