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Where did that come from - Seeing dollar signs
Stan St. Clair

Well, once more the election is over and we must move forward. A lot of money was spent, especially by candidates for national offices. But this column is not political.

I am using this one in my column because it is something that I don’t think anyone else has taken the time to research where the saying started, and I believe I found it. I want to be the best and most accurate of anyone in this field, so if you ever prove that I am wrong about one, I have a prize for you!

Seeing dollar signs is a metaphor for looking at something only from the perspective of how much money it is worth.

The origin of the dollar sign itself is unclear. Some say that it started with the Bohemian thaler which features a snake and a Christian cross. Others say that it was a U and a S and stood for a unit of silver. The thing is that it just sort of came into use over the passage of time, showing up as a "dollar sign" in the 1770s on documents of English Americans having dealings with Spanish Americans. 

There is also a more credible belief that it came from the P for peso in multiples. One thousand pesos became Ps. Writing Ps many times the colonists merged the P and the S; then just lazily using the downward stroke for P, forming our dollar sign. Seeing when it first appeared, this makes sense.

The first printed dollar sign was made on the Philadelphia printing press in 1790, and was the work of an anti-English Scotsman, Archibald Binny. Soon it began appearing on currency.

Nevertheless, it would be over 100 years later before "seeing dollar signs’" became a figure of speech.

In the weekly New York publication, Judge, July 25, 1903, we see the beginning and likely the coining of this expression in "The Grafting Politician’s Idea of Washington":

“IF THE POLITICAL GRAFTER had the same eye for the artistic that he has for the dollar-sign he would be universally regarded as a genuine apostle of beauty. When the political grafter is struck violently on the nose he does not see stars — he sees dollar-signs. When he gazes upon a leopard he does not see spots — he sees dollar-signs.”

So if you can disprove my observation about the earliest use of this metaphor and you are seeing dollar signs, please let me know. I won’t pay you in dollars, but I will give you a copy of my best-selling original book on this subject!


If you have a phrase you would like to see featured here, please text Stan at 931-212-3303 or email him at