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Dollar sign

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Dollar sign

Dollar sign

The dollar sign or peso sign ($ or ) is a symbol primarily used to indicate the various peso and dollar units of currency around the world. The symbol can interchangeably have one or two vertical strokes. Note that while the two-stroked version is visually identical to the cifrão, it is not the same symbol.


  • Origin 1
  • Alternative origin hypotheses 2
    • Drawn with one vertical line ($) 2.1
      • Slash 8 2.1.1
      • Spanish pieces of eight 2.1.2
      • Greek mythology 2.1.3
    • Drawn with two vertical lines 2.2
      • Spanish coat of arms 2.2.1
      • From "U.S." 2.2.2
      • "Unit of silver" 2.2.3
      • German thaler 2.2.4
      • Roman sestertius 2.2.5
  • Later history 3
  • Use in computer software 4
    • Encoding 4.1
    • Programming languages 4.2
    • Operating systems 4.3
    • Applications 4.4
  • Currencies that use the dollar or peso sign 5
  • Other uses 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9


Dollar symbol evolution
Evolution of the dollar sign according to the best documented hypothesis (top) and one alternative hypothesis (bottom)

The sign is first attested in British, American, Canadian, Mexican and other Spanish American business correspondence in the 1770s, referring to the Spanish American peso,[1][2] also known as "Spanish dollar" or "piece of eight" in British North America, which provided the model for the currency that the United States later adopted in 1785 and the larger coins of the new Spanish American republics such as the Mexican peso, Peruvian eight-real and Bolivian eight-sol coins.

The best documented explanation holds that the sign evolved out of the Spanish and Spanish American scribal abbreviation "pˢ" for pesos. A study of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century manuscripts shows that the s gradually came to be written over the p, developing into a close equivalent to the "$" mark.[3][4][5][6][7] A variation, though less plausible, of this hypothesis derives the sign from a combination of the Greek character "psi" (ψ) and "S".[8]

Alternative origin hypotheses

There are a number of other hypotheses about the origin of the symbol, some with a measure of academic acceptance, others the symbolic equivalent of false etymologies.[9]

Drawn with one vertical line ($)

Slash 8

One hypothesis is that the dollar sign is derived from a slash through the numeral eight, denoting pieces of eight.

Spanish pieces of eight

Image of a 1768 Spanish Colonial Real silver coin, showing the PTSI mint mark in the lower right and left quadrants and the Pillars of Hercules surrounding a picture of the world.

Another hypothesis is that the dollar sign was derived from or inspired by the mint mark on the Spanish pieces of eight that were minted in Potosí (in present-day Bolivia). The mint mark, composed of the letters "PTSI" superimposed, bears a strong resemblance to the single-stroke dollar sign (see photo). The mark, which appeared on silver coins minted from 1573 to 1825 in Potosí, the largest mint during the colonial period, would have been widely recognized throughout the North American colonies.

Alternatively, the $ symbol derives from the scroll on the pillar, on the reverse of the "pillar dollar" variety of pieces of eight.

Greek mythology

Another hypothesis is that the dollar sign may have also originated from Hermes, the Greek god of bankers, thieves, messengers, and tricksters. One of his symbols was the caduceus, a staff from which ribbons or snakes dangled in a sinuous curve.. Some esoteric historians believe the dollar sign is a variation of the name of the Egyptian goddess Isis. Isis is often associated with the goddess Ceres as well as Virgo; at the Federal Reserve building there is a statue of Virgo holding a caduceus.

Drawn with two vertical lines

Several alternative hypotheses relate specifically to the dollar sign drawn with two vertical lines.

Spanish coat of arms

The Pillars of Hercules with a small "S" shaped ribbon around in the City of Seville, Spain (16th Century).

A common hypothesis holds that the sign derives from the Spanish coat of arms, which showed the Pillars of Hercules with a banner curling between them.

