Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘almighty dollar’

Holey Dollar

Posted by Admin on January 15, 2015

Just as the expressions almighty dollar and holy moley exist, Idiomation wondered if anyone had ever used the expression holey dollar.  As luck would have it, such an expression existed although it’s never transitioned into idiomatic language.  Still, the history of the term is intriguing, and who knows?  Maybe someday, holey dollar will find its rightful place in the English language!

Here’s the scoop on the holey dollar.

In 1812, Prince Edward Island (Canada) found itself with a severe currency shortage.  To resolve the situation, the Governor decided to have all the Spanish dollars gathered, and to have the centers punched out to create two coins.  Since the Spanish dollar was in constant circulation in Eastern Canada and the United States, this solution to the currency problem made sense to the Governor, and it became the official currency of Prince Edward Island.

The smaller coin was known as the Dump, and was worth 15 pence.   The outer rim was known as the Holey dollar, and was worth 5 shillings.

The term (and the practice) was also adopted in New South Wales a year later, and was one of the first coins said to be struck in Australia.  In the case of New South Wales, the government accepted shipment of $40,000 Spanish dollars which was delivered by the HSM Samarang.  The governor of New South Wales had convicted forger, William Henshall cut the centers out of the coins and counterstamp them (which took over a year to complete).

Like in Canada, the smaller coin was known as the Dump, and was worth 15 pence.   The outer rim was known as the Holey dollar, and was worth 5 shillings.

You’re probably thinking this is all made up and an early April Fool’s joke, but it’s not!  This is historically accurate information here.

In May 1903, there was a magazine published titled, “Old Times:  An Unique Illustrated History of the Early Days” wherein general reminiscences of early colonists were published.  In one such instance, the following was found in one such reminiscence.

We tossed up as to who should pay for the drinks, and when the coin reached the ground it knocked three dumps out of the dust.  At that time the chief coin in circulation was the Spanish dollar, or Holey dollar.  The dollar had a value of five shillings, and with a view of increasing the currency the bead or dump was cut out, which then had a value of 1s, 3d., while the ring retained its old value of five shillings, thus giving a total value of 6s, 3d. for each Spanish dollar.

Sadly enough, the holey dollar didn’t have much staying power in either Prince Edward Island or New South Wales and just a few years later, the holey dollar was called back in and discontinued as accepted currency.

You might be thinking to yourself that Idiomation is stretching the truth with that last statement.  That’s historically accurate information as well.

The following was reported in the “Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time Containing the History of Australia from 1542 to May 1879” by John Henniker Heaton and published in May 1879.  In the chapter on currency, the following was included:

Gazette notice appeared, officially prohibiting the further use of the holey dollar and the dump, a large amount of British coin having been received, and put in circulation, August 15, 1829.

Now for those readers who are interested in knowing more about the Spanish dollar, it was known in Spain as the peso of eight reales, or the piece of eight.  The concept of the peso of eight reales was still part of our commerce up until April 9, 2001 when the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered all American stock markets to report prices and stocks using the decimal system.  Up until that date, prices and trades were reported in fractions of eight as a result of the peso of eight reales.

No kidding!

Because the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was established over 200 years ago, trades were based on base-eight dominations thanks to the peso of eight reales.  Each fraction was worth 12.5 cents and that became known as the spread (the smallest amount a stock could change in value).  Before the system was discontinued in favor of the decimal system, the smallest fraction permitted was one-sixteenth, or 6.25 cents.

Knowing this, doesn’t it make you wonder if there’s another tie in with those low-priced, small-cap stocks known as penny stocks?

It also might make some wonder if this wasn’t the concept upon which the Canadian loonies and toonies were based.

And doesn’t it make you wonder why the almighty dollar caught on but the holey dollar hasn’t caught on yet?

