Personal Finance

Paper trail: The dollar decoded
Finding meaning on your dollar bill.
April 22, 2004: 6:38 PM EDT
By David Futrelle, MONEY Magazine

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - If your hunger for mystical esoterica hasn't been fully slaked by Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" or its 500-page Illumminati-obsessed prequel, "Angels and Demons," David Ovason's new book, "The Secret Symbols of the Dollar Bill" (HarperCollins, $19), may do the trick.

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It offers an astoundingly detailed exegesis of the symbolically overloaded slips of paper we use to buy off-brand shampoo at the dollar store.

Some of the esoteric (and not so esoteric) knowledge contained within:

  • The one-eyed pyramid The surreal seeing pyramid on the back of the dollar bill combines two Masonic symbols: the Eye of Providence in a Radiant Triangle and a truncated pyramid. On the bill, the triangle containing the eye visually completes the pyramid, suggesting that the new nation would be completed with an assist from an all-seeing God.
  • George Washington's mysterious grimace When he posed for the painting later used for his portrait on the dollar bill, Washington's face was still partly swollen from a recent fitting of false teeth. Hence his expression.
  • Who's counting? Ovason is. There are 13 instances of the letter A ("among the most magical of all letters," he writes) on the front of the bill. Meanwhile, the flip side features 13 examples of the number 13, including 13 stars above the eagle's head and 13 arrows in his talons. Ovason's book can be purchased at a discount on $13. Coincidence?
  • Eagle eye "If you draw a line that follows the ascender of the letter A in the words ONE DOLLAR, at the bottom of the bill, you will find that this line passes exactly through the eye of the eagle." I don't quite know what this means, but it is sort of fun to do.
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