In 1492, Ferdinand II of Aragon adopted the symbol of the Pillars of Hercules and added the Latin warning Non plus ultra meaning "nothing further beyond", indicating "this is the end of the (known) world". But when Christopher Columbus came to America, the legend was changed to Plus ultra, meaning "further beyond".

The symbol was adopted by Charles V and was part of his coat of arms representing Spain's American possessions. The symbol was later stamped on coins minted in gold and silver. These coins, depicting the Pillars over two hemispheres and a small "S"-shaped ribbon around each, were spread throughout America, Europe and Asia. According to this hypothesis, traders wrote signs that, instead of saying dollar or peso, had this symbol made by hand, and this in turn evolved into a simple S with two vertical bars.

From "U.S."

A dollar sign with two vertical lines could have started off as a monogram of 'USA', used on money bags issued by the United States Mint. The letters U and S superimposed resemble the historical double-stroke dollar sign : the bottom of the 'U' disappears into the bottom curve of the 'S', leaving two vertical lines. It is postulated from the papers of Dr. James Alton James, a professor of history at Northwestern University from 1897 to 1935, that the symbol with two strokes was an adapted design of the patriot Oliver Pollock in 1778.[10] Oliver Pollock was such a zealous patriot – known as the "Financier of the Revolution in the West" – that conjecture does not overstep its bounds in purporting this hypothesis as viable.[11]

"Unit of silver"

Another hypothesis is that it derives from "unit of silver", each unit being one "bit" of the "pieces of eight". Before the American Revolution, prices were often quoted in units of the Spanish dollar. According to this hypothesis, 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.

German thaler

Another hypothesis is 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 while the other showed a serpent hanging from a cross, the letters NU near the serpent's head, and on the other side of the cross the number 21. This refers to the Bible, Numbers, Chapter 21 (see Nehushtan)..

A similar symbol, constructed by superposition of "S" and "I" or "J", was used to denote German Joachimsthaler ("S" and "J" standing for St. Joachim who gave his name to the place where the first thalers were minted). It was known in the English-speaking world by the 17th century, appearing in 1686 edition of An Introduction to Merchants' Accounts by John Collins.[12]

Roman sestertius

There is a hypothesis 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').

Later history

Robert Morris was the first to use that symbol in official documents and in official communications with Oliver Pollock. The US Dollar was directly based on the Spanish Milled Dollar when, in the Coinage Act of 1792, the first Mint Act, its value was "fixed" (per the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, clause 1 power of the United States Congress "To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures") as being "of the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is now current, and to contain three hundred and seventy-one grains and four sixteenth parts of a grain of pure, or four hundred and sixteen grains of standard silver".

According to a plaque in St Andrews, Scotland, the dollar sign was first cast into type at a foundry in Philadelphia, United States in 1797 by the Scottish immigrant John Baine.

The plaque in St. Andrews.

The dollar sign did not appear on U.S. coinage until February 2007, when it was used on the reverse of a $1 coin authorized by the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005.[13]

The dollar sign appears as early as 1847 on the $100 Mexican War notes and the reverse of the 1869 $1000 United States note.[14][15] The dollar sign also appears on the reverse of the 1934 $100,000[16] note.

Use in computer software

The dollar sign is one of the few symbols that are almost universally present in computer character sets but rarely needed in its literal meaning within computer software. As a result, the character has been used on computers for many purposes unrelated to money.[17] Its uses in programming languages have often influenced or provoked its uses in operating systems, and applications.


The dollar sign "$" has Unicode code point U+0024 (inherited from Latin-1).

  • U+0024  $  dollar sign (HTML $)

There are no separate characters for one and two line variants. This is font dependent.

There are also three other codepoints that originate from other East Asian standards: the Taiwanese small form variant, the CJK fullwidth form, and the Japanese emoji. The glyphs for these codepoints are typically larger or smaller than the primary codepoint, but the difference is mostly aesthetic or typographic, and the meanings of the symbols are the same.

