Who would have thought that the American currency has been named for an ancient Bohemian currency?! Wait! Where is the Germanism in this, you might ask. The Bohemia region has a truly colorful history of belonging here and there, also with a very dominant history of German and Jewish influences. Which means that the term was created by somebody of Hapsburg origins. What matters is that, whether Bohemia was ruled by Hapsburg (Austria) or Germany, the language spoken in this case was German.
Joachimsthal (pronounce yo-‘a-hims-tull) used to be a town near Karlsbad, Bohemia, and that is where a specific coin was minted, the Joachimsthaler. That by itself means nothing more or less than “originating in Joachimsthal”. The counts of Schlick in Joachimsthal minted silver because that made it more valuable than it was in its unminted state; they even managed to have their currency legalized in Saxony.
Now, imagine the era in which this first “dollar” was circulated. Martin Luther had published his 95 theses only approximately three years earlier. The peasant wars created quite some havoc around the possession of anything valuable, and the mints were moved to all kinds of places. In the end, the Hapsburg emperor stopped the Schlicks from their arbitrary act and handed the privilege of minting back to the Bohemian king, who permitted the inventive count’s family to keep minting on his behalf, with the king’s coat of arms and name shown on the coins. Still, apparently, the Joachimsthaler had left such an impression, that after people had started dropping the part “Joachims”, the term “Thaler” or “Taler” prevailed. Different languages changed the sounds around a bit, and – voilà! – you receive the term “dollar”.
Talers were later minted all over the German and Hapsburg empires. Even minor particularist powers had their own Taler currency. Talers were minted on the occasion of victories, weddings, deaths, named for a state’s ruler, for the image on one side or the inscription on the other, for their size, for their function within a paying system, for their value, or for a political occasion. In short, the Taler was literally all over the place.
What the U.S. knows as a dollar, today, originates in the Spanish mint system, though. Spain had begun minting already before 1500, and the conquistadores brought coins as a currency to the Americas. Via Mexico, the eight real peso entered North America, and it reminded the first Northern American colonists so much of the German Reichsthaler as to its weight and size that they simply called it dollar. The Spanish dollar, already in use internationally, stayed a legal currency until the Coinage Act of 1857, which ended the use of foreign currencies in the United States. The U.S. dollar kept being based on the Spanish dollar. Apparently, even the symbol “$”originates from a symbol on the Spanish dollar, two Hercules pillars wrapped by a ribbon.
I guess, I’ll never look at a dollar bill or coin the same way again. Just to think that a clever Bohemian count in a tiny castle in the middle of nowhere came up with a concept that was so mighty that its name was attached to concepts that would become way mightier … Ideas and boldness obviously defy the concept of transience.