Monetary denominations

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Fri Mar 9 09:50:35 UTC 2001

Charles Wells wrote:
> >Another piece of monetary/linguistic trivia:
> >     The US penny reads "ONE CENT"
> >     The US nickel reads "FIVE CENTS"
> >     The US quarter reads "QUARTER DOLLAR"
> >What denomination is specified on the US dime?  "ONE DIME"

"One dime", in U.S. coinage, is a variant of "one disme".  The word
"disme", in its turn, is a variant of "diesmo", Spanish for "one tenth".

The words "one dime" on a U.S. coin obscure a meaning that would have
been perfectly transparent when the U.S. was founded.  The early U.S.
inventory of coins included both a quarter dollar and a half dollar.
"One dime", in context, meant "one tenth" *of a dollar*.

The reason a Spanish word turns up on a U.S. coin is that there was a
dire shortage of coins in circulation when the nation was founded. This
functional vacuum sucked in coins from anywhere they could be found.

The first mint in the Americas was founded in Mexico, and the abundance
of silver from colonial-epoch mines led to the creation of prodigious
quantities of Spanish royal coins -- "reales". Many of those
Mexican-made Spanish coins ended up in circulation in the U.S.

A notable feature of the Spanish real was that its design made for easy
subdivision of the coin into eight segments.  Those were the "pieces of
eight" of pirate fame.  The segments of a coin were called "bits", hence
a quarter (of a "Spanish dollar") was equivalent to two bits.  That
equivalence is preserved in colloquial U.S. references to some amounts
less than a dollar: two bits, four bits, six bits, etc.

The Mexico City mint also produced decimal coinage, including a coin
worth one-tenth of their reales -- one diesmo.  Some of those coins
became the first dimes in circulation in the infant U.S.

The shortage of coins in the earliest years of U.S. independence from
Britain led to the establishment of the first mint in the U.S.  I
believe that the first coin
produced was the "half disme" of 1792, worth five hundredths of a dollar
("five cents" meaning "five hundredths").

-- mike salovesh   <salovesh at>   PEACE !!!

IN MEMORIAM: Margaret Lynn Salovesh ("Peggy"), 25 January 1932-3 March

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