Insight & Analysis

Why dollars are deer

Published: Sep 2019
Deer looking straight at the camera

It’s a term recognised across the globe, but few people actually know the origin of the word ‘buck’ and why it refers to US dollars. To find the answer we need to travel back in time to the 1700s, and the early days of frontier America.

As with many etymologies, it is hard to say with 100% certainty as to why bucks refer to dollars. However, one theory remains the most plausible – that a dollar is called a buck thanks to deerskins.

Back in the 18th century, European settlers and native Americans often traded buckskins, or deerskins, as a form of currency.

The term was first used in 1748, in a journal entry by Conrad Weiser, a Dutch pioneer, interpreter and diplomat. At the time, some 44 years before the dollar was first minted, Conrad described the exchange rate with native Americans; the most famous example was one cask of whisky being worth five bucks.

In his journal Conrad also cited an occasion where a pioneer was robbed of the value of 300 bucks.

However, one buck didn’t just mean one deer skin. It may have meant multiple skins depending on the individual skin’s quality. For example, skins from those deer killed in winter were far superior to those killed in the summer, due to the fur being thicker. It could also depend on the size or age of the deer.

In general, the highest-quality skin was a one-to-one value, with one skin totalling one buck. It could take several low-quality skins to equal one buck.

After the dollar was officially introduced through the Coinage Act of 1792, the term stuck around and is still very much in use today.

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