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Tuesday, July 2, 2024


Why is the portrait on the ten dollar bill facing left unlike all other faces on US currencies that stare off to the right? 

 Colloquial phrases come and go. Calling a $10 bill a sawbuck is a bit archaic in everyday parlance now. A couple of centuries back, Sawbuck is a term for a type of carpentry tool, also known as a sawhorse: a wooden rack with "X"-shaped crosses at each end, which is used for holding and cutting timber. 

The first paper money in the U.S. chose to use Roman numerals on bills and banknotes, which meant that X represented the number 10. A sawbuck or sawhorse resembles "X," which is as we said the Roman numeral for "10." The first $10 bills issued by the U.S. government in the 1860s prominently featured the Roman numeral 10; the huge Xs looked like sawbucks' side. So "sawbuck" became a way to refer to a 10-dollar bill. Where does bucks come from? Conjecture has it that use of the term buck to indicate money comes from colonial trading days, when the monetary exchange for goods had its basis in a buckskin or deer hide. 

The earliest written reference is a 1748 journal entry by Pennsylvania pioneer Conrad Weiser. Weiser used the term frequently, with the first being on page 41 of the journal when he wrote that "a cask of whiskey shall be sold to you for five bucks." 

Popular portrait artist of his day, John Trumbull painted Alexander Hamilton’s portrait (above) in 1806, after he was killed in a duel in 1804. 

Wrong way Hamilton?
Although, research has been limited to as why the portrait of Alexander Hamilton (by artist John Trumbull) on the ten dollar bill faces left instead of right. Real reason is foggy?  But a good guess is because original portrait artist John Trumbull painted Hamilton facing left. Dunno? But it makes a good bar bet. 

1863 $10 Legal Tender note (also known as a "sawbuck") featuring then-current U.S. president Abraham Lincoln.



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