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Mathematical Treasure: Chauncey Lee's American Accomptant

Author(s): 
Sidney J. Kolpas (Delaware County Community College)

Chauncey Lee’s 1797 The American Accomptant, a guide for accounting, is known for early printed appearances of a dollar symbol and of a United States coin—the Grand Committee of the Continental Congress adopted the dollar as the unit of American money in 1785, and the United States Mint struck its first coins in 1793. Lee's frontispiece depicts several important international coins of the day, including a 1795 American Eagle. The Eagle, whose value was 10 dollars,was the largest gold coin of the United States at that time.

Frontispiece and title page of Chauncey Lee's 1797 American Accomptant.

Title page and frontispiece of Lee’s The American Accomptant, from the collection of Dr. Sid Kolpas.

Numerous myths for the origin of the dollar sign exist. As Florian Cajori (1925, pp. 16–29), Eric P. Newman (1993), and scholars in between have argued, Lee listed symbols for the cent, dime, dollar, and eagle on page 56, but the symbol he gave for the dollar is not the "S" with two vertical lines through it that became standard after 1800 and that already existed in North and South American manuscripts. (See, for example, page 87 of the 1807 4th edition of Daniel Adams's Scholar's Arithmetic.) His scheme of multiple symbols was not adopted by any other authors. Rather, Newman places the first appearance in print of the conventional dollar sign in Philadelphia in 1799 and provides examples of several forms of handwritten symbols.

Page 56 of Chauncey Lee's 1797 American Accomptant.

References

Cajori, Florian. 1928. A History of Mathematical Notations.Vol. 1. Reissued reprint, Mineola, NY: Dover, 2011.

Newman, Eric P. 1995. The Dollar $ign: Its Written and Printed Origins. In America's Silver Dollars, edited by John M. Kleeberg, proceedings of the 1993 Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society (vol. 9). American Numismatic Society. http://numismatics.org/digitallibrary/ark:/53695/nnan71059.

Timeline of the United States Mint. 2017. https://www.usmint.gov/learn/history/timeline-of-the-united-states-mint.

Index to Mathematical Treasures 
 

Sidney J. Kolpas (Delaware County Community College), "Mathematical Treasure: Chauncey Lee's American Accomptant," Convergence (September 2019)

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