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Dollar Sign ($)


The sign is attested in business correspondence between British North

America and Mexico in the 1770s, as referring to the Spanish-Mexican
peso. The piastre was known as "Spanish dollar" in British North America,
and in 1785, it was adopted as U.S. currency, together with both the term
"dollar" and the $ sign. Interestingly, the first instance of the symbol on
U.S.A. currency is on the reverse of a $1 coin first issued in February 2007,
under the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005.

The sign's ultimate origins are not certain, though it is widely accepted that
it comes from the Spanish coat of arms, which carries the two Pillars of
Hercules and the motto Non Plus Ultra in the shape of an "S".

Spanish Coat of Arms

The most widely accepted explanation is that the dollar sign derives from
the Spanish coat of arms engraved on the Spanish colonial silver coins
"Real de a Ocho" ("piece of eight") or Spanish dollar under circulation in the
Spanish colonies of America and Asia, as well as in the English Thirteen
Colonies and later the U.S. and Canada.

The Spanish coat of arms has two columns (||), which represent the Pillars
of Hercules and an "S"-shaped ribbon around each, with the motto "Non
Plus Ultra" originally, and later "Plus Ultra".

In 1492, King Ferdinand II of Aragon put Gibraltar under the new joined rule
of the Spanish throne. He adopted the symbol of the Pillars of Hercules and
added the Latin phrase Non plus ultra – meaning "and nothing further",
indicating "[this is] the end of the (known) world". But as Christopher
Columbus in 1492 travelled to the Americas, the saying was changed to
Plus Ultra – as there was more out there. This symbol was especially
adopted by Charles V and was a part of his coat of arms as a symbol of his
American possessions and riches. When the Spanish conquistadores found
gold and silver in the New World, Charles V's symbol was stamped on the
coins made from these metals. These coins with the Pillars of Hercules over
two hemispheres (columnarios) were spread around America and Europe,
and the symbol was ultimately adopted by the country that became the
United States and by many of the continent's other independent nations.
Later on, salesmen wrote signs that, instead of saying dollar, had this
handwritten symbol, and in turn this developed to the simple S with two
vertical bars.

There is also another explanation that makes the sign derive from where "$"
is a corruption of the letters "PS" or PS, used as an abbreviation for pesos.

Alternative origin hypotheses

There are a number of alternative origin theories, with several degrees of

verifiability and academic acceptance.

From 'US'

That $ is a monogram of U and S, which was used as a mark on money

bags issued by the United States Mint. The letters U and S superimposed
resemble the historical double stroke "$" sign: the bottom of the 'U'
disappears into the bottom curve of the 'S', leaving two vertical lines. This
double-stroke dollar sign has been used to refer to the U.S. currency. Thus,
the one-stroke design may have been modified to the double-stroke design
to represent United States currency. This idea was largely popularized by
the novel Atlas Shrugged by philosopher Ayn Rand. It does not consider the
fact that the symbol was already in use in the time of the British Colonies,
when the term 'United States' did not exist yet.

From a symbol used on the Roman sestertius

That the dollar sign goes back to the most important Roman coin, the
Sestertius, which had the letters 'HS' as its currency sign. When
superimposed, these letters form a dollar sign with two vertical strokes (the
horizontal line of the 'H' merging into the 'S'). This explanation is widely
discarded, in spite of the tendency of neo-classic Roman Republic
influences in styles evident in other early US government designs, such as
the Capitol and Senate buildings.

The two pillars in the temple of Solomon

That the two vertical lines represent the two cult pillars Boaz and Jachin in
the original Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. This is based on the idea that
Masonic symbols, such as the All Seeing Eye of God, appear on U.S.
currency; however, they did not in 1785.

From a sign used on the German Thaler

That it derives from the symbol used on a German Thaler. According to

Ovason (2004), on one type of thaler, one side showed the crucified Christ,
and the other side showed a serpent hanging from a cross, and near the
serpent's head the letters NU, and on the other side of the cross the
number 21. This refers to the Bible, Numbers, chapter 21 (see Nehushtan).