  • U+FE69  ﹩  small dollar sign (HTML )
  • U+FF04  $  full-width dollar sign (HTML )
  • U+1F4B2    heavy dollar sign (HTML 💲)

However, for usage as the special character in various computing applications (see following sections), U+0024 is typically the only code that is recognized.

Programming languages

  • $ was used for defining string variables in older versions of the BASIC language ("$" was often pronounced "string" instead of "dollar" in this use).[17]
  • $ is used for defining hexadecimal constants in Pascal-like languages such as Delphi, and in some variants of assembly language.[17]
  • $ is prefixed to names to define variables in the PHP language and the AutoIt automation script language, scalar variables in the Perl language (see sigil (computer programming)), and global variables in the Ruby language.[17] In Perl programming this includes scalar elements of arrays $array[7] and hashes $hash{foo}.
  • In most shell scripting languages, $ is used for interpolating environment variables, special variables, arithmetic computations and special characters, and for performing translation of localised strings.[17]
  • $ is used in the ALGOL 68 language to delimit transput format regions.
  • $ is used in the TeX typesetting language to delimit mathematical regions.[17]
  • In many versions of FORTRAN 66, $ could be used as an alternative to a quotation mark for delimiting strings.[17]
  • In PL/M, $ can be used to put a visible separation between words in compound identifiers. For example, 'Some$Name' refers to the same thing as 'SomeName'.[17]
  • In Haskell, $ is used as a function application operator.[17]
  • In several JavaScript frameworks starting with Prototype.js and also popular in jQuery, $ is a common utility class.
  • In ASP.NET, the dollar sign used in a tag in the web page indicates an expression will follow it. The expression that follows is .NET language-agnostic, as it will work with c#,, or any CLR supported language.
  • In Erlang, the dollar sign precedes character literals. The dollar sign as a character can be written $$.
  • In COBOL the $ sign is used in the Picture clause to depict a floating currency symbol as the left most character. The default symbol is $ however if the CURRENCY= or CURRENCY SIGN clause is specified, any single symbol can be used.
  • In Microsoft Macro Assembler (MASM) the $ sign is used to terminate a string literal, the way NUL (00) is used in the C language.
  • In some assembly languages like MIPS, the $ sign is used to represent registers.
  • In Honeywell 6000 series assembler, the $ sign, when used as an address, meant the address of the instruction in which it appeared.

Operating systems

  • In CP/M and subsequently in all versions of DOS (86-DOS, MS-DOS, PC DOS, more) and derivatives, $ is used as a string terminator (Int 21h with AH=09h).[17]
    • $ is used by the prompt command to insert special sequences into the DOS command prompt string.[17]
  • In Microsoft Windows, $ is used at the end of the share name to hide a shared folder. For example, \\server\share is accessible and visible through browsing, while \\server\share$ is accessible only by explicit reference. Most administrative shares are hidden.[17]
  • 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.
    The using history expansion !$ (same as !!1$ and !-1$) means the last argument of the previous command in bash: !-2$ expands to the last argument of the penultimate command, !5$ expands into the last argument of the fifth command and so on. For example:
> touch my_first_file
> echo "This is my file." > !$
where !$ expands into my_first_file.
  • In the LDAP directory access protocol, $ is used as a line separator in various standard entry attributes such as postalAddress.[17]
  • In the UNIVAC EXEC 8 operating system, "$" meant "system." It was appended to entities such as the names of system files, the "sender" name in messages sent by the operator, and the default names of system-created files (like compiler output) when no specific name was specified (e.g., TPF$, NAME$, etc.)


  • Microsoft Excel[18] and other spreadsheet software use the dollar sign ($) to denote an absolute cell reference.
  • $ matches the end of a line or string in sed, grep, and POSIX and Perl regular expressions, and, as a result:[17]
  • $ signifies the end of a line or the file in text editors ed, ex, vi, pico and derivatives.[17]

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:

An exception is the Philippine peso, whose sign is written as .

