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A 100 piastre note from French Indochina, circa 1954.
French Indochina Piastre 1885

The piastre or piaster refers to a number of units of currency. The term originates from the Italian for "thin metal plate". The name was applied to Spanish and Hispanic American pieces of eight, or pesos, by Venetian traders in the Levant in the 16th century.

These pesos, minted continually for centuries, were readily accepted by traders in many parts of the world. After the countries of Latin America had gained independence, pesos of Mexico began flowing in through the trade routes, and became prolific in the Far East, taking the place of the Spanish pieces of eight which had been introduced by the Spanish at Manila, and by the Portuguese at Malacca. When the French colonised Indochina, they began issuing the new French Indochinese piastre (piastre de commerce), which was equal in value to the familiar Spanish and Mexican pesos.

In the Ottoman Empire, successive currency reforms had reduced the value of the Ottoman piastre by the late 19th century so as to be worth about two pence (2d) sterling. Hence the name piastre referred to two distinct kinds of coins in two distinct parts of the world, both of which had descended from the Spanish pieces of eight.

Because of the debased values of the piastres in the Middle East, these piastres became subsidiary units for the Turkish, Cypriot, and Egyptian pounds. Meanwhile, in Indo-China, the piastre continued into the 1950s and was subsequently renamed the riel, the kip, and the dong in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam respectively.


  • As a main unit 1
  • As a sub-unit 2
  • Informal usage 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5

As a main unit

As a sub-unit

Informal usage

  • Early private bank currency issues in French-speaking regions of Canada were denominated in piastres. The term is still unofficially used in Quebec, Acadian, Franco-Manitoban, and Franco-Ontarian slang as a reference to the Canadian dollar (the official French term for the modern Canadian dollar is dollar"). When used colloquially in this way, the term is often pronounced and spelled "piasse" or "pee-ass" (pl. "piasses"). It was based on 120 units (sous), a quarter of which was "30 sous", which is also still in slang use when referring to 25 cents.
  • Piastre was also the original French word for the United States dollar, used for example in the French text of the Louisiana Purchase. Calling the US dollar a piastre is still common among the millions of speakers of Cajun French and New England French. Modern French uses dollar for this unit of currency as well. The term is still used as slang for US dollars in the French-speaking Caribbean islands, most notably Haiti.

Many newcomers to Canada, or Quebec mistakenly pronounce the term as "pièce" from "pièce de monnaie" (coin) but it is really pronounced as "piasse" in French (Canadian) or "pee-ass" in English pronunciation.

  • Piastre is another name for kuruş, 1/100 of the Turkish new lira, as well as the old lira.
  • The piastre is still used in Mauritius when bidding in auction sales, similarly to the way that guineas are used at racehorse auctions. It is equivalent to 2 rupees.

See also


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