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What is a Peso?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 23, 2024
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The currency of Mexico is the peso. Its symbol is the same as the U.S. dollar ($). When the peso is subdivided by 100, the result is centavos, represented by the same symbol as the U.S. cent (¢). The term means "weight" in Spanish.

The history of the peso began with Spain’s silver dollars, as silver was plentiful at the time in Mexico. The name peso was given to the eight-real coins issued in Mexico by the Spanish. Prior to the issue of the American dollar in 1792, the currency was the official system of all of North America, the U.S. included. Even after the American dollar was issued, the peso continued to be in use in the U.S. until 1857. Canada continued using it for another year.

Originally made of pure silver, over the years the value of the coin could not keep up with the value of the silver it contained and the amount of silver content decreased. Pesos are currently made of copper and nickel.

After a period of inflation and devaluation of its currency, Mexico issued the new peso, or nuevo peso, in 1993. The Mexican government dropped the Nuevo description from the currency three years later. Since the late 1990s, its stability has been fairly consistent.

In addition to its use in North America, Mexican pesos were also used in the Philippines and China. The currency is still accepted in some U.S. border towns, although it is considered by some to be controversial.

"Peso" is one of the most common names for currency. Other countries that refer to their currency with this term include Argentina and Cuba. In Cuba, the currency is known as the Cuban peso, although the tourist currency is referred to as the peso convertible.

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