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How a Buck Became a Dollar

Updated on December 27, 2022
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Cygnet Brown is a high school and middle school substitute teacher. She is the author of fourteen books and a long-time gardener.

Back When A Deer Was Currency

Back before there ever was the United States. when the American Colonies were still under the flag of Great Britain, the buck was already the main currency of the trading posts, such as Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) one of the early forts, catered to the Native Americans with buckskin as currency. Fur trading between the trading post owners and the Native Americans was the main form of commerce in the frontier. Because various native tribes found the metal knives and castiron cauldrons of the English superior to their bone, antler, and wooden tools and the English craved the furs for their leather shoes and clothing, the barter was a win-win for all involved.

The Rate of Currency

The transactions at the trading post were simple. Members of the various tribes as well as frontiersmen brought in the furs that they hunted and trapped over the winter months. (Animal furs in the winter were superior to those obtained during the summer months because they were thicker and smoother). The furs were examined by the trading post owner to determine the fur's quality. The trading post owners gave the furs a buck value. Genuine high-quality buckskin was, of course, equal in value to one buckskin. It took a doeskin or inferior buckskin, two skins to equal a buckskin. Six high-quality beaver pelts equaled one buckskin; twelve high-quality rabbit pelts were equal to one buckskin and so on. In the same token, the goods available at the trading post were also given a buck value. A knife might be worth 5 buckskins and the buyer would be required to come up with furs that equaled five buckskins in order to complete the transaction. The transaction, of course, was always open to negotiation, but usually, because the trading post owner had a limited supply and he could wait for the next person with furs who was more willing to pay his price, the trading post owner could usually set whatever price he wanted.

The Name Stuck

As the United States grew as a nation and the forts with the trading posts grew into villages and towns, the dollar replaced the buckskin as the main currency. The word buck continued to be used as a slang for the United States dollar bill long after the buckskin ceased being considered as currency.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Cygnet Brown


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