Unit of Silver

The dollar symbol was in use in colonial times before the American
Revolution. Prices were often quoted in units of silver, as the Spanish
"piece of eight" was in common use for payment of goods and services.
When a price was quoted the capital 'S' was used to indicate silver with a
capital 'U' written on top to indicate units. Eventually, the capital 'U' was
replaced by double vertical hash marks.

Other theories

Another possibility is that it derives from the British notation 8/ for eight
shillings, referring to the Spanish 8 reales coin ("piece of eight"), which later
became the USA dollar. Others derive it from the Portuguese Cifrão sign #.

A common explanation is that the symbol is derived from the numeral eight
with a slash through it denoting "pieces of eight". The Oxford English
Dictionary prior to 1963 held that this was the most probable explanation,
though later editions have placed it in doubt.

Still another explanation holds that the dollar sign is derived from (or at
least inspired by) the mint mark on Spanish colonial silver coins ("real" or
"piece of eight") that were minted in Potosí (in present day Bolivia). The
mint mark was composed of the letters "PTSI" superimposed on one
another, and bears an undeniable resemblance to the single-stroke dollar
sign (see picture). The Potosí mine is generally accepted as having been
the largest single silver strike in history. Silver coins minted in Potosí would
have been in common use in colonial America, and its mint mark widely

First cast dollar symbol

According to a plaque in the burgh of St Andrews in Scotland, the first dollar

symbol was cast in a type-foundry in Philadelphia in 1797 that belonged to
Scottish immigrant John Baine. John Baine had lodged in a house in South
Street in St Andrews with Alexander Wilson, the father of Scottish type-

Use in computer programming

As the dollar sign is one of the few symbols that is on the one hand almost
universally present in computer character sets, but on the other hand rarely
needed in its literal meaning within programming languages, the $ character
has been used on computers for many purposes not related to money,

• $ was used as a string terminator in CP/M and subsequently also in

all versions of 86-DOS, PC-DOS, MS-DOS and derivatives (Int 21h
with AH=09h)
• $ signifies the end of a line or the file in text editors ed, ex, vi and
derivatives, and consequently:
• $ matches the end of a line or string in sed, grep, and POSIX and Perl
regular expressions.
• $ was used to define string variables in older versions of the BASIC
programming language ("$" was often pronounced "string" instead of
"dollar" in this use).
• $ is used to define hexadecimal constants in Pascal-like languages as
• $ is used to define variables in the PHP programming language and
scalar variables in the Perl programming language (see Sigil
(computer programming)).
• In the AutoIt automation script language, any variable is required to
have a $ at the beginning of its name.
• In most shell scripting languages, $ is used to interpolate environment
variables, special variables, arithmetic computations and special
characters, and to perform translation of localised strings.
• In UNIX-like systems the $ is often part of the command prompt,
depending on the user's shell and environment settings. For example,
the default environment settings for the bash shell specify $ as part of
the command prompt.
• $ is used in the TeX typesetting language to delimit mathematical
• $ is used by the prompt command in DOS to insert special sequences
into the DOS command prompt string.
• Formulas in Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheets use $ to indicate
an absolute cell reference.
Currencies that use the dollar or peso sign

In addition to those countries of the world that use dollars or pesos, a

number of other countries use the symbol $ to denote their currencies,
including, but not limited, to:

• Nicaraguan córdoba
• Tongan pa'anga

Except the Philippine peso, whose sign is written as #.

Some currencies use the cifrão #, similar to the dollar sign, but always with
two strokes:

• Brazilian real
• Cape Verde escudo
• Portuguese escudo (defunct)

The cifrão is also currently used to account for over 130,000,000 domestic
standard US Mint (1986+) bullion US silver dollars as one dollar per one
troy ounce fine (99.9%), thereby avoiding confusion with debased US trade
dollar-denominated tokens and Federal Reserve Notes.