American shilling?

I just started reading Moby Dick. Eary in the novel, this appears:

A shilling back then was a British unit of currency, worth 12 pence or 1/20 of a pound. I was wondering what it’s doing in a book written by an American author and set in America.

IIRC, it was set on the high seas mostly, not America, and I imagine local currency would be used wherever the ship docked.

British shillings could be used in the early United States with their worth determined by weight. Also, since Moby Dick happened, as Mellville, “some years ago”, Massachusetts minted its own currency; the Massachusetts pound and Massachusetts “pine tree” shilling until 1793.

During this part of the novel, Ishmael had not yet shipped out of Massachusetts.

Fifty years ago seems like a bit much for “some years ago,” but it’s entirely possible that Massachusetts shillings remained in circulation a long time and/or that their former use affected local terminology. Thanks for the theory, Captain.

This may be quite possible - remember that the most common colloquial term in the US today for a 0.01 USD coin is “penny”, a British coin and unit of account, though the British penny was revalued in the 1970’s. US “pennies” are stamped “one cent”, not “one penny”.

Until fairly recently the New York Stock Exchange listed prices in eighths of a dollar, even though the United States has never had an eighth-dollar coin.

Which isn’t really relevant. I just wanted to feel included.

It is relevant. That’s because Spanish money was common in the US at one time, and a Peso was divided into 8 smaller coins, and for a while, the exchange rate was 1 Peso = 1 USD. That’s why, in the US, a quarter/25 cents is called “two bits”, as you could literally pass two of the 1/8 peso coins as equivalent to a US Quarter.

Hence, “pieces of eight.”

It was two bits in the Old West, but two shillings in the east. The coins were Spanish, but the terminology was English. Here is an excellent article which answers the OP’s question in detail.

Thanks for the great link, Freddy. According to it, foreign coins were legally demonetized in the US in 1857, 6 years after the publication of Moby Dick. I’ll note that if a “shilling” was worth about 12.5 cents and a “penny” was worth one cent, that bar had quite a few marks on its glasses.

I thought the smallest unit on the NYSE was the “teenie” worth 1/16 of a dollar.