Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/531

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

several considerations. The fact that in the same manuscript exactly the same symbol occurs in "vezos," the contraction for "vezinos," or "neighbors" may suffice; an 8 is meaningless here.

We have now described the various hypotheses.[1] The reader may have been amused at the widely different conclusions reached. One author gives to the $ "a pedigree as long as chronology itself." Others allow it only about 125 years. One traces it back to the worshippers of the sun in central Asia, another attributes it to a bookkeeper in a Virginia tobacco district. PSM V81 D531 Evolution of the dollar symbol.pngFig. 2. Nearly every one of the dozen theories seemed so simple to its advocate as to be self-evident. A mode of argumentation is revealed much like that of the prospective western farmer planning to solve the problem of irrigation by planting rows of potatoes between rows of onions, "to make the potato-eyes water." He was thoroughly infatuated with the brilliancy of his idea and of course never subjected it to a sober test.

In our own researches we have been driven from one working hypothesis to another, until finally we found one which tallied with the facts. Noticing that as a rule the common abbreviations for monetary units used in recent centuries consisted in the initial letter, or that letter and a second one in the word, as M for the German "mark," fr. for the French "franc," £ for the English "pound" (libra), we started with the provisional theory that $ came from the letters in the word "dollar." To test the theory we began the examination of colonial manuscripts and made galloping progress in showing that "dollar" was in colonial days actually abbreviated to "Dolls.," "Doll.," "Do.s," "Ds," "D." But in endeavoring to show the evolution of D into $ we encountered insuperable difficulties. Thousands of manuscripts were looked over and they absolutely failed to supply the necessary connecting links. We had to throw our theory overboard as a useless burden.

The history of the dollar mark is difficult to trace. The vast majority of old documents give monetary names written out in full. This is the case also in printed books. Of nine Spanish commercial arithmetics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, five gave no abbreviations whatever for the "peso" (also called "piastre," "peso de 8 reales," "piece of eight," "Spanish dollar"). In fact some did not mention the "peso" at all. The reason for the omission of "peso" is that the part of Spain called Castile had monetary units called "reales," "ducados," "maravedises," etc.; the word "peso" was used mainly in Spanish America and those towns of Spain that were in

  1. Interesting lines of research on the origin of $ were suggested by Professor D. E. Smith in his "Rara Arithmetica," 1908, pp. 470, 471, 491, but we found them barren of results.