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  • Four days, four currencies, four countries. Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and...

    Fun fact: Since 2001, the U.S. Dollar has gradually replaced the Colón as El Salvador’s currency, thanks to the Law of Monetary Integration that took effect under the government of then-President Francisco Flores. The Colón is now mostly obsolete, but still legal tender. It came into existence in 1919 and its value was pegged to the U.S. Dollar at at rate of ₡2 = $1 (which by 2001 had fallen to ₡8.75 = $1 #WhoNeedsThatStupidGoldStandardAnyway?).

    Before 1919, the Salvadoran currency was the Peso (no relation to Mexico’s currency of the same name). In 1877, the Peso had replaced the Salvadoran Real, which in 1828 had replaced the Central American Republic Real, which was even more short-lived than the Central American Republic itself. Sorry, Central Americans.

    Centuries before the Central American Republic was a thing, the Spanish Empire was THE thing, and its currency was also called the Real. Spaniards first minted an eight-Real equivalent, called the Spanish Dollar, in 1497 as a sort of response to the German Thaler, which had become the latest fad in 15th century Europe. But in currency as in soccer, the Spaniards would eventually come out on top. As the empire grew, Spanish Dollars proliferated throughout Latin America and the Spanish Philippines. Seemingly oblivious to borders of any kind, they became the first “world currency” as they circulated through Europe, the Far East, and...the United States, where they were legal tender until 1857. The Coinage Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1792, defined the new U.S. Dollar to be roughly 371 grains of standard silver. Why 371? That was Alexander Hamilton’s doing. He decided that the nation’s new currency would be based on the average weight of some worn Spanish Dollars. The Treasury did the weighing as directed by Hamilton, and the average came out to 371. (New Spanish Dollars were 377 grains, so the U.S. Dollar was actually at a small discount in comparison.)

    And so, it all kind of comes back around full circle. Who wins the currency bragging rights here? The United States, whose currency has (at least for the moment) infiltrated El Salvador? Or El Salvador, whose Spanish ancestry indirectly defined the value of a Dollar in the first place? When you figure that one out, let me know. In the meantime, I guess I’ll keep wandering around Latin America looking for currency to photograph.
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