The Origins Of Common Currency Symbols

Ever wonder how our currencies got the specific symbols that they have? While you may have never questioned where these signs come from, their origins are a fascinating look into financial and etymological history. 

The "Greenback"

The roots of the ($) dollar can be traced back to Spain. In 1785, the United States began using its currency and modeled it after that of Spain. Different theories surround the exact origin of the $, but some experts have labeled the sign as an abbreviation for the word "peso." Pesos was expressed as "ps" and transformed into the "S" with one line through it as a short version of the "p."

One other theory proposes the double stroke version represents an acronym for the United States by placing a short-hand "U" atop the "S."

Euro

The (€) euro is the youngest currency on our list, but the second youngest symbol, and it took a long time to come about. The euro became the only currency in member states in 2002. However, its origin can be traced to the Maastricht Treaty of 1991. As for the euro sign's origin, designers submitted their ideas, and a winner was determined by way of polling and an eventual choice made by the European Commission. The Commission released a statement saying the Greek symbol epsilon inspired the sign for the euro. Epsilon is an "E" in English, representing the first letter of the word "Europe." The parallel lines across the epsilon are to certify the stability of the currency.

The Pound Sterling 

Even though Great Britain was part of the European Union for decades and is now in the process of brexiting, the pound is still around. The origins of the (£) pound sign can be linked back to "libra," the Latin term for scales or balances.

Theories abound on the origin of the term "pound sterling," but one point most currency experts agree on is the connection to weight and silver. The title seems quite fitting as the original British pound was designed as one pound of pure silver.

The Japanese Yen

The yen was adopted as Japan's official currency in May 1871. Like many other countries, the roots of the currency lie in silver. The (¥) yen was originally designed to weigh approximately 24.26 grams of pure silver or 1.5 grams of pure gold. Currently, yen coins are made of aluminum.

The word "yen" is pronounced as "en" in Japanese. Yen translates to "round object," describing the shape of coins used by other countries. The "Y" used in the yen symbol may have been adopted due to the propensity of foreigners to pronounce the word "en" with a "y" preceding it.

The "Swissie"

The Swiss (CHF) franc made its debut in 1798. Numerous governing bodies were manufacturing the currency until, eventually, the federal government intervened. In 1848, the federal government deemed itself the only entity permitted to manufacture currency. The franc became the official currency of Switzerland in 1850.

Years ago, France was probably the country most often associated with francs, but now the Swiss franc is the only franc still issued. A franc is equal to 100 centimes, the French equivalent of the word "cent."

The Swedish Krona

Krona (kr) means "crown" in Swedish. The krona was adopted as Sweden's official currency in 1873. Sweden kept things simple by using "kr" as the currency's symbol. The original krona was worth 1/2480 kilograms of pure gold. Since then, kronor (plural for krona) contents have included several metals such as tin, iron, copper, and silver.

The Australian Dollar

The Australian ($) dollar is also a young currency. It was introduced in its current form in 1966 after conversion from the use of pounds. Several names were proposed for the new currency, including the "boomer," the "kanga" and the "roo." Robert Menzies, then prime minister, wanted to call the currency the "royal," but he lost the naming battle.

The Canadian Dollar

Canada is another nation that swapped pounds for ($) dollars. In 1841, one Canadian pound was equal to four U.S. dollars. Recently, the Canadian dollar and the U.S. dollar have been trading at or near par. Several provinces had different currencies, so the federal government stepped in in 1871 to establish unity.

The Canadian dollar is often denoted as C$ to differentiate it from other dollar denominations.

The Indian Rupee

The (₹) Rupee is one of the oldest currencies in the world, with origins tracing back to the 6th century BCE. Interestingly, the currency never had a symbol until one was introduced in 2010. Before then, it was common to use Rs or Re when referring to rupees. The symbol was chosen after a contest between Indian citizens. 

The symbol has meaning imbued within it. For instance, the parallel lines at the top are a reference to the tricolor Indian flag. At the same time, it is designed to fit right alongside its famous brothers, easy to draw and understand like the dollar and euro signs. 

Conclusion

They say money doesn't pay, but what kind of money depends on what country you are in. Currency values may not be stable, but the currencies themselves have a habit of staying put.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "FAQs: Symbolism." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  2. European Union. "History and Purpose of the Euro." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  3. European Union. "Design of the Euro." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  4. World Economic Forum. "A Short History of the British Pound." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  5. Japan Mint. "What Is the Origin of the Yen Unit of Japanese Currency?" Accessed Oct. 23, 2020.

  6. Japan Mint. "History of Japanese Coins." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  7. Japan Mint. "Circulating Coin Designs." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  8. Swiss Mint. "The 160 Years of Swiss Franc." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  9. National Bureau of Economic Research. "Swedish Experience Under the Classical Gold Standard: 1873-1931," Page 367. Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  10. Royal Australian Mint. "Journey to an Australian Currency," Pages 3-4. Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  11. Royal Australian Mint. "What's in a Name?" Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  12. Bank of Canada. "A History of the Canadian Dollar," Pages 21, 27. Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  13. Reserve Bank of India. "Indian Coinage." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

  14. Reserve Bank of India. "Republic India Issues." Accessed Oct. 22, 2020.

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