There is one “Eye” that most coin and paper money collectors are quite familiar with. That “Eye” is the “All-Seeing-Eye.” This symbol, featured on the reverse side of a $1 Federal Reserve note, has been a source of controversy and discussion ever since it found a home there in 1935 on the $1 silver certificate and much later on the $1 Federal Reserve note in 1963.
Believe it or not the dollar bill is not the only currency that has featured the All-Seeing-Eye. Some of the earliest American coins and paper currency used the symbol, from the time of the American Revolution (1775 to 1783) through the Articles of Confederation period (1783 to 1789). However the concept of a powerful, ever-vigilant eye goes back much further in years than that.
The “eye” as an iconic symbol had already been established within many cultures and traditions, thousands of years before the formation of the United States. One of the earliest uses of the eye symbol represents Horus, a powerful Egyptian deity. This symbol can be seen today in countless Egyptian hieroglyphs.
In the Jewish and Christian scriptures, God, or the eye of God, is described as being omniscient, able to see and know all. The eyes, or lack thereof, play an important role in the stories of other cultures. In Norse mythology, the chief god Odin sacrifices his left eye in order to drink from the Well of Wisdom. In Greek mythology, an angry goddess Hera blinds the eyes of the priest Tiresius.
To counteract this, the god Zeus gives Tiresius “inner sight”--his prophetic gift.
Hindus believe in an invisible, intuitive “third eye” located between a person’s visible two eyes. Across cultures and ages, the eye is a symbol that has evoked a wide range of feelings in people. At its most basic level, the eye is a symbol of vision. Beyond this, more layers of meaning can be added to the symbol: foresight, deity, wisdom, knowledge, perception, power etc.
Continental and Confederation Money
During the American War of Independence from Great Britain, the Continental Congress, acting under the Articles of Confederation authorized the printing of paper currency. Due to a lack of confidence in the newly existent government and a dearth of tangible resources to back up the fiat currency, the value of the paper money quickly plummeted as all fiat currencies ultimately must. In addition, the British counterfeited stacks of the Continental currency as an early form of economic warfare.
It was during this time frame that three men serving in the early government--Francis Hopkinson, Bouvermeur Morris, and Robert Morris--began to take center stage in the use of an All-Seeing-Eye, that would find its way on various coins and currency.