ArtLex Art Dictionary




ssymbol - A form, image or subject representing a meaning other than the one with which it is usually associated.

Here is an object noted for the symbols included in its design:

front and back of a one dollar bill


This is the most common currency of the United States.

The current design was first circulated in 1957. This one was printed in 1988.

This so-called paper money is in fact a cotton and linen blend with red and blue minute silk fibers running through it. It can be washed in soap and water without falling apart. A specially blended ink is used, the contents of which we will never be publicly revealed. Once it is printed with symbols, it is starched to make it water resistant, then pressed to give it a crisp look and feel.

On the front of the bill, also called "recto," is the United States Treasury Seal. At the top of the seal are balanced scales, symbolizing the balancing of a budget. In the center is a carpenter's square, another measuring tool, this one for marking straight lines and right angles. Underneath is a key — the key to the United States Treasury.

front of a one dollar bill


On the back of the bill, also called "verso," are two circles. Together, these circles comprise the Great Seal of the United States. The First Continental Congress asked Benjamin Franklin and a group of men to devise a seal for the new nation. It took them four years to accomplish this task and another two years to get congress to approve it.

Within the left-hand circle is a pyramid. Its face is lighted, while its western side is dark. Begun as a union of thirteen states on the eastern coast of North America, the United States had yet to know its western faces.

back of a one dollar bill


The former-colonists' exploration of those wild territories had barely begun. This pyramid is un-capped, because the building of the nation was incomplete. Inside the capstone is the all-seeing eye, an ancient symbol for divinity. Franklin believed that no individual could do greaqt things alone, but that a group of citizens, with the help of God, could do anything.

"IN GOD WE TRUST" is the central motto of the design. Another inscription, above the pyramid, ANNUIT COEPTIS, is a Latin phrase meaning, "God has favored our undertaking." Below the pyramid is more Latin, NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, which means, "a new order has begun." At the base of the pyramid are Roman numerals for 1776, the presidential sealyear America declared its independence.


The seal within the right-hand circle is one that is similar to one assigned to the president of the United States.


The Bald Eagle is a symbol for victory for two reasons. First, this bird is not afraid of a storm. It is strong and smart to soar above storms. Second, it wears no crown. The USA rejected allegiance to English royals. Also, notice the shield is unsupported. Americans expect their country will stand on its own. At the top of that shield is a white bar signifying congress, a unifying factor. Americans joined together to be one nation. On a ribbon held in the Eagle's beak is "E PLURIBUS UNUM", Latin for "one nation from many people".

Above the Eagle are thirteen stars representing the thirteen original colonies, with clouds of misunderstanding dispersing. Again, this nation was coming together as one.

In his talons the eagle grasps an olive branch and arrows symbolizing the country's desire for peace, with a readiness to defend peace. The eagle prefers to face the olive branch, but in times of war, his gaze turns toward the arrows.

The number 13 is often called an unlucky one, but it was dear to the founders of this country: there were 13 original colonies, 13 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 13 stripes on the flag, 13 steps on the pyramid, 13 letters in "E Pluribus Unum", 13 stars above the eagle, 13 bars on his shield, 13 leaves on his olive branch, 13 olives, and 13 arrows too.

The dollar bill, like other iconic objects, has often itself been used as a symbol. An example:




see thumbnail to rightGuerrilla Girls (American, contemporary feminist group founded in 1985, composed of otherwise unnamed women), Women in America earn only 2/3 of what men do. Women artists earn only 1/3 of what men do., 1985, designed and placed as an advertisement. The Guerilla Girls site says about this piece, "Women have never gained economic equality by just working hard and being good girls. With this poster we wanted to make women artists angry as hell and not willing to take it anymore."


George Bush holding a dollar


see thumbnail to leftPresident George W. Bush understands the political importance of maintaining the the dollar's worth.


Also see allegory, attribute, compass rose, dingbat, feng shui, heraldry, icon, iconography, logo, mirror, nail, personification, rebus, sign, signature, and Symbolism.




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