The generic currency symbol.
Big chunky version: ¤
Designing a character set is not just an exercise in linguistics and typography, sometimes politics gets into play as well. The most notorious example of this is the international (aka generic) currency symbol ¤.

Staging: The year is 1972 and both the Cold War and the Computer Revolution are well under way. The 7-bit ASCII character set, more formally dubbed ANSI X3.4 in 1968, is finally starting to supplant the dreaded EBCDIC... so much so, in fact, that the International Standardization Organization (ISO) wants to make it into the first international standardized character set, under the name ISO 646. The reason you have never heard of this is that its woefully limited repertoire of characters was only enough for Latin, Swahili, Hawaiian and American English, but never mind the details, the real problem blocking its adoption was its inherent capitalist bias:

The only currency symbol in the set was the dollar sign ($).
And surely the mighty Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, acting in socialist solidarity with the other communist states of the world, could not be expected to tolerate such insidious propaganda, now could they? But neither were the Yanks very keen on adding a ruble symbol. So with true diplomatic inventiveness, a compromise was hammered out:

The dollar sign would be replaced with a neutral international currency symbol.
The slight snag here was that there was no such thing as an "international currency" and even less was there a symbol for it -- so one was invented! Alas, I haven't been able to find out exactly what "¤" is supposed to represent; some have theorized that it should look like an empty circle so you can draw something in it, but in most modern fonts the symbol has been reduced to a flyspeck resembling an alien in Space Invaders.

Mundane considerations of logic aside, with this hurdle passed ISO 646 became a roaring success adopted worldwide, with over 180 national variants introduced. A few countries substituted their own currency symbols on top of the international symbol, but most European countries preferred convenient EDI with American systems and used ASCII's dollar! This was also the approach taken by the 8-bit ISO 8859-1 character set (Latin-1), but as a sop to the socialist block the ¤ sign was kept hanging in there, albeit moved into the high-ASCII block at hex A4, next to the new ¢, £ and ¥ symbols. And so to this day, this entirely unused legacy symbol lives on, both in Unicode as U+00A4 CURRENCY SYMBOL and in HTML as ¤.

But the capitalists eventually had their revenge. In 1991, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, ISO 646 was revised to officially make it equivalent to ISO 646-US (ASCII) and eliminate the ¤ sign. To complete this revision of history, in 1999 ISO approved ISO 8859-15, whose primary change is to place a real international currency sign, the euro (), on top of the artificial, non-existent one.


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