History of the nameDevelopment of use
In the 1500s, Count Hieronymus Schlick of Bohemia began minting coins known as Joachimstaler (from German thal, or nowadays usually Tal, “valley”, cognate with “dale” in English), named for Joachimstal, the valley where the silver was mined (St. Joachim’s Valley, now Jáchymov; then part of the Holy Roman Empire, now part of the Czech Republic). Joachimstaler was later shortened to taler, a word that eventually found its way into Danish, Swedish and Norwegian as daler, Dutch as daalder, Ethiopian as talari, Italian as tallero, Flemish as daelder, and English as dollar.
The name dollar is historically related to the bohemian tolar (16th century) and also the later Slovenian tolar (1991), daalder in the Netherlands, Reichsthaler in Germany, and daler in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. Guldiner can be traced to 1486 when Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol, a small state north of Venice, issued a dollar-sized coin which was referred to as a “Guldiner.” Silver supplies were small which limited coinage.
The German silver Thaler coins that were first minted in 1520 from silver taken from a mine at Joachimsthal, Bohemia, in the Holy Roman Empire. Not long after issuance, these coins gained the name Joachimsthalers. Subsequently, coins of similar size and weight were called Thaler, or dollar regardless of the issuing authority, and continued to be minted until 1872.
The Dutch lion dollar circulated throughout the Middle East and was imitated in several German and Italian cities. It was also popular in the Dutch East Indies as well as in the Dutch New Netherland Colony (New York). The lion dollar also has circulated throughout the Thirteen Colonies during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Examples circulating in the Colonies were usually fairly well worn so that the design was not fully distinguishable, thus they were sometimes referred to as “dog dollars.” This Dutch currency made its way to the U.S. east coast due to the increased trading by Dutch colonial ships with other nations. By the mid-1700s, it was replaced by the Spanish 8 reales.
The Spanish peso or pieces of eight (real de a ocho) also became known as the Spanish dollar in the English speaking world because of their similarity in size and weight to the German silver Thaler coins. It was worth eight reals (hence the nickname “pieces of eight”), and was widely circulated during the 18th century in the Spanish colonies in the New World, and in Spanish territories in Asia, namely in the Philippines. The use of the Spanish dollar and the Maria Theresa thaler as legal tender for the early United States and its fractions were the mainstay of commerce. They are many the reasons for the name of that nation’s currency. By the American Revolution in 1775, these Spanish coins became even more important. They backed paper money authorized by the individual colonies and the Continental Congress.
However, the word dollar was in use in the English language as slang or mis-pronunciation for the thaler for about 200 years before the American Revolution, with many quotes in the plays of Shakespeare referring to dollars as money. Spanish dollars were in circulation in the Thirteen Colonies that became the United States, and were legal tender in Virginia. These coins were the standard money then in use in the United States. On April 2, 1792, Alexander Hamilton, then the Secretary of the Treasury, made a report to Congress having scientifically determined the amount of silver in the Spanish Milled Dollar coins that were then in current use by the people. As a result of this report, the Dollar was defined as a unit of measure of 371 4/16th grains (24.057 grams) of pure silver or 416 grains of standard silver (standard silver being defined as 1,485 parts fine silver to 179 parts alloy). Therefore paper is not the dollar, instead, it is ‘worth’, not ‘is’, 1 dollar (US Silver certificate.) In section 20 of the Act, it is specified that the “money of account” of the United States shall be expressed in those same “dollars” or parts thereof. All of the minor coins were also defined in terms of percentages of the primary coin — the dollar — such that a half dollar contained 1/2 as much silver as a dollar, quarter dollars contained 1/4 as much, and so on.
Coins known as “Thistle dollars” were also in use in Scotland during the 17th century, and there is a claim that the use of the English word, and perhaps even the use of the coin, began at the University of St Andrews. This explains the sum of “Ten thousand dollars” mentioned in Macbeth (Act I, Scene II), although the real Macbeth, upon whom the play was based, lived in the 11th century, making the reference anachronistic; however anachronisms are not rare in Shakespeare’s work.
In the early 19th century, a British five-shilling piece, or crown, was sometimes called a “dollar,” probably because its appearance was similar to the Spanish dollar. This expression appeared again in the 1940s, when US troops came to the UK during World War II. At the time a US dollar was worth about 5s., so some of the US soldiers started calling it a dollar. Consequently, they called the half crown "half a dollar."
In an act passed in January, 1837, the alloy was changed to 11%, having the effect of containing the same amount of silver but being reduced in weight to 412 1/4 grains of standard silver which was changed to 90% pure and 11% alloy. On February 21, 1853 the amount of silver in the fractional coins was reduced so that it was no longer possible to combine the fractional coins to come up with the same amount of silver that was in the dollar.Countries currently using the dollar
Antigua and Barbuda, Australia and its external territories, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kiribati, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand and its external territories, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United States and its territories, Zimbabwe