Annuit cœptis

/ Providence has favored our undertakings /


Overwhelming power of dollar ($) symbolism. The word dollar comes from a Dutch coin, the leeuwen – daalder, or – in early modern Dutch – daler, a common silver coin in the American colonies in the 16th and 17th century, and itself a derivative of the German Thaler, the name given to coins first minted in 1520 from locally mined silver in Joachimsthal in Bohemia. The town now lies within the borders of the Czech republic and has the Czech name Jáchymov). Later on, dollar – the English transliteration of daler – was applied to similar coins, not only ones minted by the Dutch Republic or in central Europe, but also the Spanish peso and the Portuguese eight-real piece. Both of these large silver coins were practically identical in weight and fineness. Today the phrase “pieces of eight” is known from tales of pirates in the Caribbean.


According to Richard S. Patterson and Richardson Dougall, Annuit cœptis and the other motto on the reverse of the Great Seal, Novus ordo seclorum (meaning “new order of the ages”) can both be traced to lines by the Roman poet Virgil. Annuit cœptis comes from the Aeneid, book IX, line 625. It is a prayer by Ascanius, the son of the hero of the story, Aeneas, which translates to, “Jupiter Almighty, favour [my] bold undertakings”, just before slaying an enemy warrior Remulus, which reads:


Iuppiter omnipotens, audacibus adnue cœptis


On 15 January 1520, the Bohemian Count Hieronymus Schlick began minting coins known as Joachimsthaler, named for Joachimsthal, where the silver was mined. In German, thal or tal refers to a valley or dale. Joachimsthaler was later shortened in common usage to thaler and this shortened word eventually found its way into other languages too.

The sign is first attested in business correspondence in the 1770s as a scribal abbreviation ps, referring to the Spanish American peso, that is, the “Spanish dollar” as it was known in British North America. It gradually came to be written over the p developing a close equivalent to the “$” mark, and this new symbol was retained to refer to the American dollar as well, once this currency was adopted. On April 2, 1792, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton reported to Congress the precise amount of silver found in Spanish dollar coins in common use in the states. As a result, the United States dollar was defined as a unit of pure silver weighing 24.057 grams, or 416 grains of standard silver. Additionally, all lesser-denomination coins were defined as percentages of the dollar coin, such that a half-dollar was to contain half as much silver as a dollar, quarter-dollars would contain one-fourth as much, and so on.

The many remarkable interpositions of the divine government, in the hours of our deepest distress and darkness, have been too luminous to suffer me to doubt the happy issue of the present contest.

(March 26, 1781)



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