How The Word “Dollar” Derives From “Joachimsthaler”


Today, this humble blog gets serious. Prepare to unravel (some) of the mysteries of money.

Open your wallet and take out a dollar bill. What is this complicated piece of paper that so much of your life depends on? And really, what’s the deal with the pyramid with an eye on top? (Here’s a decent answer.)

The U.S. is one of many countries to call their currency a dollar. The common ancestor is the taler (pronounced like “dollar”), also spelled thaler, a series of silver coins minted in Germany in the 1500s. You can thank a man with a great name, Count Hieronymus Schlick of Bohemia, for coining the term Joachimsthaler after the place where the silver was mined in what is now the Czech Republic. It won’t surprise you to learn that this five-syllable mouthful was shortened to taler in everyday use, and transformed into dollar by English speakers.

In the thirteen colonies, a Spanish coin called pieces of eight came to be called Spanish dollars because of their resemblance to talers. After the American Revolution, the United States wasn’t exactly a nation of Anglophiles. The Continental Congress didn’t think America should be conducting free enterprise in pounds, which had been the currency under Britain.  They settled on dollar, and defined the silver dollar as containing approximately 11% silver per coin.

The first dollar bill was produced in 1862, and George Washington was not on it. In fact, if we were gamblers we would happily bet a dollar that you’ve never heard of the man whose face was printed instead, Salmon P. Chase.

Are you still looking at your dollar bill? Why is it called a buck? This is probably short for buckskin, a unit of exchange among fur traders.

If we had a dollar for every interesting question about U.S. currency, we’d be billionaires. We do have a wealth of information, however. What makes you curious about the money in your wallet? The numbers? The unusual words? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to give you priceless answers in future posts.

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