U.S. two-dollar bill

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Obverse of $2 bill
Missing image
Reverse of $2 bill

The United States two dollar bill ($2) is a denomination of U.S. currency. In spite of its relatively low value, the two dollar banknote is one of the most rarely-seen denominations of U.S. currency. This is due to the low production of the note; approximately .5% of all U.S. notes produced are $2 bills. Because of its rarity, many Americans remain remarkably superstitious about spending it, which further decreases its circulation. It is so rare that not very many cash registers and money-handling machinery (such as vending machines) accommodate it. Many Americans have never come in possession of one.

Two dollar bills are delivered by Federal Reserve Banks in green straps.


The United States government first officially issued the $2 bill in July of 1862 as an United States Note with a portrait of Alexander Hamilton. The next issue of the $2 United States Note in 1869 featured the now familiar portrait of Thomas Jefferson painted by American artist Gilbert Stuart. The large-sized (7.375" x 3.125") $2 bill was also issued as a Silver Certificate, Federal Reserve Bank Note, Treasury or Coin Note, and as a National Bank Note.

In 1929, when all U.S. currency was changed to its current size (6.125" x 2.625"), the $2 bill was kept as a United States Note. Notes were issued in series of 1928, 1953, and 1963. The front of the bill featured a cropped version of Thomas Jefferson's portrait that had been on previous $2 bills. The back of the bill featured Jefferson's home, the Monticello. These $2 bills were officially discontinued in August of 1966.

In 1976, the Treasury Department reintroduced the bill as a cost-saving measure (http://wcdc42.com/2dollar/economic_reviews.html#cost). As part of the United States Bicentennial celebration, the note was redesigned and issued as a Federal Reserve Note. The front featured the same portrait of Jefferson, a green instead of red seal and serial numbers, and the picture of Monticello on the back was replaced with an engraved rendition of John Trumbull's painting, "The Signing of the Declaration of Independence". First day issues of the new bicentennial $2 bills could be taken to a post office and stamped with the date April 13, 1976. In all, 590,720,000 notes from the 1976 series were printed. The bills proved extremely unpopular and printing was stopped.

Many give as a reason for its failure that its value is redundant, being only twice the value of the $1. However, the fact that the $2 bill (and later coin) succeeded in Canada offers a potential counterpoint to this. Also, one could have used the redundancy argument to predict that the dime (being worth two nickels) and the $10 (being worth two $5 bills) would likewise be failures, but this has not been the case. Other, more colorful, stories about the reasons for its failure exist (http://www.snopes.com/business/money/twodollar.asp).

In 1996 and 1997, 153,600,000 bills were printed [1] (http://www.moneyfactory.com/section.cfm/2/51) as Series 1995 with the signatures of Robert Rubin and Mary Ellen Withrow. In 2004, 121,600,000 of the newest $2 bills, Series 2003, were printed bearing the signatures of John W. Snow and Rosario Marin. Both of these issues have the same design as the Series 1976 $2 bill.

The Two-Dollar Bill in American Consciousness

  • Urban legends

Whether or not the following stories are true is unknown.

An amusing and perhaps apocryphal story regarding two dollar bills being paid to military servicemen has circulated intermittently in American public consciousness over the years. This story being constantly retold reflects how some Americans view the two dollar bill.

The basic premise is as follows: a coastal town somewhere has a business district that, while successful financially, is plagued by uncouth Navy servicemen on shore leave. They come in, make a ruckus, get drunk, and generally upset the town's otherwise quiet atmosphere. The locals, who do not appreciate the intrusion, finally get together and lodge a formal complaint with the Navy.

The Navy, in response, decides to teach the arrogant town a lesson in economics and pays a substantial portion of its servicemen's following months' salary in two dollar bills. When the sailors subsequently descend on the town to spend their wages, the local businesses are inundated with two dollar bills; in fact, they realize that they have more two dollar bills than anything else, which certainly grabs their attention.

The message, of course, is that the Navy servicemen on shore leave might very well be boorish and intrusive, but the money they spend represents the livelihood of the store owners responsible for the letter of complaint. Needless to say, they were more patient with the sailors thenceforth.

The fact that this tactic worked, of course, is entirely a result of the two dollar bill's rarity. One dollar bills or five dollar bills would not have been so readily noticed. Two dollar bills drive the point home; there is no way they can be ignored, given that they are almost never seen.

A different story is documented on Snopes (http://www.snopes.com/business/money/tacobell.asp). In the story, a Taco Bell patron attempts to pay for a burrito with a two dollar bill. The cashier, and the store manager all refuse to accept it as valid US currency thinking there is no such thing a as a $2 bill. When the patron insists on paying with it, they call security who then explains that $2 bills are valid US currency.

  • Documented Stories

Just recently, in February of 2005, [2] (http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/04/08/2213237&tid=98) an annoyed patron of Best Buy was attempting to pay for an electronics installation that had been originally promised to be free, with 57 $2 bills. The cashier refused to accept them and marked them as counterfeit. The cashier then called the police and the patron was handcuffed until a Secret Service Agent arrived and straightened things out. The suspicion was supposedly caused by ink smearing on the bills which can happen sometimes. Source:Baltimore Sun (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-md.olesker08mar08,1,76004.column?ctrack=1&cset=true)


The "History" portion of this article is adapted from the following:

  • Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money 17th edition published by Krause Publications

United States currency and coinage
Topics: Federal Reserve note | United States Notes | United States coinage | United States dollar
Currency: $1 | $2 | $5 | $10 | $20 | $50 | $100 | Larger denominations
Coinage: Cent | Nickel | Dime | Quarter | Half-dollar | Dollar

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