January 2


According to Mr. P.J. Conkwright, typographer to Princeton University, the first use, to his knowledge, of the type-cast dollar sign ($) occurred in the year 1802 on this date. The vehicle of this typographic innovation was William Duane’s Philadelphia Aurora, in which appeared a Treasury Department report by Abraham Alphonse Albert Gallatin, the brilliant Swiss immigrant who was then Secretary of the Treasury in the cabinet of Thomas Jefferson.

The dollar mark used by Duane’s sheet was cast by the Philapdelphia typefounding firm of Binny & Ronaldson, but for a number of years its use as infrequent, primarily because most residents of the young United State continued to express their monetary demands in terms of pounds and shillings. Apparently Binny & Ronaldson, as canny Scotsmen, considered the new mark to have little marketable value, for they did not show it in their specimen book of 1812, a volume which is distinctive as the first American specimen book to show fonts of type. In the 1816 edition, however, ten sizes were listed, from non-areil to seven-line pica.

After 1812 all American foundries offered the dollar sign. The Binny & Ronaldson design, which was originally cast in a single size, to be used with pica type, was drawn as the capital S, with two thin lines crossing the letter at a forty-five degree angle. This would seem to cast doubts upon a long-held opinion that the two lines were originally upright to form a U, supposedly expressing the initials of the United States. Another theory is that the sign derived from teh Spanish piece of eight, the earliest currency of the conquistadors.

Thomas MacKellar, the great American typefounder and head of the firm of MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, a successor of Binny & Ronaldson, wrote the history of his establishment in 1896 under the title, 1796-1896, One Hundred Years, MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan Foundry. He stated here that Binny & Ronaldson first began to manufacture the dollar mark in 1797 and used it in their own ledgers during that year.

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