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Almighty Dollar

Posted by Admin on January 13, 2015

When someone views material goods and possessions as more valuable than anything else in life, it’s said that the person has placed his or her faith in the almighty dollar.  It can also mean that the person in question feels that his or her financial worth makes him or her more powerful than anyone else with whom he or she comes into contact.

Ozzy Osbourne liked the phrase so much that back in 2007, he used it in his song “Almighty Dollar” on his album, “Black Rain.”

When Charles Dickens wrote “American Notes For General Circulation” in 1842, he made sure to include the almighty dollar in Chapter III entitled, “Boston.”  The passage wasn’t complimentary towards Boston or Bostonians in the least.  In fact, the author wrote that the influences and tendencies which he distrusted in America may have been only his personal views on the country, but he was also just as quick to add that perhaps he wasn’t mistaken at all in his summation of the country.

The fact of the matter is that, contrary to how it may seem in his book, Charles Dickens loved America and its people.  In fact, in the Preface to this book he wrote:

Prejudiced, I am not, and never have been, otherwise than in favour of the United States. I have many friends in America, I feel a grateful interest in the country, I hope and believe it will successfully work out a problem of the highest importance to the whole human race. To represent me as viewing AMERICA with ill-nature, coldness, or animosity, is merely to do a very foolish thing: which is always a very easy one.

However, when it came to writing about Boston, he was just as quick to remark the following:

It was a source of inexpressible pleasure to me to observe the almost imperceptible, but not less certain effect, wrought by this institution among the small community of Boston; and to note at every turn the humanising tastes and desires it has engendered; the affectionate friendships to which it has given rise; the amount of vanity and prejudice it has dispelled. The golden calf they worship at Boston is a pigmy compared with the giant effigies set up in other parts of that vast counting-house which lies beyond the Atlantic; and the almighty dollar sinks into something comparatively insignificant, amidst a whole Pantheon of better gods.

When American author Washington Irving — author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” — first visited Louisiana’s bayou country, the approach to life the people exhibited was one that appealed to Irving.  This easy-going way the people had became the basis for his story, “The Creole Village” published in the November 12, 1836 edition of Knickerbocker Magazine.

As we swept away from the shore, I cast back a wistful eye upon the moss-grown roofs and ancient elms of the village, and prayed that the inhabitants might long retain their happy ignorance, their absence of all enterprise and improvement, their respect for the fiddle, and their contempt for the almighty dollar.

It’s true that Edward Bulwer-Lytton added to Washington Irving’s idiom, by stretching the idiom out to become the “pursuit of the almighty dollar” as is seen in his novel “The Coming Race” published in 1871.

But Washington Irving can’t take full credit for the idiom, the spirit of which is found in English playwright, poet, and literary critic, Ben Jonson’s “The Forest” published in 1616, an older version of the idiom is found in the “Epistle To Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland” where Madam begins by saying:

Whilst that for which all virtue now is sold,
And almost every vice, almighty gold,
That which, to boot with hell, is thought worth heaven

Even then, the phrase already implied what it means in today’s terms.  However, the phrase goes back even further than that with regards to Ben Jonson (11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637) — a literary rival of William Shakespeare.  He used the very same line as in a letter to the Countess of Rutland in 1599 as he did in the epistle written 17 years later. Elizabeth was the Countess of Rutland from March 1599 — when she married Roger Manners,5th Earl of Rutland — until her death in 1612.

Whilst that for which all virtue now is sold, and almost every vice — almighty gold.

From a historical perspective, it was after the Crusades (1095 to 1291) that gold began to climb within economies as the price for all commodities was measured by gold.  To this end, gold signed power in that whoever had the gold, held the power regardless of whether it was a King or a merchant.  This led to people perceiving gold as being powerful … all-powerful … even almighty.  Some even worshipped gold as much, if not more than, God Almighty.

So while Washington Irving may have been the first make mention of the almighty dollar, the spirit has been used by generations going back to at least the 13th century.  The religious overtone that seems to be part of the idiom is incidental, as commerce has shown.

Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »