America’s first silver dollar was actually Spanish…….
In early colonial times and even before the American Revolution, there was a chronic shortage of circulating coinage in the colonies. England forbade the early colonists to mint their own coins, forcing the settlers to barter or use foreign money to conduct business. It was commonplace during this time to use French, Dutch, German, English and Spanish currencies to conduct business.
From 1600 to 1792, the Spanish Milled Dollar or Pillar Dollar, became the most utilized money of the era and set the standard for future US coins. It is dubbed “America’s First Silver Dollar.” Minted in the silver-rich Spanish colonies of Mexico and Peru, these large, one ounce silver coins had a patterned edge to prevent dishonest merchants from “shaving” the edges. “Milled” refers to the fact that the coin blanks, or planchets, were made on a milling machine and were of consistent weight and size, perfect for the new economy. Merchants would either take the whole coin as tender or cut the coin into halves, quarters or eighths to “make change.”
It is believed the origins of the “$” symbol came from the column and stripes on the obverse of the coins. The obverse portrays the Pillars of Hercules surrounding crowned, conjoined globes and ocean waves below, hence the name “Pillar Dollar” and was valued at 8 reales or “Piece of eight.”
Thomas Jefferson even recommended to the Continental Congress on September 2, 1776 that the new country adopt the Spanish Pillar as a monetary unit of value. Years later in 1792, the coinage act created the
United States Mint. Ironically, our first U.S. dollars were not as popular as the Spanish dollars, which were heavier and made of finer silver. The Spanish Dollar was THE standard coinage in America and it remained legal tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857.
Information gathered in part by:
The Official Red Book. A Guide Book of United States Coins 2015.