In Thomas Jefferson's proposal for a decimal currency, he describes the status quo as:

The [cent] will differ little from the copper of the four Eastern States, which is 1/108 of a dollar; still less from the penny of New York and North Carolina, which is 1/96 of a dollar; and somewhat more than the penny or copper of Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, which is 1/90 of a dollar.

By "penny", I assume he means the "d" in the £sd system like the British used, but debased. (His calculations elsewhere in the quoted document imply that a penny sterling was 1/54 of a Spanish dollar.) The states also had various units called the "pound":

But what is the Pound? 1547 grains of fine silver [$4.00] in Georgia; 1289 grains [$3.33] in Virginia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire; 1031¼ grains [$2.67] in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; 966¾ grains [$2.50] in North Carolina and New York. Which of these shall we adopt? To which State give that pre-eminence of which all are so jealous? And on which impose the difficulties of a new estimate of their corn, their cattle, and other commodities? Or shall we hang the pound sterling, as a common badge, about all their necks? This contains 1718¾ [$4.44] grains of pure silver.

Note that in DE, MD, NJ, PA, NC, and NY, there were 240 "coppers" to a pound, just like in £sd. But in CT, MA, NH, and RI, there were 360 "coppers" to a pound. What explains the disparity? Did these states have 30 shillings to a pound instead of 20? Or was a "copper" 2/3 of a penny?

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    Considering most money in the US was state specific before the Revolution I would think that would cause the disparity you are looking for. Since many of our economic systems were based on English systems it's not surprising we kept their forms in some way or another. I'd need to check my books on the era to see what there is though. – MichaelF Jun 16 '12 at 10:52

The very first national coinage system in the United States of America under the Washington Administration were half-cent, cent, half-dime, dime, quarter, half-dollar, dollar, quarter-eagle, half-eagle, and eagle ($10). Later there was also a double-eagle. If you live in the US, there's a good chance you've seen those being hawked on late-night TV commercials.

Before that the US was organized under the Articles of Confederation, with each state responsible for its own coinage. Before that, the most widely circulated and accepted coinage was actually Spanish pieces of eight.

  • Actually it was half disme and disme in the original spelling; pronounced "deem". – Peter Diehr Apr 23 '16 at 20:09

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