Two Bits' Worth of Information

What does the quarter have to do with the Albany Congress of 1754? Trace its ancestry...

Throughout much of the 18th century, the use of cumbersome "commodity money" (including bushels of grain, cords of pine boards, tobacco, iron nails, and beaver pelts) was common, but not desirable as a form of payment. Should someone owe a debt or make a purchase that required payment in coin, it was most likely paid with Spanish silver. British silver coins were rare in the colonies because the export of silver from Britain was prohibited. Colonists turned to the 8-reales coin, or "Piece of Eight," also referred to as a "dollar," from the Dutch daalder.

In order to make change, the silver "dollars" were cut into eighths, or "bits." Each bit was worth about 12.5 cents, so two bits were worth 25 cents - a fourth of a dollar - a "Quarter."

In Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754, Timothy Shannon writes that 2000 pieces of eight was the price negotiated by the Penn family for the purchase of the area we now know as the seven counties of the Juniata Valley. The next time you check your change for a quarter to feed the parking meter, you'll know that what you've got is much more than a round of copper and nickel that no longer suffices for a pay phone; it's an everyday connection to our past.

Shannon, Timothy J. Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000.

For more numismatic history, visit - A project of the Robert H. Gore, Jr. Numismatic Endowment, University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections, by Louis Jordan.