The dollar sign is also still sometimes used to represent the Malaysian ringgit (which replaced the local dollar), though its official use to represent the currency has been discontinued since 1993.

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

In Mexico and other peso-using countries, the cifrão is used as a dollar sign when a document uses pesos and dollars at the same time, to avoid confusions, but, when it used alone, usually is represented as US $ (United States dollars). Example: US $5 (five US dollars).

However, in Argentina, the $ sign is always used for pesos, and if they want to indicate dollars, they always write U$S 5 or US$5 (5 US dollars).

In the United States, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Pacific Island nations, and English-speaking Canada, the dollar or peso symbol precedes the number, unlike most currency symbols. Five dollars or pesos is written and printed as $5, whereas five cents is written as 5¢. In French-speaking Canada, the dollar symbol usually appears after the number (5$), although it sometimes appears in front of it, or instead may even be totally absent.

Other uses

The dollar sign is also used in library cataloging to represent subsections.

Also, it is used derisively to indicate greed or excess money such as in "Lar$ Ulrich", "Di$ney", "Chel$ea" and "GW$"; or supposed overt Americanization as in "$ky". The dollar sign is also used intentionally to stylize names such as A$AP Rocky, Ke$ha and Ty Dolla $ign or words such as ¥€$. In 1872, Ambrose Bierce referred to the California Governor as $tealin' ₤andford.

In Scrabble notation, a dollar sign is placed after a word to indicate that it is valid according to the North American word lists, but not according to the British word lists.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Lawrence Kinnaird (July 1976). "The Western Fringe of Revolution", The Western Historical Quarterly 7(3), 259.
  2. ^ "Origin of Dollar Sign is Traced to Mexico",  
  3. ^ Florian Cajori ([1929]1993). A History of Mathematical Notations (Vol. 2), 15–29.
  4. ^ Arthur S. Aiton and Benjamin W. Wheeler (May 1931). "The First American Mint", The Hispanic American Historical Review 11(2), 198 and note 2 on 198.
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Riesco Terrero, Ángel (1983). Diccionario de abreviaturas hispanas de los siglos XIII al XVIII: Con un apendice de expresiones y formulas juridico-diplomaticas de uso corriente. Salamanca: Imprenta Varona, 350. ISBN 84-300-9090-8
  7. ^ Bureau of Engraving and Printing. What is the origin of the $ sign?' in FAQ Library"'". Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  8. ^ Note On Our Dollar Sign. Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct., 1939), p. 57
  9. ^ F. Cajori discusses the origins of the slash-8, the Potosi mint mark, the Pillars of Hercules, the "U.S.", the Roman sestertius, and the Boaz and Jachin hypotheses and discounts them in A History of Mathematical Notations (Vol. 2), 15–20.
  10. ^ James, James Alton (1970) [1937]. Oliver Pollock: The Life and Times of an Unknown Patriot. Freeport: Books for Libraries Press. p. 356.  
  11. ^ James, James Alton (1929). "'Oliver Pollock, Financier of the Revolution in the West'.". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 
  12. ^ Florence Edler de Roover. Concerning the Ancestry of the Dollar Sign. - Bulletin of the Business Historical Society. Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1945), pp. 63-64
  13. ^ Pub. L. No. 109-145, 119 Stat. 2664 (Dec. 22, 2005).
  14. ^ Cuhaj, p. 100, 321–22
  15. ^ Large denominations of United States currency#.241.2C000 bill
  16. ^ Large denominations of United States currency#.24100.2C000 bill
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Dollar Sign ($)" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-03-28.  (Note: this paper essentially reproduces an older version of this WorldHeritage article.)
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Scrabble Glossary". Tucson Scrabble Club. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 


  • – contains section on the history of the dollar sign, with much documentary evidence supporting the "pesos" hypothesis.  
  • Cuhaj, George (2009). Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money. Krause Publications, 28th Ed.  
  • Ovason, David (2004-11-30). The Secret Symbols of the Dollar Bill. Harper Paperbacks (reprint).  
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